Tu B’Shevat is today! It is a festival that marks one of the four new years on the Jewish calendar. It has a long and ancient history and is an important marker for Jewish farmers in Israel. The Torah tells us in Vayikra 19:23, “When you enter the land [of Israel] and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten.” Therefore, the rabbis established a universal birthday for all trees, the 15th of Shevat or Tu B’Shevat in Hebrew, to help correctly count the years before harvest.
In modern times, Tu B’Shevat has been dubbed the “Jewish earth day” and people mark the day by eating fruits native to Israel, starting planting projects for the spring (anyone’s kids bring home little pots of parsley?), and reminding ourselves of the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, no matter where they are in the world.
While it may seem strange to talk about spring planting in January in Canada, it is a time to remember that life goes on and always renews itself.
This year, Tu B’Shevat lands very close to the month of February, and February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Now in its 15th year, this month gives us an annual opportunity to look at how we have made our community more seamless for those with disabilities. Knowing that our work is never done, this is also a reminder to renew or increase our efforts to make our community accessible to all. For this year, the Committee for an Inclusive Jewish Life chose Planting Seeds of Hope as this its theme.
Throughout the month, there will be opportunities to come together and plant a pot of wildflowers that will bloom over the coming days. Wildflowers are a great reminder of the diversity in our community and how we are all interdependent.
• The wildflower root system grows deep and stabilizes the earth below preventing the erosion of the soil. Our community needs to have strong roots that include everyone. A diverse community is a stable one.
• Wildflowers attract pollinators and are an integral part of the food chain. With more diversity, comes better honey and more species of pollinators. A diverse community attracts more people and makes Ottawa a better place to live.
• Wildflowers help maintain the quality of the soil. Planting native species of wildflowers increases the quality of the earth in which they grow. The cycle of improving the soil to improve the beauty of the flowers, is how we want our community. Every person benefiting from their interactions and further improving life in Ottawa for everyone.
People with disabilities are a vital part of the fabric of our community. According to Statistics Canada, a disability, visible or invisible, affects 27% of the Canadian population ages 15 and over. This number is predicted to go up as we age and live longer.
In addition to the benefits to the earth and community, gardening supports mental health which is a disability that is on the rise. Gardening is proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, help us connect with others and the world. Read more about the benefits here.
Together we can make our community more inclusive and welcoming to all people. Let’s all plant seeds of hope this February that bloom this spring and for evermore.
Please visit the community JDAIM calendar and add your events that celebrate this month.