Archive for the ‘Tu B’Shevat’ Category

Who Has Such Things in This World

Snow, everywhere I look I see snow, piles and mountains of snow. When it has not been snowing, it is cold – Freezing cold, in the 5s, 10s, 20s and 30s cold. One morning I got in my car and the thermometer read “0″ – Z.E.R.O.  Now I know there are parts of the country, and the world for that matter, where these temperatures would feel balmy, but for this transplanted California girl, enough is enough. I have really had it with snow and cold and winter.

Yet there are moments when I look out my office window to my back yard and see a vast sea of whiteness that simply takes my breath away. How beautiful is that? I think to myself.  Or when I watch snow falling, little puffs of white floating down from on high, that I still think of as a miracle.  Or as I am out walking during a snow fall, and the temperature is just right so that individual snowflakes drop on my parka, and I see each one is unique and beautiful. Amazing, I think.

I could not find a Hebrew blessing for snow. What I use is the blessing for nature’s beauty, because no matter what, there is real beauty in watching the snow fall.

Baruch attah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam,
shekachah lo b’olamo.

Blessed are You, Creator of the Universe,
Who has things such as this in Your world.

There are a few wonderful books about snow that I have found to be interesting and enlightening in my own search for knowledge about this wondrous experience. You might want to share them  with your children:

Snow written and illustrated by Uri Schulevitz. ©1998, Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.  First a single snowflake falls from the sky, then two, then three.  All the while, a young boy and his dog know it is snowing. The adults, the radio and the television all insist, “No snow.” When all the rooftops are white, the boy and his dog run out to play, while everyone else takes shelter. The illustrations are sublime. Ages 4-8.


Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. ©1998, Houghton Mifflin Company. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. The first time a real snowflake – and another and another – landed on my coat and I saw that indeed each one was unique and exquisite, I said the Shehecheyanu Blessing: Thank you God for letting me live to see this moment.  The next thing I did was find a copy of this book.  Wilson Bentley lived his life studying snowflakes.  This beautifully illustrated and marvelously written book explains why. However, if you stand outside during a snowfall and look at the snowflakes that land on your coat, you will understand.  Ages 5-10.

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with John Nelson, Ph.D. ©2009, Chronicle Books.  This exceptional, award-winning science book explains exactly how snow crystals are made, the different shapes they can grow in (stars, plates and columns) and whether they are truly unique.  There are also tips for catching and studying snow crystals on your own.  The illustrations are mostly photographs of actual snow crystals.  Ages 5-10.

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart. Illustrated by Constance R. Bergum.  ©2009, Peachtree Publishers.  When I have absolutely reached my limit with winter, wondering what I am doing in the frozen Northeast, I say to my husband, “Animals hibernate in this weather!”  This is exactly the book I need to prove my position. With simple text and gorgeous illustrations, we can see that animals do know how to handle the cold better than we do – they just sleep through it! I particularly love the woodchuck because it “sleeps soundly all winter” getting “all the energy it needs from its thick layer of fat.”  Perhaps I just need to sleep more? Ages 4-9.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking on my part to believe that writing about snow will put an end to the fierce winter we have had so far this year.  A California Girl can hope, can’t she? Nevertheless, if another snowstorm, or two, or…comes our way before winter’s end, I will be prepared with books and blessings.

Happy Readings,

Kathy B.


©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Delving Deeper into Sustainability and Tu B’Shevat

Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree.  Honi asked him:  “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?”  The man answered that it would require 70 years.  Honi asked:  “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?”  The man answered:  “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me.  So, too, will I plant for my children.”  (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

This story, written a couple thousand years ago, perfectly illustrates Jewish sustainability. We do not plant trees for ourselves, but for our children and our children’s children. We, each of us, must act today, in order to protect the world for the future.

I usually recommend books for elementary school age children and younger. This year, I will also be recommending books for readers in Middle School through High School. After all, older readers should be equally prepared for, in this case, Tu B’Shevat on January 19-20, or whatever the value of the month is, right? What better way to start thinking about the future than with some great books?

My Life in Pink and Green. By Lisa Greenwald. © 2009, Amulet Books. Ages 10 – 13 years. After 12-year-old Lucy joins the eco-club at her school, she comes up with a brilliant plan to save her family’s pharmacy. She’ll open an eco-spa with a “going green” grant from the city!

Seedfolks. By Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by Judy Pedersen. © 1997, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.. Ages 10 – 15 years. Thirteen people living in apartments around a vacant lot in Cleveland share stories of how turning that lot into a neighborhood garden saved, changed and empowered their lives.

Who Really Killed Cock Robin?: An Eco Mystery. By Jean Craighead George. © 1991, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.. Ages 10 – 14 years. Cock Robin, the mascot of Saddleboro, the cleanest town anywhere, has mysteriously died. Who would have killed such a beautiful bird? Or perhaps the question is what killed it?

The Carbon Diaries 2015. By Saci Lloyd. © 2008, Holiday House. Ages 13 – 17 years. The year is 2015. Global Warming is wreeking havoc on the world’s weather systems. Great Britain has volunteered to be the first nation on earth to try Carbon Rationing. You hold in your hands the diary of 16-year-old Laura as she documents the world as it “may be.”

The Man Who Planted Trees: A Story By Jean Giono. © 2005, Chelsea Green Publishing Company. Age 15 +. One man, living alone with his dog, transforms his isolated and barren part of France into a verdant forest by planting 100 acorns a day for more than 40 years.

As you read one or more of these books, think of ways to improve your “Sustainability Quotient.” Research Jewish organizations like Hazon and COEJL (The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) that have many wonderful ideas, and be sure to attend your local Tu B’Shevat celebrations where there will surely be environmental demonstrations. If not, why don’t you offer to do one?

Whatever you do during this month, find ways to appreciate this beautiful world and its miracles and say a blessing for all the Source of All Things has provided.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the things I love about Judaism is that it has answers before we even know we have questions. Today, you cannot go anywhere without seeing a sign reminding you to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, but several thousand years ago, the Torah wrote a simple rule:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (lo tash-chit) its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

The Rabbis of the Talmud took those words “you must not destroy (lo tash-chit),” created a mitzvah/commandment, Bal Tashchit /Do Not Destroy Needlessly, and layered everything one might possibly think of as wasteful behavior onto it. Thus, have Jews been reducing, reusing and recycling for thousands of years.

What about the trees, you might ask, because yes, that verse, did mention trees. Trees have been part of God’s plan from the beginning of time. “…Vegetation: seed bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind…” (Genesis 1:11-13) were fashioned on the Third Day of Creation even before the sun, the moon and the stars. Trees get their own New Year on the Jewish calendar. The Birthday of the Trees or Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of Shevat occurs in order that their fruit not be harvested before they are ready. This year, Tu B’Shevat begins at sundown January 19 and ends at sundown January 20, 2011. For many, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day or Arbor Day, so you will see activities in and around your community encouraging you to learn how to  Reduce-Reuse-Recycle the Jewish way.

In preparation for this holiday, I have selected some books for younger children and their families to enjoy reading together:

This Tree Counts. By Alison Formento. Illustrated by Sarah Snow. © 2010, Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 4 – 8 years. Before planting more trees behind the school, Mr. Tate wants his class to “listen” to the story the old oak tree has to tell. A counting book about the importance of trees.

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green. By Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Anne Kennedy. © 2009, Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 5 – 9 years. When Miss Fox rides her bike to school one morning, she inspires her class to think of ways to “Go Green.” As each student thinks of individual ways to change their behavior, they soon inspire the entire student body and their community to become more green.


Milo and the Magical Stones. Written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister. © 1997, North-South Books. Ages 5 – 9 years. Milo and his mice friends live comfortably on an island mountain in the middle of the sea. When Milo finds a beautiful, glowing stone, buried deep in the mountain that gives off light and warmth, everyone wants one. As the mice hurry off to grab their stones, the wisest mouse warns, “Don’t forget, the stones belong to the island. If you take something from the island, you must give something in return.” With two endings, one happy, one sad, you decide which direction to take. You can make comparisons to the choices we make everyday as we live on our personal islands on earth. This is a great discussion starter about the consequences of our environmental choices and actions.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa. Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. © 2008, Harcourt, Inc.. Ages 5-10 years. A young girl grows up in Kenya surrounded by forests. She studies very hard and wins a scholarship to go to school in America. When she returns to Kenya, she discovers that all the forests have been cut down. She decides to bring the trees back one at a time, starting with her own back yard.  Based on the life of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, it is a real story about the power of one person to make a difference.

The Lorax. Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss. © 1971, Random House Books for Young Readers. Ages 5 – 10 years.  This will be the 40th anniversary year for the Lorax. It is still one of my all time favorite books about taking care of the earth, and if I were to pick an author to write a children’s book to save our planet, Dr. Seuss would be my choice. When Truffula Trees are discovered and their tufts turned into Thneeds, no amount of warning from the Lorax will dissuade the manufacturer from continuing the destruction of the Truffula Tree forest. When the last tree falls, the forest animals have disappeared and the environment damaged beyond repair, the Lorax’s message becomes clear. With his unmistakable Seussian rhyme and his characteristic Seussian illustrations, the inimitable Doctor describes what happens in a world where greed and selfishness take precedence over the needs of the planet, its plants and animals.

As you read these stories together, think of ideas to change your own family’s “environmental behavior.” Jewish organizations like Hazon and COEJL (The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) have many wonderful ideas, but your local celebrations of Tu B’Shevat will not only have environmental demonstrations, you will have a lot of fun meeting new families in the process.

Whatever you do during this month, find ways to appreciate this beautiful world and everything in it, there really is no place else like it.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Book Review | This Tree Counts
by Alison Formento

Score: 3.5

Illustrated by Sarah Snow © 2010, Albert Whitman & Company. One large oak tree stood at the back of Oak Lane School. Mr. Tate wants his class to plant some more oak trees, but before they do, he asks them to listen to the big tree’s story. As they stop and hug the tree, the [...]

Read the rest of this review »

Earth Day – Then and Now

We have been cleaning out our basement, not a fun thing. Especially when one of you is a hoarder (that would be me) and the other is – what’s the opposite of hoarder – a declutterer? (that would be my husband.) I am proud of myself, however, I am managing to send many of my “precious” items to the give away, sell or trash piles. My “keep” pile is much smaller.

Among the many items I have uncovered/discovered in the basement, were my high school scrapbooks  (My collecting habits run deep.) I grew up in California and graduated from San Gabriel Mission High School in 1972 (a Catholic School. Read “About Me”) . I appropriately refer to these materials as “vintage-collectibles.”

Anyway, in my scrapbook from my sophomore year (yes, there is one – or more – for each year including one for my first year of college. Step 1: I admit I have a problem!), I found my page for Earth Day 1970! Proof…I was on the cutting edge of environmental awareness. I celebrated the very first Earth Day 40 years ago. My notes say that we prepared these beautiful (now environmentally wasteful) “tallies” to hand out to everyone:

We also handed out “Stop Smog” bumper stickers

and brochures from “The People’s Lobby” with this marvelous Henry Gibson (z’l) quote on the cover:

In addition, we sang, “This Land is Your Land” at a school assembly at which I note, “I was a Pollution” (I have absolutely no clue, nor any memory, of what that means.) I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. I distinctly remember never being able to see the San Gabriel Mountains during my youthful summers as smog would block the view. Today, thankfully, that has changed, but perhaps my “role” was a tribute to that then menacing presence.

Earth Day has changed as well, what started as a simple grass roots call for individuals to “put your money where your lungs are,” has turned into a global cry to “Save Our Planet!” On that day 40 years ago, a group of Mission High School students planted some small trees across the street on what was then the school’s track. I recently saw a picture of those trees – they are huge! It reminded me, in a very real way, of the story of Honi and the Carob trees. It also reminded me that while so much has changed in me and around me over these past 40 years – FORTY YEARS! – the core values I learned growing up have evolved, but not changed so very much. Looking back, I have so very much to be thankful for. I hope my children feel the same 40 years from now.

Happy reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by the publishers cited.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

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