Rosh Hashanah la-ilanot, the new year for trees, which happens on the 15th of Shevat, (the tet/vav of tu being equivalent to 15) grew out of the Middle East and a very different seasonal calendar than our own in northern Europe. In my childhood we used to raise money to plant trees in Israel, latterly we have raised funds for planting trees in the United Kingdom.
In recent decades, Tu Bishvat has provided a platform for Jewish environmentalists to highlight the dangers of climate change and encourage action within synagogues and homes to play a part, no matter how small, in mitigating the worst effects of global warming.
It is highly ironic that with the warming temperatures predicted by 2030, and certainly 2050, the Middle East will be unsustainably arid and Northern Europe will have temperatures currently enjoyed by the Mediterranean south. Tu Bishvat will gain even greater impetus as a vehicle for mass tree planting, and they will be able to be planted in unfrozen ground, unlike today.
In Spring, the happiest season, trees are beginning to burst open with bright sticky buds just waiting to erupt into blossom. Trees have the ability to do many things: they provide shelter and shade, they maintain the integrity of the land in which they are planted, they are objects of beauty and awe.
Tu Bishvat is a minor day in the Jewish festival calendar, but in the 21st century it deserves to be one of the most relevant to us all.
Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh