Under twinkling lights, Green Team offers learning, food from garden and live performances for Tu B’Shvat


CELEBRATE: Students, teachers and parents mingled over sushi and salads on the roof Jan. 30 surrounded by platters of fresh fruit. It was the Green Team club’s first event.

By Molly Litvak, Staff Writer

“The mishnah of Rosh Hashanah says that Tu B’shevat is really a technical day, the day that marks the new year for trees,”  Rabbi David Block told about 25 students and faculty on the roof Jan. 30. “The of trees needing a new year is simply a legal thing, and that we have to dedicate our first fruits each year to God.”

But the evening took the holiday far beyond the technical, with sushi, schmoozing and a spontaneous slow shira — singing — among the highlights of Shalhevet’s first-ever Tu B’shevat festival.

The twinkly lights that hung overhead were on for the occasion,and there was a stream of rainbow lanterns hanging in front of the garden. Sushi and homemade bruschetta – featuring tomatoes from the Green Team’s garden – were placed on tables lined up against the Faculty Lounge. Tables for attendees each had two candles, a green fake flower bouquet, a little card with a tree on it, and a plate with grapes, dates, pomegranate seeds, olives, and vanilla wafers.

The objective of the gathering was to honor Tu B’shevat more thoroughly than it usually is at school, in a different environment.

“I really wanted to plan this event because although our school does observe Tu B’shevat, I thought it would be really cool to have a community event,” said Maia Zelkha, the senior and leader of the Green Team, who organized it.

Rabbi Block, head of Judaic Studies, taught that Tu B’shevat is a time where we can remember that the trees come from hashem, and as does everything, and where we can be thankful for this. Following this, he asked for people to come up and share what they are thankful for.

He also taught the mitzvah of orla, an agricultural law regarding the consumption of fruit from new trees, which requires that you wait three years before eating its fruit. In the fourth year you may eat it in Jerusalem, and in the fifth year you may eat it wherever you wish.

The idea, he said, is that it takes a few years before the tree has fully developed and once those years have passed, the fruit should first be dedicated to God.

The event began at 6:30 snacks and informal chatting.  Next to the sushi table was a smaller table with three different water dispensers, each with a different flavor of water. One had lemon mint, one had orange basil, and the other had cucumber.

Meanwhile, senior Maya Schechter was available to paint people’s faces, and there was a microphone and two large speakers that would soon be used.

At 7 p.m., Maia started the forma program by thanking people for supporting the garden, and that began an impromptu “open mic” where others expressed gratefulness for various things.  Agenda Chair Daniel Lorell shared that he was thankful for being able to see with glasses, explaining that he is not able to see well without them and finishing with, “Thank God for glasses.”

Next, junior Honor Fuchs discussed how since Hurricane Harvey and all the other natural disasters, she is thankful that she has a room and house to live in.

Sophomores Ben-Tsion Oliel and Ari Schlacht expressed their gratefulness for the the school’s beautiful building, and to teachers and faculty advisors who helped guide them.

Senior Ariel Cohen announced she was thankful for her friends, and Maia Zelkha took a more poetic stance.

“Sometimes I close my eyes and see darkness,” said Maia, “and I’m grateful I can see and that i’m not in darkness – that I can see the morning light and evening sunsets”.

Admissions Director Ms. Natalie Weiss concluded by saying she was thankful to have a student – Maia – who put the earth first that day.

“I don’t think it’s everyone’s passion,” Ms. Weiss said. “It’s great to see so many people show up for an event that one of your fellow shalhevet students put together”.

Rabbi Block then led the “Tu B’shevat seder” which involved saying brachot (blessings) over the various foods on the plates on each table.

A student talent began at 7:30. Junior Eliana Cohen sang You and I by Ingrid Michaelson, while playing a ukulele. During her performance, a few audience members waved their phone with the flashlight on. Afterwards, loud applause erupted.

Next, senior Aviva Katz read an original poem called “Orange Leaves.”

“Last leaves on an empty tree,” she read, “scattered, concealing the bare branches, revealing…” – also followed by applause.

Seniors Hila Machmali, Ariel Cohen, and Tali Schlacht sang, Hashkediya Porachat, an upbeat Hebrew song about Tu B’shevat, as people clapped along excitedly.

Daniel Lorell played his “Jew’s Harp”, a small music instrument held between the teeth and struck with a finger. The sounds of the instrument came loudly through the two speakers on either side of him.

Rabbi Block brought out a guitar and sang Tov Lehodot – “It’s good to give thanks,” and then Matisyahu’s “One Day,” which many people joined. He then sang “All Star” by Smash Mouth, with Daniel Lorell.

Following this, everyone surrounded a table and sang numerous songs, including “Colors of the Wind,” from Pocahontas, and “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong.

“I had an amazing time, it was incredible to be surrounded by all of my friends from Shalhevet and parents of friends and faculty members all celebrating the earth and Israel and our Jewish heritage,” said Ariel Cohen.

Everyone seemed to think the event had gone well.

“I loved the set-up,” said Judaic Studies teacher Ms. Ilana Wilner. “It was aesthetically very beautiful with the lights, and the trees, and the tables. Everything was really beautiful.

“The way it was framed reminded us to appreciate everything in life and for everyone to focus on one thing they are appreciative of this Tu B’shevat,” she added.