Michael Baror, deputy ambassador at the Israeli embassy in Kenya (with watering can), plants a tree at the Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology in Kisumu, Kenya. Photo by Ryan Torok

The blessings of prayer, liturgical or personal

With the celebration of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, on Feb. 11, environmentally friendly Jewish organizations and individuals fill social media feeds with exhortations to protect the environment and to appreciate the bounty of produce that most of us enjoy.

But do you know what blessing to say for planting a tree? And what if that tree is in Kisumu, Kenya, to celebrate a partnership of Kenya, Israel and Germany that has yielded great strides in tilapia fish farming?

This example sounds random enough to be made up, but it really happened for 12 of us on an Israeli Consulate-sponsored trip to Kenya last November to see the work of an Israeli international development organization called MASHAV.

As we watched a representative from each partner country plant a tree at the Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology, I asked fellow trip participant Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, “Is there a blessing for a trilateral fish farming partnership tree-planting?”

He said there wasn’t one, so we riffed on the concepts and words relating to the physical act of tree-planting as well as thematic meanings of partnerships. The rabbi’s version went biblical, invoking Eden, the first garden sown by humans and the notion that God creates everything. My version was more interpersonal: about God as the overseer of human existence and both witness to and nurturer of relationships between people and the earth.

We settled on the Shehecheyanu prayer that expresses gratitude for having reached a new or special moment or occasion.

But an idea also had taken root: Was there really no blessing for tree-planting? When I got home, I asked my favorite always-on-duty religious expert, Rabbi Google. I learned there is a blessing said on a fruit-bearing tree once a year during the month of Nisan, but generally, no blessing for tree-planting. Shouldn’t there be, especially when it marks a deepening of human relationship as well as the intention of seeding the earth?

I thought: Why not teach people to use their words to find their own blessings? And yet, the thought seemed heretical. Who was I — or anyone without rabbinic training — to negate the canonized liturgy? And if everyone was “vigilante blessing” things, would that put Farkas and my other rabbi friends out of a job? Would there still be a need for synagogue and community around standardized prayer?

Pondering these thoughts, I read the reflections of my friend and Jewish Journal colleague Ryan Torok, who also was on the Kenya trip.

“It’s comforting how the words of the Amidah are the same in Kenya as they are back home,” he wrote in the Journal. “No matter where one is in the world, Judaism is Judaism.” 

There is a tension between institutionalized liturgy and personal prayer. We have a robust liturgy, sanctioned by rabbis, time and generations of people who have intoned the same words in different geographical and emotional places. They have called on the same phrases for strength, as mantra, as comfort, as praise in countries around the world. Indeed, there are “official” blessings for lots of Jewish acts and occasions — even observing strange things or unusual people.

But in moments during which there are no standardized blessings, how do we non-rabbis — or those of us unfamiliar with the liturgy, unfamiliar with Hebrew, or even lacking a traditional belief in God — mark those moments?

There’s a Chasidic folktale about a young shepherd who was nearly illiterate and went to a synagogue, where he recited the letters of the Hebrew alphabet repeatedly. When asked why, he said he didn’t know the prayers but knew that if he spoke the letters, God would assemble them to form words expressing his intended prayer.

Depending on the audience, this story — and its many variations — is invoked to teach several lessons. In my interpretation, I learn two things. First, you don’t need officially sanctioned words to pray or express gratitude. Second, even when you are expressing your heart’s desires, gratitude or prayer — which may be very much outside of the communal norm — there is value and power to being in the presence of community.

We have our own letters, and we have our own words. We don’t need words that are biblical in origin, or grandiosely phrased, or rabbinically sanctioned. If the “God” concept is a challenge for you, opt out of language like “blessed are you, oh God,” and instead use “how incredible it is to be having this experience” or “how grateful I am to be in the presence of this thing.” Prayers don’t have to be in Hebrew, either, because if God is an entity or concept that has meaning for you, you can bet your bracha (blessing) on the fact that any deity worth anything would be fluent in any language.

I think that institutionalized liturgy provides a framework, something to rely on if we aren’t having a spontaneous or creative prayer moment. It also suggests words and phrases to guide us in our own interpretation of what it means to use language to express vulnerability, humility, respect, praise and gratitude.

Of course, most people — and that includes me most days — don’t create their own prayers. They may not see the point in prayer at all. Or they may feel unworthy, unpoetic or unholy. Or they may think personal prayer is forbidden or some sort of hubris, that when it comes to Jewish prayer, it’s codified liturgy or bust. And maybe that belief creates a stronger bond to both community members and to places of institutionalized prayer.

But perhaps, when we’re seeking ways to connect to prayer and gratitude, it’s not “this” or “that.” Rather, it’s worth looking to our structured community spaces, as well as into the unique words that we hold within ourselves and our unique experiences, to find the answers.

A renewed commitment to preserving our planet

This year as we celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, we are not just celebrating a new year for the trees, but the start of a new era for our planet. The international climate agreement that was finalized at the end of 2015 has provided a new sense of hope for protecting our earth and all of its inhabitants from the dangers of climate change. The commitment of all nations at the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris showed that the global community understands that climate change is real and affecting us all, and that we can no longer ignore record-breaking carbon emissions, rising sea levels and global temperatures. This historic agreement gives us the opportunity to change the course of climate change and build a more sustainable and just future.

During this time of celebration, we must ask what obligations this agreement creates for us as individuals, as Americans and as Jews.

The Reform Jewish community has been advocating for climate justice for decades, promoting sustainable practices in our communities, supporting vulnerable populations, protecting endangered species, working for cleaner air, land and water and advocating for greater investment in renewable energy – but now is the time to engage ever more deeply.

With a commitment from 196 developing and developed nations to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, the world has united around the understanding that effective action to fight climate change must come from all nations. 188 of the 196 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members, including the United States, have submitted Nationally Determined Contribution plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some have argued that this agreement will not have as great of an impact as is hoped for. It’s true: the agreement will only be as strong as each nation’s commitment to abide by its terms. The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Now, the government must take steps such as full implementation of the Clean Power Plan in every state, to ensure we meet that goal. Furthermore, the United States must uphold its commitment to help countries that face the undue burden of climate change by meeting President Obama’s pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a fund to help vulnerable communities adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

This agreement helps us uphold our tradition of passing the earth l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation, working to ensure that our children and children’s children around the world have the same access to the natural resources that we (too often) take for granted in our daily lives. God implores us, “Do not destroy my world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).  Although the effects of climate change cannot be undone, we have the chance to change our climate legacy at this key time. We can be the generation that had the opportunity to halt climate change and did not act, or we can take action to ensure that our world is not destroyed.

As we engage in our Tu BiSh’vat Seders and celebrate the renewal of the trees, let us also celebrate achievement marked by the international agreement and consider how we as a Jewish community can change the course of climate change. Let us call on the United States, and all nations of the world to act upon this historic climate agreement and take the necessary measures to keep our global temperature from rising to destructive levels.

Barbara Weinstein is the Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

New Year for trees: Savor fruits of the earth, consider their journey

Sarah Newman writes the blog Neesh Noosh: A Jewish Woman’s Year Long Journey to Find Faith in Food

Tu B’Shevat, which translates literally as the 15th day of the month of Shevat, is the Jewish New Year for Trees. Mentioned in the Talmud, the holiday marks the tithing of fruits grown in Israel.

In the 16th century, Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples developed a seder for the holiday that focused on the symbolism of the fruits and trees of Israel. Like the Passover seder, the Tu B’Shevat one includes four cups of wine, each representing a different sphere in kabbalah. The first glass of wine is all white; the fruit is inedible on the outside and edible inside. The second glass of wine is equal parts white and red wine; the fruit is edible outside and inedible inside. The third glass wine is mostly red and some white; the fruit is completely edible. The last glass of wine is all red; the fruit is “spiritual sustenance.”

The celebration of this holiday has experienced resurgence recently, celebrated as a Jewish Earth Day

The fruits and nuts we enjoy at Tu B’Shevat offer an opportunity to reflect on our interconnectedness to the land, water and people who grow them. Creation provides physical and spiritual sustenance to nourish our bodies, souls and communities. As the director of the Heschel Center for Sustainability in Israel, Jeremy Benstein has written, “The natural world is the ground of our spiritual lives, source of symbolism and meaning.” 

When we eat foods that are produced in unhealthy ways, we are ingesting ingredients that limit our ability to embody Jewish values and manifest the potential of Torah. By looking at three different types of fruits (hard outer shell, inedible inside, completely edible), we can learn a lot about our food sources. Living in drought-ridden California — the primary grower of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, with $46.4 billion in profits in 2013 according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service — should make us more aware of  our role in this interconnected web of life.


Every time we eat food, we can consider how much water is required to produce it. Whether it’s a head of broccoli (more than five gallons of water), a pound of beef (1,847 gallons of water) or a pound of oranges (67 gallons of water), there are consequences to our state’s limited water supply

The Golden State grows 80 percent of the world’s almonds. And, the industry is expanding. But this nut bonanza is challenging the state’s already-strained water resources. Growing one almond requires a gallon of water. For the 860,000 acres of California almond trees, it adds up to a shocking 1.1 trillion gallons of water each year

Water stored in underground aquifers is a finite resource, and much of what we use today has been here since the time of Abraham and Sarah. The state’s flourishing global almond industry is a significant source of pressure on our groundwater systems. Professor Jay Famiglietti of UC Irvine, in an article in Mother Jones, described the current situation as, “[G]roundwater levels are on a one-way journey to the very bottom of the Central Valley.” 


Who grows our food and under what conditions is another hidden cost. Most of us do not see farmworkers doing the dangerous work of planting, tilling and picking (often by hand) our fruits and vegetables, for low pay and often with limited legal protections. More than a half million farmworkers live in California, and they are the critical backbone of the state’s agricultural industry.  Approximately one-third of them are women, and about 40,000 are children.

All farmworkers, undocumented or not, are exempt from basic labor protections of the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act afforded workers in all other industries. This leaves them more exposed to on-the-job abuse, poor wages, unlimited hours and unsafe working conditions. The average farmworker family’s income is less than $20,000 annually, with 43 percent of them using public assistance. Consumers pay the hidden costs of these workers living in poverty, as they often turn to charities and government agencies for health care, food and other basic services.

Fresno-based Gerawan Farming is the largest peach grower in the nation. But, not everything is sweet for its workers. The United Farm Workers labor union has been battling with the company (which sells under the label Prima) to raise wages and offer health benefits to its 5,000 workers. The company won’t implement a contract it negotiated with the union and a state appointed mediator.  As a result, employees are losing wages and health-care benefits. In an interview on Al Jazeera America,  employee Jose Dolores said, “I went to work there when I was 30, and now I’m 54, and I’m still poor. I just have enough money to buy tortillas and pay the rent.” 


The California strawberry industry includes 30,000 workers, many of whom are women and children, and their bodies are often exposed to pesticides in the fields. According to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), anywhere from 50 to 400 pounds of fumigants — some of the most toxic agricultural chemicals — can be applied to an acre of strawberries. Many of these highly toxic fumigants can cause cancer and can cause damage to human reproductive systems and brain development.

A strawberry farmworker exposed to the fumigant, methyl bromide, told PAN, “Sometimes I couldn't stand how my eyes were watering and my throat hurt; I couldn’t stand the gas. I would run outside the field to get some air. Now I can’t breathe well, and my vision is blurry.”

The health impacts of these pesticides aren’t limited to workers in fields. Nearby farmworker communities are exposed to pesticides through “drift” and interaction with family members. Dangers extend to consumers, too. The Environmental Working Group ranked strawberries No. 2 on its “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticide-laden produce. 

The response to these stories is not to throw up one’s hands and say, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” Rather, it’s to ask, “What can I do about it?”

The Chasidic master known as the Sefat Emet teaches that we are partners with God in awakening a renewal of the world every day through mitzvot. “The ways of the world for the Holy One blessed be He is to run and renew the world every day in a new order. … So, too, a person needs to renew his ways in his service to the creator each and every day” (as translated by “Torah Yoga” author Diane Bloomfield, who lives in Jerusalem).

Eating is a religious and spiritual act of renewal. Every time we buy food and eat, we can choose items whose sources are worthy of blessings, thereby spreading the light of Torah to the dark corners of our agricultural fields. Simple acts such as choosing pesticide-free strawberries, supporting farmworkers’ organizing efforts, knowing your farmers, or supporting efforts to end the use of fumigant pesticides in California will provide us all with internal and external spiritual sustenance.

More resources are available at neeshnoosh.net/resources.

Woman in red becomes leitmotif for Istanbul’s female protesters

In her red cotton summer dress, necklace and white bag slung over her shoulder she might have been floating across the lawn at a garden party; but before her crouches a masked policeman firing teargas spray that sends her long hair billowing upwards.

Endlessly shared on social media and replicated as a cartoon on posters and stickers, the image of the woman in red has become the leitmotif for female protesters during days of violent anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul.

“That photo encapsulates the essence of this protest,” says math student Esra at Besiktas, near the Bosphorus strait and one of the centres of this week's protests. “The violence of the police against peaceful protesters, people just trying to protect themselves and what they value.”

In one graphic copy plastered on walls the woman appears much bigger than the policeman. “The more you spray the bigger we get”, reads the slogan next to it.

The United States and the European Union as well as human rights groups have expressed concern about the heavy-handed action of Turkish police against protesters.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan branded the protesters on Monday extremists “living arm in arm with terrorism”, a description that seems to sit ill with the image of the woman in red.

There were others dressed in more combative gear and sporting face masks as they threw stones, but the large number of very young women in Besiktas and on Taksim Square where the protests began on Friday evening is notable.

With swimming goggles and flimsy surgical masks against the teargas, light tasseled scarves hanging around their necks, Esra, Hasine and Secil stand apprehensively in the Besiktas district on Monday evening, joined by ever growing numbers of youngsters as dusk falls and the mood grows more sombre.

They belong, as perhaps does the woman in red, to the ranks of young, articulate women who believe they have something to lose in Erdogan's Turkey. They feel threatened by his promotion of the Islamic headscarf, symbol of female piety.


Many of the women point to new abortion laws as a sign that Erdogan, who has advised Turkish women to each have three children, wants to roll back women's rights and push them into traditional, pious roles.

“I respect women who wear the headscarf, that is their right, but İ also want my rights to be protected,” says Esra. “I'm not a leftist or an anti-capitalist. İ want to be a business woman and live in a free Turkey.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the secular republic formed in 1923 from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, encouraged women to wear Western clothes rather than headscarves and promoted the image of the professional woman. Ironically, Erdogan is seen these days as, for better or worse, the most dominant Turkish leader since Ataturk.

Erdogan was first swept to power in 2002 and remains unrivalled in popularity, drawing on strong support in the conservative Anatolian heartland.

The weekend demonstrations in dozens of cities suggest however his popularity may be dwindling, at least among middle classes who swung behind him in the early years of political and economic reform that cut back the power of the army and introduced some rights amendments.

“Erdogan says 50 percent of the people voted for him. I'm here to show I belong to the other 50 percent, the half of the population whose feelings he showed no respect for, the ones he is trying to crush,” says chemistry student Hasine.

“I want to have a future here in Turkey, a career, a freedom to live my life. But all these are under threat. I want Erdogan to understand,” she adds.

Erdogan, a pious man who denies Islamist ambitions for Turkey, rejects any suggestion he wants to cajole anyone into religious observance. He says new alcohol laws, also denounced by the women, have been passed to protect health rather than on religious grounds.

Protesters are coming better prepared now than when the unrest first began. Some have hard-hats, some are dressed all in black, most wear running shoes. But many are dressed as femininely as the girl in the red dress snapped on Taksim Square.

“Of course I'm nervous and I know I could be in danger here. But for me that is nothing compared to the danger of losing the Turkish Republic, its freedoms and spirit,” said 23 year-old economics student Busra, who says her parents support her protest.

Editing by Ralph Boulton and Andrew Heavens

Greens launch environmental campaign on Tu B’Shevat

Two Jewish groups launched a joint initiative promoting environmentally friendly living on Tu B'Shevat, Jewish arbor day.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) and Canfei Nesharim, a group emphasizing sustainable living in the Orthodox community, said Friday they would collaborate on a range of initiatives raising environmental awareness within the Jewish community.

The two groups said they hoped to achieve a 14 percent reduction in the Jewish community's greenhouse gas emissions by September 2014 through the distribution of a Jewish Energy Guide, a pamphlet with information about energy conservation. In addition, the groups said they would work toward signifcantly cutting down on the inefficiant use of energy and wasteful food-consmuption practices.

“Marrying action resources with implementation tools, this collaboration will reach across multiple denominational and organizational spectra of Jewish life,” they said in a statement.

The groups made the announcement on Tu Bishvat, a holiday often referred to as the Jewish new year for trees or Jewish earth day. Jewish communities in Israel and around the world mark the occasion by planting trees and eating seasonal produce.

Observing Tu B’Shevat through fruit trees and food justice

Across the globe this month Jewish communities are celebrating the holiday of Tu B’Shevat.  Many choose to commemorate the “New Year of The Trees” by planting pine trees in Israel.  Tu B’Shevat is a day that deals directly with the social inequality of our food system.  It’s a holiday that can inspire us to think about building community food security. Why not plant fruit trees right here in Los Angeles to grow more food?

In Los Angeles County, 16.8% of residents (1.6 million people) went hungry in 2010. (Source: Map the Meal Gap, Feeding America http://www.lafoodbank.org/map-the-gap.aspx ). According to a California Food Policy Advocates report, “2010 Los Angeles County Nutrition and Food Insecurity Profile,” 57.4 percent of adults are overweight or obese and 12.9 percent of children are overweight in Los Angeles.  Hunger is a huge and complicated problem that is also wrapped up in the obesity crisis and it requires the collaboration of government, businesses, faith-based institutions, and non-profits to address.  

[RELATED: Tu B'Shevat – Netiya sows seeds of social justice]

In the Mishnah, where Tu B’Shevat is found, the purpose of the holiday is to make a single day in which our produce is taxed and given to the community. It’s based from a single line of Torah: “At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates; And the Levite, because he has no part nor inheritance with you, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied.“ (Deuteronomy 14:28).

Tu B’Shevat is an opportunity to more closely examine hunger and how to respond most effectively to ensure that hungry people have access to nutritious, healthy foods. Netiya,  a new city-wide network of faith-based institutions, is growing and tithing food to strengthen local food systems, and empowering ethical and informed food purchasing among our constituents. Through the seven gardens installed at Netiya member congregations, we are growing vegetables and fruits that are then tithed to food pantries. This is in accordance with the tradition of ma'aser, giving 10% of your harvest to the underserved in your community. In fact, however, we request that our members donate at least 90%, and most are doing so.

We challenge you to consider what it would look like for 10% of our city’s religious institutions to take ma’aser one step further and convert 10% of your unused institutional land (perhaps landscaped now with shrubs, annuals, or grass) into edible, productive crops to address hunger in our city. This wouldn’t require tearing up your parking lot to install a farm. Your institution could plant raised beds, or a vertical wall garden, fruit trees around your perimeter, window-box planters, or even a roof-top garden.  

Here are suggestions for ways individuals and congregations can respond to hunger in Los Angeles:

1. Reconsider food relief, move beyond the cans. Instead of cans, provide a monetary donation to an agency to purchase food in bulk.  According to the LA Times, “A $10 donation ends up leveraging as much as $200 worth of food for the charity to distribute.”  (LA Times, Nov 18, 2011: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/18/opinion/la-oe-arnold-canned-food-20111118)    

2. Ask, “What is needed most?” Call your local food pantry to ask what nutritious food items are needed prior to making a donation. Items such as beans, oatmeal and peanut butter are more useful than the expired, dusty jar of odd sauce tucked in the back of your cabinet.

3. Donate fresh produce to a local pantry. Giving away food that you’ve grown calls upon a very different kind of Golden-Rule-giving. We are fortunate to have an abundance of produce year-round in Southern California. A Netiya member, Temple Isaiah, is collecting fresh produce from its members to donate to JFS/SOVA food pantry each week.  Find a recipient agency to receive your fresh produce through AmpleHarvest.org.

4. Raise money for a pantry to expand nutritious food offerings. This can enable the purchase of refrigeration to store fresh produce, the bulk order of vegetables from a local farm or perhaps the installation of a garden.

5. Glean from your yard or neighborhood. Volunteer with Food Forward (www.foodforward.org) to get fresh fruit donated to local pantries. Gleaning, one of four Jewish agrarian laws of giving, more commonly known today as food rescue, encourages the collection of produce from backyard gardens and local farms for donation to emergency food providers.  

6. Donate your time. Cook and serve food at Project Chicken Soup, a local organization that prepares and delivers free, healthy meals to people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.

7. Plant a tree at home. Build a garden at your religious institution with Netiya.  Consider celebrating Tu B’Shevat by planting a fruit tree here at home. You can teach others to grow food to increase self-reliance. According to Maimonides, a great Jewish scholar and physician of the 12th century, giving your time and skills to help foster self-reliance for another person is the highest form of giving.  

The hunger in our city resonates because this food crisis is also a spiritual crisis. On this Tu B’Shevat, let’s reinvigorate the holiday’s original purpose, by doing our part to make hunger relief healthier, more respectful and more in line with our shared values. The solutions will be found in the halls of Congress, the pews of our congregations and the beds of our urban gardens. Here's to a future in which we all have access to an abundance of healthy food.

You can help by volunteering at these upcoming events:

– Project Chicken Soup, Jan. 27, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. for a Just Gardens installation and a roundtable discussion with leaders from Los Angeles’ food movement on “Food Relief: Beyond the Cans.”

– Temple Aliyah, Feb. 3 at 10 a.m. for a free workshop on organic pest control in your orchard, and fruit tree pruning in the Just Garden Netiya installed on Mitzvah Day.

– For more information on these events, visit netiya.org.

Devorah Brous is founding executive director of Netiya.  Sarah Newman is an executive committee member of Netiya

L.A.’s little-known plaque and grove of trees honor ‘Munich 11’

In the summer of 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, then-Mayor Tom Bradley and the local organizers of the Olympic Games unveiled a large bronze plaque honoring the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. The Israeli Olympic delegation was present for the unveiling, as were Jewish community leaders, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, at the time an L.A. City Councilman, remembers the ceremony and what stands out most, he said in a recent interview, was that it took place at Los Angeles City Hall.

“It was a big ceremony, and I kept asking myself, ‘Why is it here?’ ” Yaroslavsky recalled. “Why isn’t it at the Coliseum?” he said, referring to the venue where the games were taking place.

“The International Olympic Committee [IOC] said no, we couldn’t do it there, at the games,” said Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who served as secretary of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Instead, the plaque was hung temporarily at City Hall, then was reinstalled at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s Court of Honor after the games ended,  Reinhardt said. It continues to hang there today, alongside other commemorative plaques.

Reinhardt said he was surprised in 1984 when the IOC refused all requests to officially commemorate during the games here the 11 Israelis killed in 1972. No IOC officials attended the Los Angeles City Hall ceremony.

So when Reinhardt heard of the IOC’s refusal to commemorate the athletes with a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympic Games, set to begin in London on July 27, he said it “sounded just like the old days, all over again.”

This year’s push to commemorate the Israeli athletes has been more concerted and more public than ever before. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition asking the IOC to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies to mark the 40th anniversary of the killings. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney both endorsed the call, and NBC sports anchor Bob Costas told The Hollywood Reporter that if the IOC does not observe a minute of silence, he will dedicate a minute of silence himself, on the air.

Nevertheless, IOC President Jacques Rogge refused the request, telling the Associated Press that “the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

Instead, Rogge said the IOC will honor the athletes elsewhere and at other times, including at a reception in London on Aug. 6, during the games, and again at a ceremony on Sept. 5, the actual date of the anniversary, at the military airfield in Germany where they were killed.

In addition, at a ceremony in London on July 23, Rogge held an impromptu moment of silence in what he called “the first time [that the slain athletes were memorialized] in an Olympic Village.”

That the IOC is participating in any remembrance of the Israeli athletes, who have come to be known as “The Munich 11,” could be seen as progress, given the IOC’s earlier refusals to participate in commemorations such as the 1984 Los Angeles one.

However, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the Israeli athletes killed in Munich and the leaders of the campaign for the opening ceremony minute of silence, reportedly were outraged by Rogge’s action.

“This is not the right solution, to hold some ceremony in front of 30 or 40 people,” Spitzer told the Jerusalem Post on July 23. “We asked for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, not for someone to mumble something in front of a few dozen people.”

The L.A. City Hall ceremony wasn’t the only way the Israeli athletes were remembered in Los Angeles in 1984, though. On June 24, about a month before those games began, a copse of 11 purple-leaf plum trees was planted at the top of a hill in Pan Pacific Park, in the heavily Jewish Fairfax District.

According to Laura Bauernfeind, principal forester for the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks, trees are often planted in city parks in memory or in honor of people. “What’s unique about the grove in Pan Pacific Park,” she said, “is that it has a plaque.”

“These trees stand as a memorial to the eleven athletes who were murdered during the XXth Olympiad,” reads the plaque, which was dedicated by the Los Angeles chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Only nine trees stand on that hill today, and they appear to have been all but forgotten by the Jewish community. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding their planting; a representative from the JNF couldn’t uncover any records relating to the memorial grove, and Sanford Deutsch, who was president of the local JNF chapter when they were planted recently told The Journal in an interview that he didn’t remember the ceremony that took place almost 30 years ago.

These days, the grove looks a bit scruffy. The trees all appear to lean uphill at an acute angle, giving them a slightly cockeyed look. Two have no leaves at all, and five appear to have been replanted very recently. Of those, four are buttressed by wooden posts. 

Those posts ensure no lawnmower or young child will accidentally bump up against a tree (which could damage the underdeveloped roots), and are evidence of their care by the Department of Recreation and Parks. The department oversees between 850,000 and 1 million trees in the 16,000 acres of parkland in the city of Los Angeles.

“We think groves like this are important,” said Leon Boroditsky, whose official title with the department is “tree surgeon.” “And we want to maintain them to the best of our ability. But our staffing is really low.”

Budget constraints notwithstanding, Boroditsky, with help from volunteers from the nonprofit association TreePeople, oversaw the replanting of one of the trees in the grove just last April. Boroditsky said he plans to replant the two missing trees in the fall, when the weather is more conducive to growth.

“Being a tree in a park is a difficult life,” Boroditsky said, “Not as difficult as a street tree, but it definitely has its challenges, with kids and dogs and soccer players.”

A Biblical garden story

Rabbi Jonathan Kupetz and his wife, Karen, are stumped. They’re trying to explain just how many varieties of lettuce they’ve been able to grow since an urban farming company called Farmscape installed an organic garden in their yard last year. It’s a Wednesday, and rather than roving the aisles at Ralphs or Trader Joe’s, they’re standing in their driveway, pulling a veritable cornucopia of vegetables from a narrow strip of land that once was grass. 

According to Farmscape’s Rachel Bailin, the organization “started in Claremont three years ago … as a group of college graduates who wanted to change the food system and bring equal access to good-quality fresh food across Los Angeles.” While most of the company’s original clients were in the Claremont area, they’ve expanded throughout Los Angeles in the last couple of years, with clients as far away as Redondo Beach and Thousand Oaks. 

Many of Farmscape’s clients, like the Kupetzes, are brand new to gardening, but that hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm. “We didn’t grow anything before this, no green thumb whatsoever, no idea how to do any of this. Had it not been for Farmscape, there’s just no way,” said Karen of her family’s journey into farming. It began when the City of Claremont started offering residents $3 per square foot of land if they’d get rid of their water-hogging grass. At around the same time, Jonathan, the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Pomona, was invited with Karen to a congregant’s house. The congregant had put in a beautiful garden with the help of Farmscape, and the Kupetzes were impressed.

With the promise of more climate-friendly landscaping and a chance to teach their kids about gardening, it didn’t hurt that they would also be saving money in the long run. “It takes a tremendous amount of water in the hot climate here to keep the kind of grass we had growing,” Jonathan said. “And not only is water a really scarce resource, but out here especially, it’s tremendously expensive. It was by far our biggest bill.”

Bailin, who grew up Jewish in Iowa, said that, despite Farmscape’s not being a specifically Jewish organization, a majority of its clients are Jewish. It’s a fact she’s proud of, even though she didn’t set out for it to be that way. “It was very ingrained in me (growing up) that you are connected to the earth,” she said.  So when the Kupetzes asked for a garden with a biblical touch, Farmscape was more than happy to oblige. Besides biblical classics such as figs, pomegranates, grapes, onions and apples, the Kupetzes grow everything from watermelons to mustard greens. 

Jonathan was particularly taken with the idea of using their garden for a greater good. “The Torah teaches that we’re to guard and to till the earth and also that we have dominion over the earth, but with dominion comes a sense of responsibility,” he said. To that extent, the Kupetzes hope to donate much of their crop once their 18 fruit trees mature. “Inland Valley Hope Partners, which is our regional food bank, has a program now where college students … once you’ve picked what you want, come up to your fruit trees and pick the stuff and hand it out to families who need it,” Jonathan said.

One of the Kupetzes’ Farmscape plant beds.

Karen said their three children have also responded to their parents’ new obsession with farming: “They’re more willing to try things when they know that it’s been grown here.” “We eat better,” Jonathan said. “So much better,” Karen added, emphatically. “We didn’t use our yard the way we use it now; we didn’t appreciate it.”

Once upon a time, the Kupetzes were intimidated by the idea of gardening. One of the reasons they chose to work with Farmscape was the promise of having a full-time farmer come out every week to help grow their crops, a service Farmscape provides for $60 per week. “The idea was all we had to do was watch it grow,” Karen said. But soon, she found herself slipping outside to learn from their farmer, Todd Lininger, and becoming something of a farmer herself.  “My learning curve in the last year has been incredibly steep, and it’s been an amazing challenge and an incredible experience,” she said.

The average Farmscape garden, which includes two large vegetable beds, special soil, plants and a drip irrigation system, runs around $2,700, Bailin said, though some people choose to go larger or smaller. “We have clients who sign up with us for a year, they come out, they learn how to exactly tend an organic garden, and then they’ll do it themselves.” 

With Tu B’Shevat around the corner, the Kupetzes are also mindful of how their garden has helped deepen their religious lives as well. “We’ve certainly never experienced Tu B’Shevat in the way we’re experiencing it this year,” Karen said, looking around at her semi-dormant winter garden. “Tu B’Shevat doesn’t come at a time when things are colorful … it’s sort of the promise of spring.

“We do a lot of hosting, especially around Sukkot time. So that’s a wonderful time to have people here, because the summer crop is still going,” she added.

Karen said she’s still amazed every time someone comes over and is shocked by how clueless they were about the origin of the food they eat. “Adults have no clue that kiwis grow on a vine, or that blueberries grow on a bush, or that onions grow in the ground.  We’re just so disconnected with where our food comes from,” she lamented.

The Kupetzes take solace in the fact that their example has already helped to make a change in their community. “There are at least a half-a-dozen people who have started doing some kind of garden stuff because of our garden,” Jonathan said. “You can’t experience the garden by looking at it. You have to get dirty; you have to taste it; you have to feel it. It’s a very sensory experience,” Karen said. “We hope, as things continue to grow and bloom, that we can integrate it more into not only our Jewish lives, but the community’s Jewish lives as well.”

After fire, what types of trees are best suited for Israel?

From leafy eucalyptus trees lapping the shores of the Sea of Galilee to date palms in the desert to pine and oak trees in the North—many of which were destroyed in the Carmel’s forest fire last month—Israel will celebrate trees on Tu b’Shvat.

The holiday, which for centuries was a rather obscure festival mentioned in the Mishnah as the new year for trees, was revived by the early Zionists as part of their back-to-the-land ethos. It’s now a highlight of the Israeli national calendar, with tens of thousands of Israelis, most of them schoolchildren, pouring out across the country to plant saplings in celebration of the Jewish Arbor Day.

But this year, in wake of the Carmel Forest fire that killed 44 and consumed some 5 million trees and 12,000 acres of land, a growing understanding has taken root that mass replanting of trees is not the way to go. At least not right now.

“Planting is still important, but in many cases we have to make a kind of change in our consciousness,” said Yisrael Tauber, director of forest management for the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael. “It’s not just planting, but also natural regeneration of forests, and the managing of that natural regeneration that is key.”

The strategy after the fire has cast a spotlight on Israel’s longtime rush to make the Holy Land green, which for decades was embraced as Gospel (or, more accurately, Torah from Sinai) by both Diaspora and Israeli Jews. The question now is not how fast trees can be planted but whether and which trees should go in the ground, and how Israel should plan its ecological future.

In the state’s early years there was a rush to plant pines, considered among the only trees that could survive and grow quickly on the bare, rocky ground that covers much of Israel, Tauber said.

“But now we are in a second, new phase,” he noted. “We are now building sustainable forestry after these pioneering pines did a wonderful job for the first generation.”

With a dry climate similar to that of California or Spain, Israel is a natural home for relatively short trees that need little water. Some, like acacias, can go for months without even a drop.

For centuries the area was covered in a patchwork of squat, dense low-lying forest, especially in the native woodland areas of the Carmel, Galilee and the Judean hills. But by the time the early Zionist settlers arrived, much of the forestland had been depleted, used over the years as firewood, building material, grazing land for goats and sheep, and even train tracks in the Ottoman era.

“When people came to the land it looked like desert,” said Yagil Osem, a forestry expert at Israel’s Agriculture Ministry. “Part of the Zionist ethos was to rehabilitate the view.”

After several failed attempts with other species, the Aleppo pine (also known as the Jerusalem pine) was chosen in the 1930s as the ideal tree for planting. Selected for its heartiness in arid soil and ability to grow quickly and soar high into the sky, the tree created the kind of forests with room for hiking and recreation that the Jews living in prestate Palestine knew of from Europe.

Today that first generation of pines is aging, demanding more water and more prone to problems like pests, disease and fire, according to Osem. Forests that are almost exclusively pine planted of the same age and variety are especially vulnerable, he said.

The planting paradigm began to shift by the 1980s with a growing awareness of the importance of forest diversification. Other native varieties began to be introduced, including carob, pistachio, oak and other varieties of pine. The common oak is seen throughout the country’s forests as well as in the Golan Heights.

Now the goal is to have as many “mixed” forests as possible with a focus on sustainable management, JNF officials say.

Among the non-native pine species introduced in recent years to Israel are the Brutia, a variety that grows in Turkey and Cyprus and is known for being more pest resistant, and the Stone pine (also known as the nut pine), which produces pine nuts. The Stone pine is thought originally to have been brought to the Holy Land by the Romans, who cooked with pine nuts.

In a land where even trees have become politicized as part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the pine tree has become emblematic of a renewed Jewish presence here, while the olive tree has become a symbol of the Palestinians’ ties to the land. Of course, in biblical times the Jews were also known for tending olive trees.

The olive tree’s deep historical roots date back some 10,000 years as this agricultural commodity took on important regional economic importance.

Other prominent trees in Israel include the carob, which grows throughout the country. Originally from Africa, it is a relatively late local species, and like other successful trees here it needs little water to thrive.

A cousin to the carob is the almond tree, whose white blossoms are harbingers of Tu b’Shvat’s arrival. It grows both at higher elevations and in the transition zone between the coastal Mediterranean plain and the desert. In its wild form its almonds are inedible, so it’s the domesticated variety that provides the almonds commonly eaten on Tu b’Shvat.

Fig trees also are native and grow naturally near Israel’s rivers and streams.

Cypress trees, which can live for hundreds of years, also are part of the Israeli landscape, most commonly seen in the North. Experts think the species may be native but that it disappeared over the centuries by locals attracted to the wood produced by its attractive, straight shape. The cypresses of today were brought from other parts of the Mediterranean and planted here. They are used often in landscaping and, because of their candle-like appearance, are planted frequently in the country’s cemeteries.

Date palms, located in the Arava Desert and the Jordan Valley, grow naturally along desert streams, but it’s not clear whether such trees are native or the result of the casual tossing of their seeds by snacking Bedouin nomads.

Citrus trees, specifically the Jaffa orange, are cultivated in groves along the coastal plain, and in the 1950s and ‘60s they represented something of an unofficial national symbol. But with the shrinking of Israel’s agriculture industry, many of the groves have been replaced by homes and office buildings.

Israeli citrus—oranges, lemons, tangerines and pomellos—are still exported in relatively large quantities, especially to Europe but even as far afield as Japan. It is thought that the first orange varieties were brought to the region by Arab traders who brought them from China and India. The introduction of more commercially successful avocado, mango and banana plantations have edged out many of the remaining citrus groves in Israel.

Much of the tree-planting energy today in Israel goes to the northern Negev Desert, where trees are being planted not on the grand level of the forests in the North but in small orchards and green areas as sources of shade and recreation. Their growth is assisted with collected rainwater by planting the trees in small depressions where the water can pool.

Osem says these Israeli rainwater collection techniques are being copied by countries suffering from desertification in parts of Africa and Asia.

It’s one way the spirit of Tu b’Shvat is going global.

Balancing resources and lives — being Jewish and ‘green’

I entered the classroom, where more than 30 Jewish adults who had been studying together for the past semester buzzed in conversation. I began class by asking my students a simple question: “Are you concerned about what is happening to our environment and worried about what the future will be for your children and grandchildren?”

Without a single exception, everyone in the room said yes.

Read any newspaper today and you will find stories about the problems that are being created by global warming: water, air and soil pollution; destruction of ecosystems and rain forests, and, of course, our dependency on oil. However, human abuse of our earth is not a new issue or one that has developed solely as a result of technology. Sadly, man’s instinct to destroy the natural world dates back to biblical times.

It seems that we have always needed guidance in how to treat the earth. In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, we are commanded not to cut down fruit-bearing trees during a siege against a city, although we can cut down nonfruit-bearing ones for building materials. This prohibition on destroying (bal tashchit) teaches us two very important lessons: restraint in how we act upon the earth and the value of humility.

What better time could there be to limit the human tendency to act without concern for the earth than in a time of conquest, when we are easily carried away by our own sense of power? Even more significant is the idea of our responsibility for and to future generations. Bal tashchit prohibits us from destroying a source of food that will one day feed the people who survived the battles that are being fought.

Judaism has a lot to say about how to create a balance between using the resources we have and abusing or destroying them. The rabbis and sages greatly expanded the concept of bal tashchit to prohibit the wasting of everyday goods and materials, as well as clogging of wells, release of toxic fumes and chemicals and killing of animals for convenience.

The basic principle they established bears repeating today: While man may use the earth for his needs, he may not use any resource needlessly. But how do we weigh our needs against our excesses? Who decides what is a legitimate use and what is wasteful?

In attempting to answer these questions, we need to look at the purposes for which man was created in the first place. Our first answers are found in Genesis 1: 28, where we learn that man was put on the earth to “fill it and conquer/subdue it,” and in Genesis 2:15, where our Divine purpose is “to work it [the Garden of Eden] and to guard it.” Our marching orders seem clear, or do they?

From the beginning of time, we have had to face the challenge of balancing our obligation to use the environment for our own needs with the responsibility to preserve and protect it. Jewish tradition is rich with ideas, rituals and holidays that enable us to develop a sound Jewish environmental ethic keeping this tension in mind.

Every day, each time we eat, the Jewish menu of kashrut reminds us that the world is ours to use, but that there are limitations on how we can use it. The concept of restricted foods is incrementally introduced in the Torah — first, when God permits Adam to eat only fruits and vegetables and then, later in the Torah, when the Israelites are given a long list of animals, birds and fish that they are no longer permitted to eat — reinforcing the idea that we do not have unrestricted use of the world in which we live.

Jews have a special weekly reminder to help us balance our need to control the environment with caring for it. Shabbat is the original Earth Day: It celebrates the majesty of creation and tells us in no uncertain terms that the earth is for us to enjoy, but that we have a weekly obligation to let it rest, just as we are commanded to rest. On Shabbat, we relinquish our own work in order to pause and reflect on the wonder of creation, rather than to dominate and control it.

The concept of the sabbatical year, or shmita in Hebrew, also helps us develop a continuing environmental awareness by requiring us to refrain from agricultural activity, such as planting, plowing and harvesting during the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated in the Torah. Once again, we are required to limit our use of the earth, which is on loan to us, in order to fulfill our role as stewards.

Recently, much has been written about the concept of ecokashrut, which is the practice of using environmentally friendly, ecocertified kosher foods, goods and materials as a way of sanctifying individual use and consumption. Ecokashrut looks for Jewish solutions to contemporary environmental problems in traditional texts and ideas like tikkun olam (repairing the world), chesed (compassion) and tzedek (justice). It encompasses more than just the food we eat, but the clothing we wear, the cars we drive and the products we use to sustain us.

A Web site sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (

Save the date, save the world

Wedding invitations have traditionally gone beyond telling friends and family about the whens and wheres of a couple’s big day. Through use of color, typefaces and embellishments, they made a statement about a couple’s personality and tastes.

As the environment and economy play roles in changing tradition, today’s couples are compelled to think beyond the surface of their invitations, as well as R.S.V.P. cards, thank-you notes and programs.

Stationery purveyors, many thriving online, are not only up on “surface detail” trends, but also environmentally sound alternatives to traditional wedding stationery. Savvy couples are realizing — in increasing numbers — that when they send out invites, they are also sending out a message about their own sustainability practices. Some are turning away from paper and ink altogether and looking to cyberspace for their wedding communication needs, from the invites to thank-you notes, as well as albums and scrapbooks.

Stacy Broff, a Los Angeles event publicist/planner and bride-to-be, is well versed on current trends professionally and personally. Her wedding is planned as “a simple but classy event,” and she stresses the importance of striking a balance between creating the “fairy tale,” staying within budget and doing her part for the environment.

Broff researched a company selling eco-friendly invitations. While she acknowledges the ultimate way to invite green is to use e-mail, she and the client felt paper invites were necessary for the audience they wanted to reach. Westside green Realtor/broker Pence Hathorn Silver served as her invite inspiration.

“Some brides seek out luxury because, after all, this is their big day,” Broff said. “However, Pence Hathorn Silver gave me thank-you notes that can be planted in the garden instead of tossed in the trash — what a perfect way to say thank you and do something good for the Earth. Meanwhile, I combed through dozens of wedding sites and wedding magazines, and found many companies offering eco-friendly goods and services. I advise brides to take the time to pick and choose what solutions are most important to them. You can’t do everything — but you can do a lot.”

” target=”_blank”>www.botanicalpaperworks.com, which offers invitations made with wildflower seeds. He also notices that Web site addresses are showing up more often on invites, which offers couples a paper-free way to create elaborate wedding sites that incorporate details of the wedding and all events (bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinner, bridal shower), along with ceremony site, restaurants and accommodations.

Jonathan Abrams, who founded social networking Web site Friendster, has capitalized on the paperless movement with ” target=”_blank”>Minted.com, which launched in April and exclusively offers green stationery from Oblation and Wiley.

She recommended that brides visit ” target=”_blank”>GoGreen.com offers insight into how eco-friendly invites help the planet:

  • Use post-consumer waste or recycled paper products, or “paper” made from grasses, cotton, flax, hemp, straw, silk and silk blends.
  • When you use these products, know that you are reducing chlorine pollution!
  • Do something unique like using pretty postcards as your invitation.
  • If postcards are not your thing, try to reduce the amount of paper used overall. Reconsider the use of paper and tissue inserts.
  • Think about your ink! If you print your invites at home, refill your ink cartridges. When you get rid of cartridges, donate them to a cause or drop in a recycling box. Also, seek online companies that print with earth friendly inks, and others sell similar inks for home use.

Get it done

About 15 years ago some stick-like things began appearing on the hard, ugly stretch of Venice Boulevard from where it crosses Lincoln and continues to the beach.

The sticks were trees, but pitifully thin, with trunks a woman could wrap her fingers around and no more than a handful of leaves. Cynical locals like myself were certain the trees would end up stolen, vandalized or turned into a homeless person’s campfire.

I wasn’t alone in wondering what hapless fool saw four barren lanes of L.A. asphalt and imagined a tree-shaded boulevard.

Then I met Jim Murez.

He and Melanie and their two kids were members of Mishkon Tephilo, the Venice congregation my wife was leading back then.

No one could tell me for sure what Jim did, but rumor had it he had something to do with the appearance of the sticks.

And it wasn’t until three weeks ago, a few days before the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, that I heard the whole story.

Murez, 55, created and manages the Venice Farmers’ Market, held each Friday morning by the public library. I cornered him there and made him tell me.

Like most tree stories in Los Angeles, it begins with Andy Lipkis, the founder of TreePeople, who was also a high school classmate of Murez.

“Andy came to the market one day and told me, ‘Did you know you could get a half a million dollars to plant trees?'” Murez said as we stood by the itinerant latte vendor (this is the Venice Farmers’ Market, after all). It was 1992. Assemblyman Richard Katz had sponsored AB 471, which provided funds for the “environmental mitigation” following the widening of the boulevard, and the funds were sitting around unused.

In two weeks Murez wrote a 60-page proposal for his community group, the Venice Action Committee. Six months later he received $492,000 to plant 1,400 trees along Venice Boulevard and in the surrounding neighborhoods, including three parks and five schools.

Murez chose indigenous varieties, mostly California sycamores. The idea was to conserve water and create a dramatic shady canopy for the wide street. He resisted a professional landscaper’s idea to line the street, Hollywood-style, with palm trees.

“Telephone poles with grass skirts,” he calls them.

The trees arrived, barely 1.5 inches in diameter and no taller than the curly headed Murez, who stands about 6-foot-1.

Murez turned to a Youth at Risk city-funded jobs programs to provide much of the planting labor, and local residents and school groups pitched in.

“Everybody was pleased something had happened,” Murez recalled.

But few expected the trees to last. And again, they wouldn’t have, unless some hapless fool hadn’t spent his free time pulling a 400-gallon water tank behind his one-ton pickup. That would be Murez.

The city only guaranteed irrigation until 1999. After that, Murez took up the task. It took him a full day each week.

Over the years, Murez wet-nursed the trees. He wasn’t Johnny Appleseed, spraying out seeds and hoping they’d take. He wasn’t ElzÃ(c)ard Bouffier, the character in the Jean Giono story who turns a barren valley into an oak woodland by spreading acorns far and wide. Murez did what he did by sticking by his dream He cajoled the local government bureaucracy. The city, for instance, was supposed to contribute water, but never installed meters for the irrigation. So Murez got the bill, which was in the thousands, and he had to fight.

“People told the city, ‘You can’t bill this guy for watering your trees,'” Murez said.

He persevered, involving his neighbors, leveraging state and local funds, and standing up to the ravages of urban life.

“Basically, I have to make sure the trees don’t get chopped down,” he said. He still calls the city to intervene when a homeowner wrongly prunes a tree: “You don’t top a big tree, you clip from the bottom,” he said.

And the trees are big. Now almost 15 years old, the sycamores top out at 30 feet with thick, sturdy trunks. Their spreading canopies and wide, palmate leaves filter the sunlight and create an archway to the sea. In spring, when the sycamores leaf out in bright green, the drive down Venice is as breathtaking as the ocean itself.

Yes, Tu B’Shevat passed a while ago — the natural time to write about Jim Murez. But a big primary election is a more recent memory — a time when we chose a man or woman to lead us, to do the things we believe we can’t do ourselves, to be, in the overused parlance of Campaign ’08, the candidate of change.

Then comes Jim Murez, to remind us that, in the end, we’re our own best agents of change.

All of which doesn’t answer my original question: What does Jim Murez do?

I asked him, finally.

“I guess you could say I’m a computer consultant,” he said. “I patented the first portable computer in the mid-70s. But that’s not what I do. I’ve spent 20 years running the Venice Farmer’s Market, but …” Murez’s voice trailed off, unhappy with any one answer. “I just do stuff,” he said finally. “I’m a doer.”

Take Tu B’Shevat to heart and start healing nature

These are the times for which Tu B’Shevat was created. The rabbis who envisioned this holiday were prophetic: They knew we would need to be reminded on a regular basis about howimportant trees are to our lives. And trees have never been more important to our survival than they are today.

Trees heal and protect us. They are our planet’s life support system. In our collective ignorance, we’ve unwittingly done so much damage to the natural systems upon which our lives depend that their ability to support us has been severely compromised. Climate change is just one consequence unfolding today.

So what do trees do? Most of us know they produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. Less obvious is the crucial role trees and forests play in moderating climate, preventing floods, filtering water pollution, ensuring water supply, lowering energy demands and preventing skin cancer.

Trees don’t ask for anything as they perform these services. As a result, humans forget how important they are. When we forget or no longer understand our need for trees and forests, we also neglect the need to plant, nurture and protect them. The result? Havoc.

Throughout history, as civilizations have forgotten and allowed forests to be destroyed, they’ve perished. It’s a fairly simple cycle. When trees and forests are cut down, they are replaced with deserts. Floods, erosion, desertification, drought and famine replace fertile soil, abundance and stability. Our rabbis knew this. People forget.

Today, climate change provides an urgent reminder of the connections between trees and life support. At the most basic level, more trees equals more carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.

But in Los Angeles, trees do much more. As trees shade asphalt surfaces, they reduce overall urban temperatures. Properly planted trees can reduce the “urban heat island effect” by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. As trees shade buildings, they reduce our need for air conditioning. One mature tree located for maximum shade can reduce a homeowner’s energy bills by as much as 10 percent.

Perhaps even more important is trees’ potential for reducing what is the largest single use of electricity in the state of California — the 20 percent of our state’s energy required to run the pumps that bring water to Los Angeles.

But don’t Los Angeles’ trees use this water? To some extent they do. But over their lifetime, if appropriately planted and cared for, trees can provide amazing water conservation services. Essentially, trees recharge our groundwater. Think of them as nature’s sponges.

Imagine a typical L.A. winter rainstorm. First picture the water as it hits our typical cityscape of driveways, parking lots and streets. The drops hit the ground and quickly surge, picking up toxins and trash and washing through storm drains into the sea, polluting, wasting and costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year in water and flood control costs.

Now picture this rainwater as it lands on a tree. Imagine a healthy, mature tree — one surrounded by mulched earth. Here the rain’s fall is broken as it hits the canopy of leaves, where it is softened and slowed down. From there, the water drips gradually into the ground, cleaned and filtered through the soil as it goes.

A very large, mature oak tree (with a 100-foot diameter canopy) in a deeply mulched setting can retain as much as 57,000 gallons of water — two swimming pools’ worth — over an average year. That’s water that, if allowed to soak into our local aquifer, could help replace the water we transport (with fossil fuels) from the Colorado River and other distant sources.

What I’ve just described is the forest’s natural water cycle — it’s what operated in our region before we came along and in our ignorance, disregarded, overpaved and broke it. At TreePeople, the organization I’ve led for more than 34 years, our dream is to restore this cycle and in the process heal our city and make it sustainable.

How do we do that? We are working with volunteers from communities across the county to literally break up the concrete and asphalt and put the forest back in place. We are educating people about all the things that a forest can do and engaging them to bring those natural cycles back.

Clearly we have a big job. At one time, Los Angeles was a lovely, natural ecosystem. Now the city is two-thirds paved.

We have become one of the most unsustainable urban areas on the planet. But we can turn that around. And it can start with you this Tu B’Shevat if we take Tu B’Shevat to heart and engage in stewardship and healing of nature, so that nature can heal and protect us.

Everyone can play a role in this healing. You can plant trees in your home landscape, schoolyards, streets and parking lots. You can do this as an individual, a family, a congregation, business or club. You can plant fruit trees with low-income families to help increase their access to nutrition. You can work with your neighbors to green and beautify your neighborhoods and restore your connection with community.

You can also be an advocate for sufficient county and city funding to ensure that public trees are properly cared for.

To successfully do this healing work requires learning the tree lessons we’ve forgotten and adding new skills of community engagement to ensure the new trees can both survive and thrive.

TreePeople can be a resource. We provide training, tools, resources and volunteers to help people bring green to schools, streets, parks and damaged natural areas.

These truly are the times Tu B’Shevat was created for. To honor the deepest intent of the holiday, consider making a deeper commitment to trees and the environment. Consider making it a priority to heal and restore our natural systems all year round. In the balance is a chance to repair the significant damage we’ve done, and a chance to be a healing force that benefits us all.

Andy Lipkis is the founder of TreePeople.

Phone call sparks memory of young AIDS victim

I recently received a phone call from an extraordinary woman.

“This is Robin Jacobs,” she said. I couldn’t place her at first.

She started to cry as she
continued, “I wanted you to know how much we cherish the wonderful book you made for Ariel’s bat mitzvah.” And then it hit me. I knew immediately who she was.
My mind raced back 11 years to the summer of 1995. It was shortly before my nephew Aaron’s bar mitzvah. There was an article in The Jewish Journal about a girl named Ariel Jacobs, who was preparing for her bat mitzvah.

I vividly remember her picture. She was angelic and beautiful — her head was gently resting on the backs of her two Weimaraners. Coincidentally, both Aaron and Ariel were born at Cedars in 1982, within just a few weeks of each other.
However, there was one big difference between them. Ariel had been jaundiced at birth, because of a blood-type incompatibility with her mother, and required a transfusion. As a result of contaminated blood, she contracted HIV, which later developed into AIDS.

As her bat mitzvah approached, Ariel was struggling with severe complications from the disease — shingles, thrush, high fevers, severe rashes. Because of her frail condition, the ceremony was going to take place at the Jacobs’ San Fernando Valley home. Ariel’s incredibly supportive and loving family, which included her parents, Robin and Larry, and brothers, Ethan, then 17, and David, then 9, would be by her side.

I was deeply touched by Ariel’s strength, courage and intense determination to celebrate her bat mitzvah. I was also acutely aware of how easily things could have turned out differently for my own family. I was so grateful to God that Aaron was healthy.

I wanted very much to do something special for Ariel to recognize her wonderful accomplishment. I loved the concept of trees as symbols of life. So, I contacted family members and friends (some as far away as Jerusalem) and asked them to honor Ariel by planting 18 trees, representing chai (life), in the Children’s Forest in Israel.

I compiled the tree c
ertificates and a special letter from President Bill Clinton into a book. Ariel loved it. Her parents said the book brought her much joy. She found it meaningful and comforting, and enjoyed sharing it with her friends. They displayed the book, along with a few other special gifts, at her bat mitzvah ceremony.

Ariel fulfilled her dream. Her bat mitzvah was an extremely moving experience for her family and friends. In an especially touching gesture, Ariel honored the memory of Anique Kasper by twinning the bat mitzvah with her. Anique, who was also born at Cedars during the same period, died of AIDS before reaching her 13th birthday.

In the years that followed, I thought about Ariel many times, but was reticent to call her parents. I wondered how she was doing and what had happened to her. I didn’t know whether she had survived because of the new treatment regimens, or whether she had died. Unfortunately, as soon as I heard the pain in her mother’s voice, I knew the answer — my worst fears were realized.

Robin told me that after the bat mitzvah, Ariel’s condition deteriorated. She developed a serious opportunistic infection, pneumocystis pneumonia, was wheelchair-bound and lost most of her vision. She suffered a great deal.
Ariel fought a valiant battle with enormous dignity and grace. She died on Jan. 11, 1998, at the age of 15. She was surrounded by the family that loved her so deeply, the family that supported and stood by her every step of the way.

Ariel’s indomitable spirit lives on. Robin and Larry Jacobs are anticipating the birth of their first grandchild at any moment. Her middle name will be Ariel.
Robin called to share this wonderful news and to tell me that she plans to pass the book on to her new granddaughter one day.

Robin said that the book was one of the most meaningful gifts that Ariel and their family had ever received. She told me they often looked at it, and that it brought them great comfort — especially after Ariel’s death. Robin felt that the book inspired many of their friends to reach out to others in special ways.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “The heart is revealed in the deed.”

I believe Ariel’s heart is truly an inspiration for all of us. She had limitless compassion and love. Her story has great meaning and can teach us valuable life lessons, especially during this introspective period of the Yomim Noraim.
Zichrona L’vracha. May her memory be a blessing.

Gloria Baran develops social action and community service programs for children, including a variety of tzedakah projects for Camp Ramah.

Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Q: When does a Christmas tree become a Tu B’Shevat tree?


A: When a Westwood church and a Santa Monica synagogue decide that having one tree do double duty is good both for the environment and the spiritual awareness of their congregants.


After the hard-working tree has done its dual job, it will be planted in a public park for everyone to enjoy.

Fifty Jewish families from Beth Shir Sholom and 50 Christian families from the Westwood Hills Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ are each contributing $36 to jointly purchase one tree, for a total of 50 trees.

The trees, in planters, were delivered to the church on Dec. 12, during a joint celebration with temple members.

After the Christmas season, on Jan. 9, the trees will be delivered to Beth Shir Sholom families, who will care for them for the next three weeks.

Although Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees, falls on Jan. 25 this year, the actual tree planting will be delayed until Sunday, Jan. 30.

On the morning of Jan. 30, the Christian and Jewish families will meet at the temple and nosh on the fruits symbolic of the holiday, after blessings by the rabbi.

Immediately afterward, the trees will be transported to the Ed Edelman Park in Topanga Canyon and planted there with the help of the TreePeople, Malibu Creek State Park and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

“This project marks the convergence of two traditions, without detracting from the integrity of either one,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, the “Progressive Reform” congregation long active in interfaith relations. “In both traditions, trees symbolize new life and hope.”

“We tend to link Christmas and Chanukah because they happen around the same time,” said the Rev. Kirsten Linford-Steinfeld of the church. Linford-Steinfeld, who is married to a Jewish man, warmly endorsed the project. “I think it’s a neat idea to connect two of our holidays in a different way, especially since Tu B’Shevat comes exactly one month after Christmas this year.”

The project was the brainchild of Nurit Ze’evi, who thought of the idea when she remembered her childhood in Israel and the Tu B’Shevat holiday.

This year, the project will be on a trial run, but Ze’evi already has more ambitious plans for the future.

In a poem she wrote for the occasion, Ze’evi envisions that in the years to come, hundreds and then thousands of Christians and Jews will join hands in planting Christmas/Tu B’Shevat trees in Los Angeles, the United States and across the world.


A Desert High in Palm Springs

While nearby flatlands warm under perfect 60-degree winter weather, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports visitors to a pristine snow-covered forest. In just 10 minutes, this aerial tram carries passengers nearly 6,000 feet. The beautiful 14,000 acres of Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area are among the most visit-worthy in this heavily tourist destination.

As you ride in the world’s largest rotating cars of the Aerial Tramway, the flora and fauna include everything one would see driving from the hot Sonora Desert of Mexico to the Transitional (alpine) Zone of Alaska. The highlights read like entries from a naturalist guide. From the main road nearest the tram, Highway 111, to the tram station, this green cienega, or Spanish marsh, nurtures cottonwood, sycamore, wild grape, mesquite and native Washingtonia filifera palm trees. Barrel cactus, cholla, prickly pear and yucca grow amid springtime wildflowers, including lupine, Canterbury bells and sunflowers.

Desert bighorn sheep, kit and gray foxes, bobcats, coyotes and ringtail raccoons also make their home here. As the tram climbs, wild apricot trees stand amid metamorphic rock, gneisses and schists. Deer and mountain lion roam among chaparral. And as the elevation rises, evergreens, firs and oaks thin as the peak approaches.

At the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, there are a host of trails — including a three-quarters of a mile loop through picturesque Long Valley, just behind the Mountain Station that introduces visitors to regional plants and animals. A much longer path, at 5.5 miles, leads to the peak of Mount San Jacinto, the second-tallest mountain in Southern California at 10,834 feet.

The ideal tram departure time is just before sunset. The reversible 80-passenger cars revolve slowly from within, making two rotations and offering spectacular views. One popular option: capping off the day with a drink in the Top of the Tram Restaurant and the Elevations Restaurant while admiring the city lights below.

Erected in 1963, nearly 30 years after its inception, the tramway was named an engineering “wonder of the world” for its ingenious use of helicopters in erecting four of five support towers; 23,000 flight missions were required to carry workers, supplies and materials for the towers and the Mountain Station.

During the summer, the mercury reaches well into the 100s in Palm Springs, but the mountain offers more than 54 miles of hiking trails, camping and guided nature walks, at almost 40 degrees cooler.

Another day, my father and I opted to hike closer to sea level at nearby Palm Canyons. This ancient home of the band of Cahuilla (Agua Caliente) Indians boasts palms that are 200 years old, many of them with the natural foliage skirts that are removed on commercial palms. These layers of dried branches encircle the trunk-like structure of these trees, which technically are massive grasses rather than trees.

We learned these facts and more by joining a guided tour with Rocky, a native Hawaiian who turned tribal ranger after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps and 10 volunteering with the San Bernadino Police Department as a rescue tracker. His desert survival skills make him a perfect guide. Rocky showed us all the edibles and how the native peoples prepared acorns, made their homes and harvested the sweet date palm fruit growing high overhead.

We wandered amid giant palms, verdant grasses and a warm, picturesque creek that smelled of sulfur due to a high mineral content. Rocky pointed out one tiny, creek-side impression where a native family would have once ground their acorns (five such mini-ditches appear in rocks throughout the canyon).

In contrast to our inspiring, mellow days of hiking, one evening we attended the raucous “Palm Springs Follies,” a Rockette-style music and dance of the 1930s and ’40s with performers old enough to have lived it. Amazingly youthful seniors age 56 to 86 strut their stuff in between international vaudeville acts from November through May.

Jewish impresario Riff Markowitz, a former television producer, serves as emcee for this three-hour extravaganza, leading the audience through a show peppered with Jewish jokes — even a few relating to travel.

At one point he turned his attention to the holiday of Thanksgiving, saying no Jews were aboard the Mayflower.

“Do you know why?” he asked. “There were no first-class seats.”

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located at One Tramway
Road. The cost is about $20. Tramcars depart every half hour from 10 a.m. to 8
p.m. For more information, call (888) 515-TRAM or visit “>www.psfollies.com .

The Circuit

Tu B’Shevat Time

All over Los Angeles, Jewish groups were finding innovative ways to commemorate Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, which is the New Year for trees.

At Adat Ari El Early Childhood Center’s community garden, the preschoolers got down and dirty and planted citrus trees. The teachers at the Valley Village school use the garden to teach the children about the agricultural meaning behind many Jewish holidays, and as a source of learning about horticulture and growth, recycling and composting, and the Earth’s relationship to and reliance upon plants. Next up at the garden — growing horseradish and parsley for Pesach.

At the Westside Jewish Community Center (Westside JCC), hundreds flocked to their Feb. 8 festival, which featured a moon bounce, tree planting, kosher hot dogs and fresh roasted corn. The Gilbert Table Tennis Association, which is now housed at the Olympic Boulevard center, offered free lessons and playing time on its many professional tables. The Westside Symphonette gave a free concert, where world-renowned pianist Vivian Florian played “classics to klezmer.”

“This was a great day,” said festival co-chair Beatrice Germain, a former Westside JCC nursery school parent and current Westside JCC board member. “We are thrilled about the wonderful diversity of people from the community who came together for this event and the enthusiastic audience for the concert. It’s great to see the community together again — and our new lemon tree looks really nice in the courtyard.”

Over in Malibu, the Shalom Nature Center had 2,000 people show up at its festival, its biggest turnout ever. They even ran out of parking spaces! Different organizations came to work with the Nature Center staff, including groups from Temple Adat Shalom, Temple Ramat Zion, Congregation B’nai Brith in Santa Barbara, Temple Judea, Heschel West Day School, Temple Beth Am, Young Judaea and Beth Chayim Chadashim. Altogether, people planted more than 300 native plants and a few coastal live oaks at the event.

As fun as it is to celebrate Tu B’Shevat in one place, the Jewish Agency for Israel decided to do something more daring; to have a worldwide Global Tu B’Shevat seder using the wonders of interactive technology. Hagar Shoman-Marko, the Israel education emissary for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles oversaw the event on the West Coast, which included 120 students from Milken Community High School, Shalhevet Middle and High schools and Sinai Akiba Academy, who joined their peers around the world by participating in the seder. They sat around tables with offerings of fruit, sang songs, recited blessings and interacted with their peers in Jerusalem, New Jersey, Atlanta and Toronto. A sedar highlights was a tree-planting ceremony at which students in Jerusalem planted trees on behalf of the participating schools in the Diaspora. A moving moment occurred when Sinai Akiba dedicated its tree to David Wolpe, wishing him a refuah shlema (a complete recovery), and teens all over the world responded with amen.

Hello Cello

On Feb. 8, Netivot held a desert reception at the home of Jason and Sari Ciment. Netivot is Los Angeles’ first and largest center of women’s Torah learning, and it has programs that encourage women to channel their artistic talents in a spiritual direction. The event honored Netivot’s teachers for strengthening women’s learning in Los Angeles, and it featured a performance by the renowned cellist, Alexander Zhirov.

Cheder Chic

On Jan. 26, Cheder Menachem Lubavitch held its second annual trustees dinner at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel. At the beginning of the school year, the cheder went through a financial crisis, and the school was uncertain whether it would have enough funds to open again. The trustees took it upon themselves to ensure that the cheder continues teaching Torah to the young boys of Los Angeles.

The trustees banquet was a sumptuous affair with enormous and lavish flower arrangements on every table and a gourmet dinner that put those rubber-chicken evenings to shame. Rabbi Josh Gordon of Chabad in the Valley emceed the event, and 5th District L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss spoke about how much the Waring Avenue school is contributing to the community.

Cheder Menachem is one of the few old-style Jewish learning institutions in Los Angeles. The boys elementary school teaches students Chumash and Gemara (Talmud) like they did in cheders of old. Most of the day is dedicated to learning Torah, with the boys repeating every Hebrew phrase after their teacher in a singsong voice. The school is also big on positive reinforcement. At Cheder Menachem, reprimands aren’t caustic. Instead, they are encouraging invitations to do better next time around.

More than 200 trustees attended the event, including Motti and Mechal Slodowitz, Yerachmiel and Danielle Forer, Carmen Tellez, Rabbi Chaim Nochum Cunin and Yocheved and Reuven Sherman.

Recycle Mania

We all know that it is better for the planet — and ultimately ourselves — if we separate our plastics and our paper. Yet, sometimes we need a little push to keep us on the recycling track. At Emek Hebrew Academy second-grade boys teacher Marci Lewis and assistant Shawn Moritz decided to get the students excited about recycling with an innovative project. For two weeks, students brought recyclable materials to class, and were assigned to create original inventions out of them, which they displayed in an “Inventors Showcase.”

Adam Sieger, one of the second-graders at Emek, said, “Recycling is important, and it helps the environment because the less trash we throw away, the cleaner the world will be.”

It’s a Kosher World Out there

If you keep kosher, any new kosher product that you see on the supermarket shelf is likely to give you a slight thrill. That is why the Kosher World Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center was such an exciting three-day event. There were aisles of new kosher items that were free for the sampling. Yummy treats included the nondairy Jackie Mason cheesecakes, Campbell’s new kosher vegetarian vegetable soup, Jerusalem 2 Pizza and the Old City Cafe Burritos. The expo had 3,380 attendees from 18 countries and 25 states.

The expo gave a lot of the smaller exhibitors a chance to expand their business. Event organizers set up meetings with the exhibitors and the buyers from big supermarket chains like Ralphs and Gelson’s, which proved to be a godsend for businesses trying to get a toehold in the market.

“We are a small company, in business for less than two years, and we needed an opportunity to bring our products to the attention of some major buyers,” said Sandy Calin of Debbie & Sandy’s Homemade. “We really wanted to add one major market to our distribution. Not only did we receive an actual order, in writing, from Gelson’s at the show, but we also got commitments from Ralphs and Albertsons.”

Ambassadors for Israel

The emissaries of the education department of the Jewish Agency for Israel have been busy these days.

On Feb. 10, the agency held a mini-Israel festival at The Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. The event opened with a memorial ceremony for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. It intended to expose secular and religious Jewish teens to Israel, and show them that the Jewish state is a democracy with a rich cultural and art-oriented society that has a world-class high-tech sector. More than 100 teens participated in the event.

At the end, the teens proclaimed that they would be “advocacy ambassadors for Israel” in their schools and youth groups.

A Berry-Bursting Celebration

When my daughter was born, I walked the floors of our Atlanta home night after night, day after day, holding her while she slept or when she cried, stopping always in front of the wall of backyard windows framing a forest of trees. As I grew into my unexpected role of single motherhood, I watched the bare trees bend, and sometimes break under the weight of silver winter icicles. Then, as if reborn, I saw the same trees stretch tall and proud with tight spring blossoms of white, pink and lavender, before expanding, under the summer rains, into a lush landscape of green. Finally, these magnificent trees transformed, as if to colored music, into passionate reds, singing oranges and dancing yellows of fall, just as we packed our boxes and moved away.

In our cozy Portland apartment, my daughter and I would often sit by a tall living room window and look at the plump, round bushes bouncing under the rain and the rows of healthy trees hovering over the parking lot, filling the surrounding hills in a green mist.

After exhausting, frenetic days of unpacking in our apartment in Los Angeles, I finally sat down at my desk positioned in front of a window to write. But all I could see were white stucco walls, black wires and, only if I leaned forward and looked up, the long, skinny necks of two distant palm trees. Right then I understood how profoundly trees define place. I prayed to find a way to embrace this one.

Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees, emphasizes the nourishing, even spiritual, relationship between man and trees.

"For a human is like the tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19), the kabbalists believed. So, in addition to donating money to plant much-needed trees in Israel, there is — according to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in "Jewish Literacy" (William Morrow, 1991) — the Tu B’Shevat seder, which kabbalists began in the 16th century. The kabbalists believed eating a variety of tree-born fruits during a seder ritual — such as olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, apples, walnuts, carob, pears and cherries — was a tangible way of improving our spiritual selves. So I decided to honor Tu B’Shevat by making a fruit and nut sauce I could eat every day.

I started by toasting some chopped walnuts and adding three different fruit juices. Then I cut up some plump medjool dates and added fresh cranberries. As I stirred the softening fruits over a flame, I recalled the urban shock I went into after our move to Los Angeles, and how on long walks with my daughter, I recovered my balance through observing the trees.

First, I discovered a tree leaning over our mailbox that grows tiny white peaches perfect for summer pies. And then, I noticed just above head-height branches at the end of our walkway, dangling, sun-glistening lemons close enough to touch. And each fall, as we passed the Japanese-style garden on the way to my daughter’s school, I watched the green leaves of one sculptured tree open up to blossoming persimmons.

As the cranberry walnut date sauce thickened to a velvet red, I remembered the squished berries that used to stick to our shoes, until my daughter and I learned which sidewalks to walk on and which ones to avoid, when the trees in our neighborhood dropped their inedible red fruits.

Unfortunately, I haven’t learned to love the urban view from my Los Angeles apartment. But from my desk over the last five years, I have looked above the city walls at those skinny palms and watched them stand ghost still against a summer cobalt sky, tussle playfully in a spring breeze or lean desperately, without breaking, in fierce winter winds. From those two trees, I have learned how to be in a place that is not yet home — to be still, to play and to bend, when necessary, without breaking.

Cranberry Walnut Date Sauce

This sauce has a wonderful bright taste that I love with my bowl of fruit and yogurt in the morning. Because of its full texture, it is also delicious as a spread on a thick slice of date nut bread. And the majestic red color and sweet aroma of these cooked berries is guaranteed to make you grateful for fruit bearing trees every time you make it.

1¼2 cup walnuts, chopped

1¼2 cup orange juice

1¼4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice (from 20-ounce can)

1¼2 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks, sliced small (from can)

1¼4 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

1¼3 cup sugar

1¼4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1¼2 cup fresh medjool dates, chopped

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed well

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir walnuts constantly until aromatic and toasted, approximately one to two minutes. Add remaining ingredients to walnuts, stirring well. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer uncovered until most berries pop open and liquid thickens, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure to stir every few minutes and if necessary, add 1¼4 cup of water to keep ingredients moist but not watery. Sauce thickens as it cools. Transfer to medium bowl to cool. Refrigerate until use.

Servings: Two and a half cups

Serving Suggestions: As a side to meats, a sauce for yogurts or a spread on breads.

Lisa Solomon’s food articles have been seen in several publications, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.

For the Kids

November Madness

In Old English, the month of November was called "blood month." It was a month of animal sacrifices that took place to prepare for the long winter. But what is the etymology of the word "November?"

Here’s a hint: The Roman calendar began in March (similar to the Jewish calendar, which begins in Nissan, around Passover). Send in the answer for a prize.

Autumn Arrives

Joshua Goldberg, 12, wrote this poem for his history class at A.J. Heschel Day School:

I peer out of my window to gaze at the autumn sky.

The wind whispers

through the trees.

A scent of roses fills my nose.

Leaves fall on to my windowsill — how I long to feel their smoothness.

It starts to drizzle and I can taste the little droplets on my tongue.

The feeling of autumn surrounds me, now it’s time to embrace it’s presence…

For the Kids

Nuturing Nature

Last week, we learned not to cut down the fruit trees of our enemies in times of war because, as the Torah says, the trees are “not our enemy.”

In this week’s parshah, Ki Tetze, the Torah continues its compassionate attitude toward nature’s creatures: Do not pull a baby bird out of its nest when its mother is around. If you have to do it (because you need to eat) do it when the mother is away from the nest.

It also reminds us to help — not ignore — an animal that has fallen down in the road. The Torah says to always be considerate and think about how your actions will affect the people and creatures around you.

Poetry Corner

Liat Chesed, 71¼2, of Los Angeles, writes:

I like to grow trees.

They’re beautiful and so green.

I plant and I plant.

I feel like a tree.

A Yiddle Riddle

Rabbi Levy was getting ready for synagogue in the month of Elul. All of a sudden, he heard a car honking its horn. He looked outside and there was a limousine with a driver parked outside his house. He realized that his students had misunderstood his request.

What had the rabbi asked for and what did his students bring him instead? (Hint: Two similar words — one in Hebrew and one in English.)

Send your answer to kids@jewishjournal.com .

The winner will receive a gift certificate to Baskin-Robbins.

For the Kids

Trees are Terrific

This week’s portion, Shoftim, talks all about trees. In one very important paragraph, we learn that we are never to cut down fruit trees, even when it is a time of war and the fruit trees belong to the enemy. God says: You are not going to war against the trees.

This passage teaches us something about the Jewish attitude toward nature. We must not destroy or waste the beautiful gifts that God has planted on this Earth. The name of this commandment is: bal tashchit (do not destroy or waste). It doesn’t just refer to fruit trees. It also means don’t trample the flowers in your Dad’s garden, turn the light off when you walk out of the room and throw your garbage in the trash and not into the ocean. Can you do that?

Draw a Tree, Win a Contest

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. That’s how the judges of The Jewish Journal’s first Tu B’Shevat Art Contest feel about having to pick just three winners out of so many terrific entries.

The Journal was deluged with drawings from children aged 2-13 throughout the region. Competition was stiff, perhaps because the prizes are so special: each winner will receive a live fruit-bearing tree courtesy of TreePeople. TreePeople founder and director Andy Lipkis donated the trees hoping winners would be inspired to continue the organization’s mission of greening urban spaces and parklands and educating people about the importance of trees (www.treepeople.org).

The judging took place at The Journal’s offices last week. Entries were judged by how well they illustrated this passage: “For we are as trees of the field; this means that our life depends on the trees.

The contest was very close. Thank you to all our contestants — we look forward to seeing what you come up with next year.

Ages 2-5


Batsheva Lipsker, Age 5, Los Angeles,

Ages 6-9


Arianna Condon, Age 9. Newport Beach,

Ages 10-13


Anna Fleischer, Temple Ahavat Shalom,

Age 13, Valencia