Tu B’Shevat at Talmud Torah School

By Natalie Soroka

Tu B’Shevat is always an exciting time at TT. This year, learning about and celebrating Tu B’Shevat began with a visit from Yifat Bear Millar, Jewish National Fund of Canada’s Education Emissary (National Shlicha). Yifat’s primary objective is to “strengthen Canada’s connection to Israel and to the Israeli people”.

Yifat does this “by bringing a taste of Israel to schools and synagogues, from Vancouver to Halifax, and everywhere in between”. Jewish National Fund (JNF) provides special opportunities to enhance the way schools and other organizations celebrate Tu B’Shevat and connect to the land and people of Israel.  For as long as I can remember, Jay Cairns, Executive Director of JNF Edmonton, and Yifat have visited TT near the holiday of Tu B’Shevat to educate our students about Israel.

The day started out by kindergarten students taking a fun Trip in Israel, where they used a remote-controlled car to drive on a large floor map of Israel to find different locations.  Along the way, Yifat asked questions and gave hints as to where the car was to travel to next. The students learned a lot and enjoyed the interactive component of the lesson, as did the Grade 2 class later on that same day.

Grade 3 students participated in a unique educational program called “Israchute”. A parachute displayed pictures of important locations and places in Jerusalem, such as Mt. Hermon, Mt. Herzel, the Red Sea, and Knesset Menorah. The class stood on the perimeter of the parachute, while Yifat discussed the importance of each one and tested their knowledge. For some fun, they had the added benefit of spending time underneath it as well!

Yifat presented the Grade 4, 5 and 6 students with the fun and interactive program, “Water in Jerusalem”. Grouped in teams they alternated getting as many cups as possible of water into a bigger tub of water on the other side of the room. The competition was intense, but one group did manage to transfer more water to the bigger tub! The challenge increased when they were required to climb up on chairs and back down again, simulating mountains and water travelling from high to low ground. They learned how Israeli water technology solves issues of getting water to where it’s needed most to grow trees, plants and crops.

Of course, Tu B’Shevat at Edmonton Talmud Torah is never complete without our Grade 6 students participating in JNF’s annual Tu B’Shevat School Campaign. This is one of the leadership opportunities our Grade 6 students look forward to each year. As they prepared for Tu B’Shevat, student tree leaders were chosen, and they used their recess time to work with Moreh Ari Sniderman to create a tree campaign they would present to the school. Tree leaders created an educational and motivational video that was shared with families. They also visited each classroom to talk about how important trees are to our environment and to Israel specifically. Students learned that this year, JNF’s Annual Tu B’Shevat School Campaign is about renewal and hope, and that each tree that is donated will be planted in the Be’eri Memorial Forest near Kibbutz Be’eri, in memory of the lives lost on October 7th. The leaders collected donation envelopes from classrooms, and students were seen adding leaves to JNF’s large tree poster, indicating the tally of how many trees had been donated. Each year, our TT community steps up and donates to this important initiative. The school campaign officially ends February 19, but we always receive a bunch more later in February. To date, 310 trees have been generously donated. Kol Hakavod!

Grade 1 students learned all about birds and migration, seeing a child-friendly short film, “The Man Who Taught Me to Fly” by Yossi Leshem, the founder and Director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun, Israel. This film has been used by many schools to help integrate Tu B’Shevat with Israel. Students learned that during migration, over 500 million birds fly over Israel two times each year, and that Israel serves as a fueling station during their long journey across Asia, Europe and Africa. The students were captivated by the short film and very engaged in the discussion with Yifat.

In addition to these exciting whole-school initiatives, in Grade 1, Morah Robin held a Tu B’Shevat Seder with her students. A few students had the special opportunity of helping Morah Robin read about the reasons for the different cups of grape juice — white grape juice for the winter; white plus a bit of red for the spring; red plus a bit of white to represent the flowers and fruits of Spring and early Summer. The final cup is all red, representing the full bloom of summer and early fall. Students recited the blessings and readings while being thankful for the fruits of the trees and the seven species – wheat, barley, grapes, olives, pomegranates, figs, and dates. Special guest, principal Darin Johnson attended the Seder and the students were eager to help him learn the Hebrew words and customs associated with Tu B’Shevat.

Kindergarten students had a great time participating in a Tu B’Shevat taste test with Morah Shira. Their faces spoke volumes as they made their way through the traditional foods and recorded if foods tasted sweet, salty, sour or bitter. In Moreh Ben’s class, Grade 3 and Grade 6 learned about the traditions and customs of Tu B’Shevat and its origins, including Shivat HaMinim (7 species) and their significance to the land of Israel and the holiday. On the day of Tu B’Shevat , they conducted a Seder that included reading, blessing, stories, and fruity foods. In Hebrew language arts students gained a further understanding of Tu B’Shevat through vocabulary, while in music students sang, learned, and listened to Tu B’Shevat songs.

Walking down the school hallways, one couldn’t help but stop and stare at the amazing Tu B’Shevat artwork.  Grade 2 students created pastel trees adapting Kandinsky’s circles as tree canopies, while also learning about traditions and the seven species. Grade 4 students drew trees and used paint to bring their artwork to life, while continuing to enrich their knowledge of Tu B’Shevat by viewing The Lorax movie and discussing with Moreh Ari the importance of trees in preserving the environment. During a mock Seder, Grade 5 & 6 students reviewed the traditions of Tu B’Shevat, while also watching The Lorax movie and considering the importance of trees for our planet and the power we all have to make a difference in preserving it for future generations.

Needless to say, our Early Learning Centre was bustling with energy and enthusiasm as our littlest ones were immersed in the wonder and splendor of this fun holiday. Some children planted seeds in small cups with cotton balls, some soil and seed, and watered them and watched them grow daily. At circle time they read stories about trees, sang songs and danced together. They were offered different kinds of fruits to taste, smell and touch and it was explained how the fruits come from trees. Some classes used scissors to cut leaves, fruits and branches from colorful construction paper and to make their own trees.

In the 4-year-old classroom the children were a little confused about how they were going to plant in snow! They read the book “We Planted A Tree” by Diane Muldrow and learned about the various foods that grow on trees. The children then used that knowledge to decorate their own tree and plant bell pepper seedlings which were then sent home on Tu B’Shevat.

Our Out of School Care had a great time making edible Tu B’Shvat trees out of white chocolate, pretzels, and food coloring. To celebrate Tu B’Shevat they participated in a classroom Seder where they had the fun opportunity of eating their edible trees!

As you can see, Tu B’Shevat at TT never disappoints!

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