ONE recent Sunday morning at our synagogue Sunday school, or ‘Cheder’, I was accosted by two very excited children.

David, age five, told me that he had just eaten lots of fruits, including ‘pomegranate pearls’ and his sister, Rachel, proudly showed me her colourful collage of a tree, which appeared to bear 15 different types of fruit.

They were learning about an upcoming Jewish festival, Tu BiShevat, the New Year for trees, so called because it is on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, toward the end of winter.

This is the time when first buds appear on trees and the sap begins to rise. In England it may also be a time of ice and snow!

The festival began as an observance of tithing in the land of Israel, but its emphasis has developed through the ages.

In recent years, there has been a growing understanding of the fragility of our planet.

Consequently Tu BiShevat has increasingly come to symbolise the need to protect and nurture the environment.

It is a time when we also look at the responsibility we have to ensure that the earth’s resources are shared more equitably.

Jewish people around the world plant trees and also participate in environmental projects in their own communities and in Israel. We join with people of different religious traditions and others to ensure that the voices of all concerned with this issue are clearly heard.

A popular story from the Talmud (the traditional book of Jewish law and lore) still resonates, hundreds of years after it was written: One day, Honi the Circle Maker, a wise Jewish man, was walking along the road and saw a man planting a carob tree.

Honi asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”

The man replied: “Seventy years.”

Honi then asked: “And do you think you will live another 70 years and eat the fruit of this tree?”

The man answered: “Maybe not. However, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather.

“Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat their fruit.”