The Brazen Queerness of Tu Bishvat

January 14, 2022

By Aviva Davis

I’ve got to get something off my chest. Perhaps it’s a hot take. Perhaps we’ve all been thinking it and no one has said anything, but it’s a new year and I’m not hiding it anymore. I have to say what’s on my mind.

Tu Bishvat is gay.

Next to Purim, Tu Bishvat is one of the gayest holidays we have in Judaism. Now, why is Purim gay? I’m glad you asked. There is nothing more gay than putting on a silly little outfit, doing some cosplay, drinking till you don’t know who’s toxic and who’s not, and eating some damn good pastries. 

But I digress. In my book, Tu Bishvat will always be gay. It is extremely queer to devote a whole day to honoring our beautiful trees and everything they have done for us, celebrating the fertility of nature, and eating some of the most yonic fruits on the planet. I see you,  figs, olives, and peaches. Plus: every time I have celebrated Tu Bishvat, I have been surrounded by my queer Jewish community. They are the reason I now feel such a strong connection to the holiday. 

I first celebrated Tu Bishvat my first year in college at Brandeis. It was my first semester as a sister of SAEPi, the new Jewish sorority on campus. I decided to give Tu Bishvat a try, if only to fulfill my Jewish Values requirement for the semester. I didn’t know much about the holiday, but my friends in the sorority seemed excited, so I tagged along. 

I should mention that I was blessed to join a sorority with a majority-queer sisterhood. Throughout my time at Brandeis, I was surrounded by my queer sisters, teaching and discussing using that lens. That Tu Bishvat evening, my sisters showed me how, for many of them, their Jewish and queer identities are bonded. They were making jokes about the shapes of certain fruits, and connecting to queer textual interpretations and Jewish conversations and practices. It seemed like they connected their queerness to every aspect of the Tu Bishvat seder and discussion. 

Through SAEPi, I learned how many different queer interpretations of our sacred practices and texts are out there. I learned how to analyze and practice different holidays, Tu Bishvat included, through a queer lens from my sisters. 

Just before COVID hit, I attended a Tu Bishvat seder that  one of my dear SAEPi friends hosted. She had studied up on the structure of the Tu Bishvat seder and was prepared with food, drink, reading materials, and even a giant roll-in white board for all of the visual learners in the crowd. It was even more impressive than most of the Pesach seders I’ve been to. Once again, the crowd was majority queer.

 I remember feeling warm. I had found my people, even though some of the folks at the table were complete strangers to me. That’s the beauty of queer joy: when I see it in others, I begin to feel it in myself. Queer joy fosters a closeness with others that is unique and beautiful. Being in the presence of queer joy made me feel more confident in my queerness. It was one of those evenings where you’re almost sad you’re having such a good time because you know, at some point, it has to end. 

I am forever grateful for my queer Jewish community for teaching me that even when I think my Judaism has gotten as gay as possible, there is always room for improvement, that my identities are sacred and inextricably tied, that every Jewish thing I do is, by definition, at least a little bit gay. Thanks to their inspiration, I vowed to hold my own Tu Bishvat seder when I felt ready, and to make it as queer as possible. This year, with the rise of the Omicron variant, it might not be possible, but someday it will be. I will find that joy again and I will share it with the ones I love. We deserve it.

An image of a Black Jewish woman smiling

Aviva Davis (she/they) graduated from Brandeis University in 2021. There, she studied Psychology, Hispanic Studies, and Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation (CAST). They work closely with Jewish nonprofit Be’Chol Lashon, contributing to dialogue about the history and experiences of Jewish communities of color around the world. You can find them on Titktok @adavis99. Aviva was a 2020-2021 Alma College Writing Fellow.

We shared five reflections from queer Black Jews to honor the confluence of Tu Bishvat and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2022. Click here to view the whole collection!