Through the creation of two innovative Story Walk events, The Shul and JCC’s PJ Library Detroit brought families outdoors to enjoy the beauty of snow-covered pathways and learn about Tu b’Shevat as they trekked the trails.
When COVID-19 guidelines halted plans for the annual indoor Tu b’Shevat festivities typically held by The Shul and JCC’s PJ Library Detroit, the two could have just taken a pass on the programming and started up again next year.
But then, instead of allowing the snowy, winter days to be a deterrent, they revised their plan to fit the times. Through the creation of two innovative Story Walk events, they brought families outdoors to enjoy the beauty of snow-covered pathways and learn about the holiday as they trekked the trails.
The 35 families who participated came prepared, bundled in frigid-weather garb, aiming for good times and cups of hot chocolate at the finish. And, the forest-like surroundings were most fitting, since after all, Tu b’Shevat is the Jewish New Year of the Trees.
“We had always celebrated the holiday with indoor, fun, family-friendly activities for our Hebrew school family, often inviting the community at large,” said Rochel Leah Eliefja of The Shul, who organized the event with her youth education and programming colleague Rivki Mann and PJ Library parent connectors Julie Rosenbaum, Natalie Friedman and Lindsey Lienert.
“We’ve always loved working with PJ Library on our Tu b’Shevat and other holiday baking programs, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with so many friends, rolling out yummy doughs and making delicious treats and crafts,” Eliefja said. “That obviously could not happen this year, so we came up with this meaningful way to celebrate instead.”
That celebration blended an engaging walk with the reading of a Tu b’Shevat children’s book and a discovery of the traditions of the holiday.
Families, mostly with younger children, but a few with teens, came out to the two Story Walks, held on Jan. 24 at Heritage Park in Farmington Hills and Jan. 28 at Scotia Park in Huntington Woods. Some trudged the trail pushing strollers or sporting baby carriers, while others were accompanied by winter-loving canines.
During the hike, participants read Dear Tree (Hachai Publishing, 2010), the story of the relationship between a young boy and his favorite tree and the hopes and wishes he shared for the tree on Tu b’Shevat, written by Detroit native Doba Rivka Weber and illustrated by Phyllis Saroff.
“The book’s pages were printed, with permission from the publisher, on large posters and attached to wooden posts,” Eliefja said. “The families went from post to post reading the book as they walked. They would read the story, thinking about the points brought out on ‘thoughts to ponder’ slips and try to figure out some funny tree-related riddles as well.”
The Search Was On
Each child received a gift bag with snacks and instructions for a scavenger hunt for the seven species of fruit and grain mentioned in the Bible that were hidden throughout the trail “When the kids spotted the items, they simply placed a fruit-scented sticker on their bag,” Eliefja said.
“With every holiday so far during the pandemic, we’ve been trying to think out of the box how to create safe family programming,” Eliefja said. “We wanted to bring the joy of these holidays to all, so people can celebrate their Judaism in a safe manner. We did Shofar in the Park, Sukkah in the Park, a Chanukah donut truck and the virtual Menorah in the D, and now Tu b’Shevat in the Park as well.”
Rosenbaum, who said Tu b’Shevat is her favorite holiday, joined the walkers at Heritage Park. “They were so happy to see other humans and were so grateful to have something physical to do outside, even though it snowed the entire time,” she said. “It was the perfect place for the event, since Tu b’Shevat is all about being outside and being amidst the trees.”
At the end of each of the two trails, participants were poured piping hot cocoa to warm themselves up after a frigid Story Walk.
“We had a crazy blizzard on one of the days, and freeeezing cold on the other,” Eliefja said. “But people came out and were so thankful to have something to enjoy safely with their families.”