Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Judaism loves trees.
It’s true: We care about the environment in general, and believe it’s our duty to protect it. Upon becoming, many students often receive a certificate stating that a tree has been planted in Israel in their honor. And there is a whole holiday celebrating the birthday of the trees, called Tu Bishvat.
Growing up in religious school, we learned about Tu Bishvat through lessons and activities like planting trees. At the time, that was meaningful to me because it was really the first time I was being exposed to Tu Bishvat.
I never thought Tu Bishvat would stand out to me until I moved to Jackson, Mississippi. I needed a hobby. Something to do after work and on the weekends when I was not traveling. I decided to get back into photography — something I loved to do as a young teenager.
I did not know what to photograph. I started with small things like different items in my apartment and the building sign outside my front door. But then I got more comfortable with the camera and decided to start exploring. I took a trip to Le Fleur’s Bluff State Park, which is less than 10 minutes from my Jackson apartment.
Baby steps, I thought.
It only took one click of my camera to become hooked on photographing the trees. I captured my surroundings with more than just my camera. I really took in everything I saw. I will be the first to admit that I am hooked to my phone. I feel like I am always glued to some kind of screen either at home or at work. The feeling of going outside and taking in something so much bigger than my Facebook newsfeed was refreshing.
I started to do some more exploring. I took my camera with me on one of my visits to Plano, Texas. Bob Woodruff Park was a photographer’s paradise. Lots of birds, water, and a clear blue sky. Yet somehow, the trees kept sneaking their way into my photos. It got me to thinking – even when I am outside taking in my surroundings, am I actually taking in everything that I can?
Tu Bishvat, a whole holiday devoted to trees, helps push me to be more aware of my surroundings. It reminds us of our duty to appreciate, care for, and express our gratitude for trees specifically and the environment more generally. I feel like my photography and new interaction with nature in the Deep South has prepared me for this Jewish holiday. I’ve been cultivating an awareness, which on Tu Bishvat and every other day of the year, leads to more appreciation of nature.
Back in religious school, I understood Tu Bishvat as a holiday of celebrating the trees which, growing up, is how you are supposed to understand it. As an adult exploring new territory, literally and metaphorically, I understand it now more as a time to appreciate the world around me – the trees and beyond!
In honor of the New Year for trees, here are some of my recent photographs. Enjoy, and here’s to nature!