Editor’s Note: Please meet Marlene Mamiye of The Jewish Hostess. Marlene has put together a fantastic Tu B’Shevat spread, photographed by Morris Antebi. Truly a feast for the eyes! Thank you, Marlene!
For me, the holiday of Tu B’Shevat always summoned to mind a couple of boring dried fruits on a paper plate given to us as ten-year-old kids in school. It wasn’t really very exciting, and I particularly remember almost breaking a baby tooth as we tried to bite the dried black, hard-as-a-rock carob buxer strip that was touted as a special new fruit by our teachers.
But more recently, as one of the producers of The Sephardic Heritage Museum film project, I had the honor of interviewing over 300 community members, many of whom remember celebrating the exciting holiday of Tu B’Shevat way back in Syria.
I was fascinated to learn that our pandemonium-like holiday of Purim involved for them a mere passing around of Syrian pastries like samboosak and graybeh to their neighbors, but Tu B’Shevat, or “Id Il Jar” (pronounced Eed El Jar—the Holiday of Trees), was the one holiday which children and parents alike truly looked forward to.
Each year, about a month before the holiday, the mothers started sewing velvet drawstring bags which would soon contain exotic fruits that the children had never seen before.
We take our pineapples, watermelons and mangoes for granted nowadays, but I doubt that there were carts in the souk in Aleppo offering these wonderful sweet treats. In fact, I discovered that it would take the adults weeks to seek out and save these fruits to excite the children and keep the memories of the Tu B’Shevat holiday alive.
Upon speaking to one of my Tu B’Shevat bakers, I was surprised to hear that she and her husband have a Tu B’Shevat dessert “Seder” table every year on the eve of the holiday. Her husband reads from a special Tu B’Shevat book, points out the new fruits to his children, and recites the blessings. He tells some Tu B’Shevat stories, and the kids show off the holiday art creations they made at school. As a special treat, my friend and her husband share a pomegranate martini.
Another friend told me about her childhood in Mexico. They’d run into the house on Tu B’Shevat, holding paper bags, excited for the new dried fruits their parents (who were originally from Aleppo) had bought. The parents would call, “Who sees Id Il Jar?” And when the children answered, “We see him!” their parents filled their bags with sweet treats. Inspired by her story, I decided to recreate my own rendition of the bags, below.
Did you ever stop to think that we are similar to the trees? We aim to grow strong, establish rock-solid roots, and bear beautiful fruits that we are proud of—our children, chessed, mitzvot, and our work.
My sister-in-law constantly tells me that I am truly an old soul, and a gnawing ache in my heart propels me to believe that she is right. As The Jewish Hostess, I have planted myself into the awesome job of treasuring the old customs while adding a splash of modern hues and excitement to our holiday ambiance.
Enjoy the exciting jolt of color, new fruits, gorgeous flowers, and Tu B’Shevat cakes baked by our fabulous community bakers. See more pictures, and details about the contributors, here.