Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day occurring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, is known for its various rituals like eating a new fruit on this day, conducting a special Seder, and eating from the seven species (shivat haminim) such as– wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates –that originally grew in Israel.
Beginning at sunset on February 10th and lasting until nightfall on February 11, this year’s observance marked the first time that the holiday was celebrated on such a wide scale, with Seders taking place in nine Romanian communities including Arad, Bacau, Brasov, Cluj, Iasi, Oradea, Timisoara, Botosani, and Bucharest.
The multitude of Seders highlighted how Jewish life is thriving in areas where it was once nearly destroyed by the Holocaust and Communist-era religious repression.
Despite a recent snowfall across the region, more than 600 people braved frigid temperatures to take part in Seders, coming together for a holiday that has grown increasingly popular over the years, one that older generations in Romania still refer to as Hamisha Asar Bi’Shvat.
“For me, it is essential to be in the middle of the community and be an active part of it, so I took part in helping to organize this evening. It was amazing to see how it added some light and joy to this unique spirit that our community has,” said Ana Adrian from Timisoara.
The community celebrations were orchestrated by 27-year-old Magda Kupferberg, an educational programs adviser at the JDC-supported Bucharest Jewish Community Center (JCC), with guidance provided by Israel Sharli Sabag, the director of JDC Romania and the former Yugoslavia.
Yet, each community conducted their Seders and the activities around it a bit differently For example, in Iasi, there were many Tu B’Shevat related arts and crafts activities for children, while in Bucharest, a small sum of money was collected from participants to support the planting of 10 trees in Israel through Keren Kayemeth, Israel’s largest green nonprofit.
In a partnership between JDC and the Romanian Jewish Federation, FEDROM, each community received a holiday stipend to purchase the fruits and other foods needed to produce a successful and meaningful Tu B’Shevat celebration, as well as a manual with step-by-step instructions for conducting the Seder and reciting the blessings over the fruit and wine. The kit also included general information regarding the holiday and the significance of specific customs, like planting trees, and a kids section with coloring and connect-the-dots activities, as well as a holiday story.
“On this Tu B’Shevat, there was a very warm atmosphere because of the multitude of children, the beautiful songs of our choir, and the interesting and meaningful speech of the Rabbi. We had all the seven species of fruits and much more, and we enjoyed hearing the stories related to those fruits and the deep meaning behind Tu B’Shevat,” said Gabriel Szekely, a local attendee.
Today, Romania has about 8,000 Jews living in 39 distinct communities with 83 synagogues across the country, and 3,000 Jews reside in Bucharest alone. Just this past year, JDC celebrated its 100th anniversary of working in Romania to both aid the country’s neediest Jews and continue to revitalize Jewish life.