At 7pm on Feb 7, at the balmy temperature of -7 degrees celsius, a group of forty people braved the frozen temperatures of wintertime in Montreal to celebrate the bounty of nature, good food and great local talent. The result was Tu B'Shevat Under the Trees, the first pop-up dinner I ever put forth with the lovely Allison Sklar (Savoury Sweets Bakery, The Bacon-eating Jewish Vegetarian).
Growing up in Israel, Tu B'Shevat was a time to go outside and plant saplings, bask in the first rays of the hesitant spring sun, and marvel at the awakening of nature. But in Montreal, Tu B'Shevat was often a throwaway holiday, a time when no one dared to peek outside for fear of freezing. At most, people would eat some dried fruit, bake some muffins and call it a day.
I wanted to use this year as an opportunity to celebrate Tu B'Shevat as it was meant to be celebrated, under the trees, and to help Montrealers rejoice in this pernicious season and in the bounty of our city.
So I invited you and many of my friends to meet me outside on a cold February night. I rented space heaters, hung up some fairy lights, and had blankets custom made for the occasion. But mainly, I just tested a lot of recipes, and hoped and prayed that the weather will take it easy on us that night (you can see the dinner's menu here).
And somehow, due to a lot of hard work and a great deal of magic and fairy dust, it all came together.
My favourite moment was when our host, Rabbi Avi Finegold had just finished his introduction, weaving together the themes of sustainability, Judaism and food security, and everyone toasted the first glass of the Tu B'Shevat seder. The twinkling of the fairy lights above and the candles strewn across the tables was caught in the wine glasses, the tinkling of the crystals and the laughter of our guests weaved together to create the perfect background melody, and altogether, the moment encapsulated in it everything I sought to capture with this evening: love, joy, and pride at the bounty of nature, local food, and local talent. At that moment, I knew my event was a success.
When I looked around and saw the smiling faces, the sighs of happiness at a bite of food, the hugs and handshakes exchanged by people who didn't know each other only hours before, I knew that there was some logic in the madness that brought everyone out together on that cold night.
But don't get me wrong - it wasn't all fun and games getting to that point. Undoubtedly the biggest challenge to the success of my event was the weather. As the day of Tu B'Shevat Under the Trees crept nearer and the temperatures continued to drop, I became increasingly worried that the blankets and heaters I had ordered would not suffice.
Then, three days before the event, the heater rental company told me they don’t think the heaters will be enough and I *must* rent a tent. I called every rental company in town, all along doubting the validity of this assertion and the need for a tent. When every quote came way over budget, I called the heater company back and insisted we needed to make it work as planned.
When the heaters were delivered on the day of the event, the owner of the rental company took one look around the yard and agreed with me: everything would be fine. He gave us a free extra heater, and later on told me how impressed he was with the professionalism and the overall look of the event! So it just goes to show that if you believe something is possible, even if everyone else is doubting you... You just might be right.
Tu B'Shevat Under the Trees was truly an unforgettable experience that was as much fun setting up as it was to take part in. I look forward to many more similar endeavours... Though perhaps under warmer circumstances.
*This event was made possible by a #MakeItHappen Micro Grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.