Yosef is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of GrowTorah. Yosef holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and a certificate in Experiential Jewish Education from M2. In addition to volunteering as the Board Chair of I Was Supposed To Have a Baby, he is the Chair of the Teaneck Environmental Commission. He lives in Teaneck, NJ with his wife, Sara, and their daughters Zeva, Mina, and Yara. On winter Sundays, he can be found teaching skiing at Plattekill Mountain, in the Catskills.

Reliance and Hope: Lessons From Trees for Tu Bishvat 5784


Rosh Chodesh Shvat, according to Beit Shammai, marks the New Year for trees. However, according to Beit Hillel, we observe the date on the 15th of this month (טו בשבט), which arrives today. This machloket (disagreement) highlights for us the fact that this whole season is important for trees. This holiday takes place in the middle of winter because in Israel the fruit trees start to open up their blossoms right around this time of year, marking the new cycle for this year’s fruits. Wherever you are, there is something you can learn and teach from the trees around you.

Lessons From Trees

Trees can thrive under incredibly harsh conditions. The larch tree can withstand temperatures as cold as -65º C. A look outside in your neighborhood reveals that this spring’s buds are already waiting on our trees, but they will not open up until the right moment later this spring.
Trees show us what it means to be patient. Resilience and patience are two traits that are hard to teach, but learning them from the trees can be resonant with many of our learners.

Nature With Your Students 

If you’re wondering how you might approach nature with your students, we recommend using what you have nearby. We created this Scavenger Hunt as a way to learn more about your natural surroundings. If you want learn more about the plants around you, the photo app on your phone has features to help you identify the plants you photograph. We also love the iNaturalist app to participate in regional naturalist programs.
Get out and play: You can use this trail finder or forest finder for local places to recreate in nature. Be sure to check with local regulations if bringing school groups.

Develop An Educational Garden At Your School 

School gardens are rich with educational opportunities. They provide space for students to get outdoors, have fun and learn about nature. They offer sites for experiential education par excellence. Educators can design them to draw out Jewish lessons related to our sources and traditions. Students of all ages can learn and benefit from them. And they can plant— flowers, vegetables, trees—watch them grow and discover the mysteries and fascination of the cycles of life.
In 2021, with the help of an Ignition Grant from the Covenant Foundation, GrowTorah started our Anafim program, training teachers in schools across the USA to implement our program. Three years later, we are delighted to share that we’ll be expanding the program with in-person training, more curricular resources, and an ever-growing cohort of educators and school partners, thanks to a Signature Grant from Covenant.
In our home base of New Jersey, while we are surrounded by cold and snow and our trees are still in their dormant phase, this holiday reminds us to be optimistic for the future. In this region, Shvat’s arrival marks the start of sap flowing in the trees, maple sugaring season is right around the corner, with spring right after. At GrowTorah, we constantly seek Torah inspiration from nature, and in turn, we are inspired by the Torah to protect and preserve our beautiful world.
May the flowering of the fruit trees bring about the peace we so desperately need and be a harbinger of good things to come for all of Am Yisrael, and all people on this earth.