Educating kids about the environment part of annual event at Rochelle Zell


Tree plantings and craft activities intended to teach young children about the environment are part of the goal when the Jewish National Fund holds its annual Tu B'Shevat celebration. The ninth annual Tu B'Shevat Community Celebration sponsored by the JNF will offer environmentally-focused crafts along with music and other activities between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 12 at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, 1095 Lake Cook Road.


Activities will range from planting a sapling and decorating its pot to a concert by Rick Recht, a Jewish rock musician with songs geared toward children, according to Susan Sacks, a Deerfield resident and the event chair. Admission is free.


Tu B'Shevat is a Jewish holiday associated with tree planting and the beginning of spring in Israel, according to Anne Greenspoon, the director of community engagement for JNF. In more recent years, it has become a time of environmental awareness both by the American Jewish community and Israel.


"It stresses the importance of trees to our environment," Greenspoon said. "It also means now our growing season is going to begin."

The holiday itself starts at sunset Feb. 10 and concludes at sunset the following day.


Though the growing season does not start for a while in the Midwest, participants at the celebration will be able to do some planting, according to Sacks.


"Each child will be able to plant a sapling and decorate the pot," Sacks said. "They will get instructions (on) how to plant it when the weather warms outdoors. They will also have an opportunity to plant a tree in Israel."


Tree planting in Israel is done through a donation, according to Marcia Rubin, a Highland Park resident and past president of the local JNF board. She said planting trees in Israel has been part of the organization's mission through much of its existence. The organization was founded in 1901, according to its website.


"JNF has planted over 240 million trees in Israel," Rubin said. "Israel is the only country which had more trees at the start of the 21st Century than it had at the start of the 20th century."


Greenspoon said the trees children plant in their yards is something they will be able to watch grow. She said it shows the importance of continuity for the environment. Children will also have the opportunity to plant parsley to take home, which will be ready to eat within two months.

"It's something they do for the next generation," Greenspoon said of the trees. "The parsley they plant they can eat on Pesach," she added referring the Hebrew word for Passover.


Though the event has always had musical performances by local groups, Sacks said the concert by a musician of Recht's prominence is new this year. She said he will be playing music geared toward children seven and under.


"To keep the Jewish people going we need to educate at a very young age," Sacks said. "Rick Recht has a vehicle to do that. He is really great with the young ones."


Sacks said another new feature this year is a short Tu B'Shevat service and meal known as a seder. It introduces participants to fresh foods of the season like the fruits and nuts that grow on trees.


"After all these years we want to freshen it up a bit," Sacks said. "We leave out the nuts. We are nut free. The kids will say the prayers and get to eat the fruit."


Along with the concert and tree planting, there will be a number of community groups offering different craft activities geared toward children. Along with synagogues and schools, the Chicago Botanic Garden will be on hand, according to Sacks.


"It usually has something to do with soil and worms," Sacks said of the garden's activity.


When children arrive they will get a sheet with the activities listed, according to Rubin. The can have it stamped at each table and then enter for a raffle drawing. Three families will win a membership at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


There will also be Israeli food for sale, according to Rubin.


Story by Steve Sadin



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