In cities across the globe this month, Jewish communities are celebrating Tu B’Shvat. One of the types of celebrations is the mystical Tu B’Shvat seder. It started in the 16th century, by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, who took the New Year of the Trees and gave it an other-worldly spin. Through the ritual of the Tu B’Shvat seder, the Jew celebrates the fecundity and blooming of the trees as a totem for spiritual perfection. Basically, the seder is a ritual that leads the Jew through four divine worlds culminating in the world of emanation—the world of the spirit which is perfect and holy. Here we eat fruits that are fleshy and without pits, teaching that in the world of emanation, all is perfect and sweet. It’s lovely and spiritual, and totally backwards. Let me explain.
The problem with the totemic thinking of Tu B’Shvat is that it ignores the underlying structure of the human-eco balance on which this day relies. Luria’s seder is a ritual journey that elevates the soul up and away from the physical to the metaphysical, from the body to the spirit, from this world to the world beyond. Notice, the subtext: the world we live in is nothing but a beginning—a way station to the real world of God’s essence felt in the undiminished mystical union. Understood this way, the purpose of the seder is to elevate ourselves away from the physical, turning our backs on this world, and on our responsibility for it, for a chance at a mystical union with God.
If Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Encino, fulfills his vision, 101 food-bearing gardens will blossom at synagogues, Jewish organizations, schools and private homes throughout urban Los Angeles — with 90% of their harvest going to feed the hungry through his new organization Netiya: The LA Jewish Coalition on Food, Environment and Social Justice.
The organization, which was founded in November 2010 and is getting off the ground this season with two gardens, is named for the Hebrew word for planting used in passages about the Garden of Eden.
The idea for the organization germinated at a 2009 Hunger Summit convened by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. When a participant asked if gardening could be a way to combat local hunger, Farkas stood up and said that Valley Beth Shalom day school students and their families were doing precisely that. Working with the synagogue’s Green Team, they have established a budget and set up a work schedule to grow food that is given to local food banks to help feed the hungry. Several participants joined the effort and Farkas hosted a series of group meetings with Jewish professionals in the area to gain more volunteers. The organization also teamed up with the local federation’s Fed Up with Hunger campaign to which the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles granted $250,000.
Each night of Hanukkah, donut blogger and connoisseur Temim Fruchter will share one of America’s best donuts to devour during the holiday. Click here to read last night’s installment and check back each day for a different city’s top donut.
When you are serious about donut-consumption, you need trustworthy sources in other cities to tell you where the best ones are. Los Angeles is a city where donuts abound, but good donuts are a bit more elusive. My trustworthy source swears by SK’s Donuts and Croissant. Unpretentious, affordable, open late, and boasting what sounds like a dreamy buttermilk bar and a somewhat-renowned apple fritter, it sounds to me like a perfect donut go-to.
Hanukkah relevance: SK’s serves their donuts in a pink box. Festive!