By Mary Eshet
January 11 marks the next new moon and the beginning of the Hebrew month of Shvat. It promises to be a full month, not only because it has 30 days and is one of the longer Hebrew months, but also because it is full of important days and events! During Shvat we will observe Martin Luther King Day, kick off the second cohort of the Social Justice and Community Organizing (SJCO) certification program, recognize the 2024 Greenspon Upstander Award recipient, commence the next class in Jewish studies, open the “Seeing Auschwitz” exhibit, and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat.
The name Shvat is believed to refer to the heavy rains of the season; in the Jewish tradition rain can symbolize blessings. Shvat is also related to the sign of Aquarius associated with a bucket – a container to hold water. The idea is that we can each serve as a spiritual bucket, constantly refilling ourselves and then sharing our spiritual water.
As we remember Martin Luther King and his work for justice, we recommit ourselves to keep refilling our buckets and advocating for justice for all humanity. In his 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
This sentiment resonates completely with our mission at the Greenspon Center to advocate for justice for all. We are thrilled to launch the second cohort of our SJCO certification program on January 20 with twenty participants. The program prepares individuals to effectively organize for social change, equipping participants with knowledge and skills to bring together communities and create just outcomes.
Martin Luther King is the quintessential model of an Upstander. The Greenspon Upstander Award is given to someone who has taken great risks and exhibits great courage in responding to hate. On February 6, Imam Abdullah Antepli will receive the 2024 award. Vice President and Provost of Community Engagement at Duke University, Imam Antepli is a globally-acknowledged scholar and leader of cross-religious and cross-cultural dialogue in American higher education and in the non-profit world. He has built multiple organizations that facilitate religious and spiritual life on America’s college campuses, sowing seeds of understanding between religions. Imam Antepli will speak on the topic of “To Heal Our Broken World: The Role of Interfaith Efforts in Uniting Us.”
We seek to further Imam’s Antepli’s message with our Spring Jewish Studies Signature class, “Paths to Peace: Speaking to the Religious Other.” The course kicks off on Jan. 24 and will be taught by Queens University’s Religious Studies professors Dr. Adrian Bird and Rabbi Judy Schindler. The course will utilize texts of great religious thought leaders to explore the building of interfaith bridges to peace.
In the final days of Shvat, on February 8, the Greenspon Center will open the internationally acclaimed “Seeing Auschwitz” exhibit at the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Center in uptown Charlotte. The exhibit is a collection of 100 photographs of the camp that have survived to the present day, with an audio guide including testimonies from survivors. Knowledge and understanding about this atrocity is one way to fill our buckets with the determination to avert future crimes against humanity by combating hate in all its forms.
On the 15th of Shvat (Tu B’Shvat), January 25 in 2024, we celebrate the new year of the trees. What a lovely concept! Also wonderful, the customary celebration is to eat fruit, especially the seven species attributed to Israel: wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, grapes, olives and date-honey – with a goal to eat a total of 15 fruits in all.
The message of the fruits – which add flavor, variety, fragrance and color to our lives — is that the journey itself is meant to be joyous. The abundant choice of fruit mirrors the choices we have in our lives every day, and challenge us to choose life in the highest sense, to be upstanders. The Mishna (the collection of originally oral laws supplementing the scriptures) tells us that Tu B’Shvat is the day that the sap begins to rise. It is a day of renaissance and hope.
As Shvat ends and the next month of Adar begins, the Jewish calendar shows two Rosh Chodeshes (or heads of the month) for Adar. So, is the 30th day of Shvat the beginning or the end? Or, is it both, symbolizing the continuous cycle of life and the spreading and refilling of our buckets?