Today is Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for the Trees. This is technically the day when trees stop absorbing water from the ground, and instead draw nourishment from their sap. In Jewish law, this means that fruit which has blossomed prior to the 15th of Shvat could not be used as tithe for fruit which blossomed after that date. The custom on Tu B'Shvat is to eat fruits from the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised: "...a land of wheat and barley and (grape) vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and (date) honey" (Deut. 8:8). So although the Holiday has just ended here in Israel I want to wish all of you in America a happy Tu B'Shvat.
I am actually writing to you from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel and my flight is scheduled to leave around 11:00pm. I just spent the last five days visiting with the staff and students at a program called Year Course. It's a gap year program that's run by Young Judaea for students who have just graduated high school and are about to begin college. As the Director of JSU South Florida I am constantly meeting with teenagers who would really enjoy a program abroad and also receive college credit for the year. Year Course is a fantastic program that has so many tracks and electives so that students can engage in learning about Judaism and also participate in a variety of volunteer opportunities. They actually spend time living in Israeli neighborhoods, where they are responsible for their own cooking and cleaning. It's a real maturing experience and I was very impressed with the program.
I hope that you will be able to join me at Friday Night Live tomorrow night at 6:00pm, where I will share some of my reflections on the Israel experience and you can also tune into the "Jewish Pride" radio show on Monday at 9:00am to hear even more.
Last Shabbat we hosted twenty students from Yeshiva University and Stern College in New York. They attended all of our new Shabbat outreach programs that we have initiated and had a special lunch with twenty of our group's participants. It was a great opportunity for everyone to learn about each other's experiences. I am confident that through meetings like these, the future teachers and Rabbi's will not only NOT be afraid to engage Jews that are different than them, but will make an effort to respect them as well.
Shabbat Shalom and may God bless you.