A Shabbat & Tu B’Shevat Reflection – February 10, 2017
By Ruben Arquilevich, Executive Director, URJ Camp Newman

Dear Camp Newman Community,

Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, begins tonight. This morning, when I Googled “Jewish” and “Trees,” the search engine found not 1,600, not 16,000, but over 16 million stories, articles and references connecting trees to Judaism.

Trees may be the ultimately symbol for Judaism. After all, we refer to the Torah as the “Tree of Life.” From planting for future generations, L’dor V’dor, the “Carob tree” story, Torah references and more, we have myriad illustrations of how trees express our core values as Jews and human beings.

What dawned on me this year was the role that trees play in helping us to listen and to see. Stand in front of a deciduous tree in a quiet area, close your eyes, and you should be able to tell what time of year it is by the ruffling of leaves. I have several trees in my yard that my kids and I observe every day of the year; when we are quiet and still enough, we can notice a change every day. Is it any different with our lives? Certainly, when I really pause and be present, I notice my children’s growth every day. They are growing, we are growing. We just need to be still, to listen and to really see.

Perhaps Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the trees, is another way that Judaism creates “Shabbat” in our lives – a spiritual oasis in time where we are encouraged to stop what we’re doing and meditate on the blessings of nature, our communities, our families, our selves.

At Camp Newman, many of our trees will begin to bud and blossom in the coming weeks, just in time for our young Spring Campers and middle schoolers to arrive for their weekend retreats. A week later, these same trees will witness over 100 NFTY teens arrive for a new Songleading Workshop and Spring retreat. And then, just several months later, our trees will stand as strong and steadfast sentinels to the launch of our summer season, when over 2,000 souls experience the magic of Camp, Shabbat and Jewish living at its best.

Like our trees, camp and NFTY provide our children with a means to get away from their daily routines, from their homework and school stress, to stop, listen and see the beauty inside themselves and around them. Here, they can be still for a moment in time. They can be present.