January 19, 2018

Looking Back and Looking Forward: A Reflection from Ellen Bernstein, on Tu B’Shevat

In honor of Tu B’Shevat, a reflection from Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, who received a grant as part of the first cohort of Covenant Foundation grantees in 1991. Here, Ellen reflects on how Tu B’Shevat ignited her passion for Jewish education and shares a video of the rich and colorful Tu B’Shevat seder that is still running annually at Hampshire College.

“My first Tu B’Shevat seder was in Philadelphia in 1988. I was just becoming interested in Judaism from an ecological angle, and I had learned about how the Kabbalists read biblical and mystical passages about nature to celebrate the trees’ new year. Since the Kabbalistic 4-world perspective corresponds beautifully with the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, I realized that Tu B’Shevat could become the perfect Jewish earth day.


Over the next couple of years, I developed my own haggadah, which focused on the ecological dimensions of Tu B’Shevat, and started to think about producing a seder as a major special event filled with art and music.

I began by partnering with the Philadelphia Parks department so that we could hold the seder in one of the rustic and romantic boat houses on the banks of the Schuylkill River. I engaged four musicians to create musical mediations for each of the four “worlds” of the seder—doing, thinking, feeling and spirit. Collaborating artists created beautiful earthy centerpieces and 200 guests attended that first seder, sat on the floor, and enjoyed a magical evening of blessing, fruit, wine, music and study.

That evening led to the founding of Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth, the first national Jewish environmental organization.” –Ellen Bernstein, January 2018