Monthly News from JNF’s Advocacy & Education Department
This week we celebrate Tu BiShvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, otherwise known as the new year for trees. Normally many Israelis, especially schoolchildren, plant trees throughout the land to honor the day, but this year we are all celebrating it a little differently. Thankfully, learning about the significance of trees and planting them can be done virtually. We have downloadable materials for your students, from text studies to videos with discussion and activity guides. In addition, this year we encourage you to plant trees in Israel for those you can’t see! While we may be separated from our loved ones, we can spread love and do good for the earth by planting a tree in honor of them at a time when we can’t be with them.
Tu BiShvat Sameach!
The Israel Advocacy & Education Team
Just One Step/Click
By Rick Abrams, Israel Programs Admissions Director, NJ and Eastern PA
This parashah begins with Pharaoh “BeShalach/sending out” his Israelites from Egypt. A couple verses later though, he realizes that they’re not returning and sends his soldiers on chariots to pursue them. God provides pillars, of cloud by day and fire by night, to guide and protect Israelites on their journey, until they arrive at the Sea of Reeds, with Pharaoh’s army advancing behind them. What are they going to do?
Moses calms the people and says, “God will provide…..” God says, Just walk into the sea, but with the crashing waves in front them, no one wants to be first.
In the Talmud there is a famous story about an Israelite Nachshon Ben Aminadab who chose to be first. (Bab Talmud, Sotah 37a) The story is told like this:
“…each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then sprang forth Nachshon, the son of Aminadab and he descended first into the sea.”
At this point in the text, we don’t know too much about Nachshon…the tale of him going first isn’t in this week’s portion! But he did it. One step and the sea opened, and the Israelites could proceed through, toward their Sinai experience, enabling the Torah to continue (What kind of Torah would we have if Pharaoh recaptured and re-enslaved the Israelites?!).
His willingness to take the first step is why we remember his name.
And just like Nachshon took one step, so we today can take one “click” and plant a tree for Tu BiShvat, to honor or memorialize someone dear to us. We can make one click and donate to Adi Negev, a fantastic JNF partner and medical and rehabilitation center, to help someone in need as we enter February/Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month.
With just one step, just one click, you too can continue to write the Torah of your life.
To hear a wonderful setting of this story, check out Peri Smilow’s (and her Freedom choir) musical interpretation here.
Tu BiShvat Videos for Your Class
One amazing part of the Tu BiShvat library of resources we have for all educators is a brand-new series of videos that teaches kids about their connection to trees in the U.S. and Israel. Each video comes with a question and activity guide for teachers to use. Our Alexander Muss High School in Israel educator, Mordechai Cohen, is the star in many of these videos.
Click here to access the video library.
Design Your Own Virtual Educational Experience – Coming to a Classroom Near You!
Did you know that Jewish National Fund offers virtual Israel experiences—from tours to educational series—that can be delivered live from Israel? Pick your student group, choose a date/s and JNF will work with you to provide a fun and interactive educational experience for your students! These virtual experiences are a great way to stay connected to Israel during COVID-19. Plus, the small fee we charge for the experience goes directly to the tour guide who is out of work.
Listen to a testimonial from Rabbi Earne of Congregation Beth Am of San Diego of his positive experience on a weeklong virtual tour here!
AMHSI General Studies Teacher, English and History
"I began my teaching career in 2004 at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, so I have seen a lot of groups come and go, and I have had no shortage of coming and going in my own life. This particular time is definitely the most unusual. Although in Israel, there is always a feeling of uncertainty to some extent, living through a global pandemic gives a new meaning to the word itself. This group of students who got on an airplane and braved these uncertain times, who are open to new experiences, and who are far from home, are a special group. A little braver perhaps? A little more willing to go with the direction that life might take them?
In any case, it has been my pleasure to get to know them and hear their various opinions even at the moments when they are developing them themselves. Our world is changing at a lightning pace to one of digital communication and virtual relationships. Being able to have these moments in person, something I had never thought twice about, has become the most precious of experiences to be treasured and enjoyed. It has taught all of us, perhaps, the valuable lesson to not take for granted the simple human interactions between us, the process where we learn, with each other, to become human."
— Hepzibah Alon
Hepzibah received her Masters degree in English literature from Bar Ilan University and her Bachelors degree in English Literature and Linguistics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has been a teacher for 14 years, having taught middle school, high school and college classes. She loves to learn and to teach and finds joy in creating a student centered environment that encourages critical thinking skills. Along with teaching at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, she is also a Program Associate for Facing History and Ourselves where she mentors teachers, and provides professional development for Jewish Day Schools in the United States. She grounds her classroom in the idea that academic rigor goes hand in hand with ethical reflection and emotional engagement in a safe classroom environment.