December 16, 2004
Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Q: When does a Christmas tree become a Tu B'Shevat tree?
A: When a Westwood church and a Santa Monica synagogue decide that having one tree do double duty is good both for the environment and the spiritual awareness of their congregants.
After the hard-working tree has done its dual job, it will be planted in a public park for everyone to enjoy.
Fifty Jewish families from Beth Shir Sholom and 50 Christian families from the Westwood Hills Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ are each contributing $36 to jointly purchase one tree, for a total of 50 trees.
The trees, in planters, were delivered to the church on Dec. 12, during a joint celebration with temple members.
After the Christmas season, on Jan. 9, the trees will be delivered to Beth Shir Sholom families, who will care for them for the next three weeks.
Although Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of Trees, falls on Jan. 25 this year, the actual tree planting will be delayed until Sunday, Jan. 30.
On the morning of Jan. 30, the Christian and Jewish families will meet at the temple and nosh on the fruits symbolic of the holiday, after blessings by the rabbi.
Immediately afterward, the trees will be transported to the Ed Edelman Park in Topanga Canyon and planted there with the help of the TreePeople, Malibu Creek State Park and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
"This project marks the convergence of two traditions, without detracting from the integrity of either one," said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, the "Progressive Reform" congregation long active in interfaith relations. "In both traditions, trees symbolize new life and hope."
"We tend to link Christmas and Chanukah because they happen around the same time," said the Rev. Kirsten Linford-Steinfeld of the church. Linford-Steinfeld, who is married to a Jewish man, warmly endorsed the project. "I think it's a neat idea to connect two of our holidays in a different way, especially since Tu B'Shevat comes exactly one month after Christmas this year."
The project was the brainchild of Nurit Ze'evi, who thought of the idea when she remembered her childhood in Israel and the Tu B'Shevat holiday.
This year, the project will be on a trial run, but Ze'evi already has more ambitious plans for the future.
In a poem she wrote for the occasion, Ze'evi envisions that in the years to come, hundreds and then thousands of Christians and Jews will join hands in planting Christmas/Tu B'Shevat trees in Los Angeles, the United States and across the world.