Tu B’Shvat in Mumbai: JDC Leads a Jewish Arbor Day Celebration with an Indian Twist

With Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, falling on Shabbat this year (this coming Saturday, January 26), the Jewish community in Mumbai, India chose to get ahead of the curve. It held its own special celebration of this Jewish Arbor Day last Sunday, organized and led by JDC professionals at the Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center (EPJCC), the JDC-developed and supported venue that is a hub for classes and programs for all ages.

In Mumbai’s largest such gathering in recent history, some 80 community members—including 18 children—took part in a Tu B’Shvat seder “sweetened” with their traditional Malida ceremony, featuring a festive dish and thanksgiving prayers dedicated to the Prophet Elijah. The Malida dish itself was a preparation of parched rice, sugar, freshly grated coconut, and dry fruits, with five to seven varieties of fresh fruit added to the plate along with flowers for fragrance.

Dubbed the New Year for the Trees (Rosh Hashanah L’Ilanot), Tu B’Shvat is not mentioned in the Bible, but various rituals have grown up around this holiday, which is often seen as a welcome harbinger of spring. One custom is to eat a new fruit on this day, or to eat from the seven species (shivat haminim)—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates—that grew in the Biblical land of Israel.

A seder ritual was developed for Tu B’Shvat by 16th century Jewish mystics, focused on God’s relationship to both the spiritual and physical worlds. Initially adopted primarily in Sephardic Jewish communities, the Tu B’Shvat seder has become widely popular in recent years, with new emphasis put on the concept of sustainability and the need to safeguard our planet.

Some years ago, JDC staff and volunteers at the EPJCC began incorporating this ritual into the community’s traditional Tu B’Shvat celebration, which continues today.

This year’s seder was divided into four parts for the four seasons, each represented by a different type of wine. And Vivaldi’s Four Seasons served as background music for periodic meditations on the meaning of the change of seasons and its impact on natural life.

Children who attend the JDC-supported Jewish Sunday School added a lighter note, sharing their own Tu B’Shvat activities and eagerly reading aloud from the seder text. All of the kids received coloring sheets about the holiday—and the adults were encouraged to take home their seder booklets so they could replicate the celebration in their own homes this coming Shabbat.

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