A Tree Grows in Kenton

In late winter, Tu B’Shevat events pop up like the first crocuses in Jewish communities everywhere, and Portland is no exception. On Feb. 12, about 30 people gathered at the Kenton Community Garden to celebrate the holiday, known as the “Birthday of the Trees.”

Co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and Moishe House, this event brought together two communities: young Jewish adults and the people of the Kenton neighborhood, a low-income community in north Portland.

Tu B’Shevat celebrations have become more popular in recent years, because their focus on Jewish stewardship of the natural world resonates with today’s environmentally conscious Jews. Josh Lake, the JFGP’s Young Adult AdVenturist, wanted to create a Tu B’Shevat event that would appeal to Jews in their 20s. He partnered with Moishe House, a home in SE Portland where young Jews live together and plan events for other young Jewish adults.

Lake also wanted to create an ongoing connection with the Kenton Community Garden. “For Federation and for us as Jews, it’s about creating ties in the general community, to realize we have common values with other communities,” he explains. “Planting trees isn’t just a Jewish value, it’s a humanistic value. So now when the folks in Kenton think about Jews, they’ll know that Jews plant trees.”
Lake turned to Angela Moos, chair of the Kenton Neighborhood Association, to find a suitable location for a communal fruit tree planting.

“It’s been hugely successful; the energy of all the attendees is great. This is a neighborhood that’s not very culturally diverse, so it’s good to expose people here to a wider concept of community building,” says Moos.

“This is all about connecting with trees and fruits and patience,” says Julie Auerbach, a raw food chef who lives in Moishe House. “Here we are taking the first step to planting the fruits that will grow with time, and the community that we’re engaging with and helping to feed over time.”

Sam Balto, who heard about this event via Facebook, says, “You’ve got trees, Jewish people and a holiday; it’s the perfect hat trick.” Balto also enjoyed the Tu B’Shevat Seder that preceded the tree planting. “The Seder made it more meaningful and connected it to Tu B’Shevat; it gives added meaning to the work we’re doing.”

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