By Marcelo Polakoff
Adapted from Secrets Beneath the Trees
Tu Bish’vat has been celebrated in many ways around the world. The Jews from Arab countries called it Tafkia el Sgar (”the day of the blooming of trees,” in Arabic). In Ladino-speaking communities, they called it simply Frutas (“festival of fruits”) and in others, Rosasana des arbores.
In some Sephardic settlements, such as the Salonica community in Greece, children were given embroidered bags filled with fruits, which were called frutas bolsas in Ladino. They also used to present special plays in Ladino, in which young people dressed up as trees and each sang a song with a back-up choir.
In Smyrna, Anatolia, they blessed and ate special fruits according to the members of the family. Thus, the owner of the house used to bless a loaf of wheat bread, because wheat symbolizes peace, as is written: “God makes peace in your borders, and fills you with the finest of the wheat" (Psalms 147:14). The lady of the house blessed the vine, because it is written: “Your wife shall be as a fruitful vine" (Psalms 128:3). The children blessed the olive tree, because of the verse that reads “Your children shall be like olive plants around about your table” (Psalm 128:3), and the daughters blessed the pomegranates and the nuts, as is referred to in the line: “The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold" (Psalms 45:14). And on behalf of babies, they blessed dates and apples, according to the verses of the Song of Songs that says: “I raised you up under the apple tree: there your mother brought you forth “ (8:5) and “honey and milk are under your tongue” (4:11).
In Aleppo, Syria, on the holiday’s eve, they used to read the Ten Commandments in Arabic at the synagogue. Each commandment was sold, and the buyer paid for it and then read it before going home to have the festive dinner.
Although there are many differences in the way Tu Bish’vat is celebrated around the world, they all find ways to acknowledge the natural world as it begins its season of blooming.