Repairing the world, and your home, on Tu b’Shvat

Tooling around: A basic set of tools helps you green up your life in a variety of ways.  (Edmon J. Rodman)

Tooling around: A basic set of tools helps you green up your life in a variety of ways. (Edmon J. Rodman)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — The Jewish green day of Tu b’Shvat is not just the new year for trees anymore.

Jews are being asked increasingly to dedicate Tu b’Shvat to repairing the world. The Tu b’Shvat seder at the Jewish Funds for Justice is called "Tikkun [repair] and Transformation." Kolel, the Adult Center for Liberal Jewish Learning, suggests four tikkunim, or repairs, to interact with traditional Tu b’Shvat seder themes: social, cosmic/existential, national and ecological. On the Reclaiming Judaism website, Rabbi Goldie Milgram writes, "Tu Bi-Shevat is meant to help repair this world."

But before you go out and make your repairs to the world, don’t you think you should fix up your home? Like what about that broken clothes dryer or dishwasher?

You might be surprised, but this has a basis in Jewish tradition. The injunction of "ba’al taschit" — do not destroy — is the Jewish version of waste not, want not. To avoid waste, we need to learn how to repair rather than throw things away.

It’s time to think globally and act locally — very locally, like in your kitchen or utility room.

Yes, there’s a drought in Israel and there was that terrible fire in the Carmel Mountains of northern Israel, but that doesn’t absolve you of doing something about the water drip dripping down your drain because you don’t know how to fix it.

At Tu b’Shvat, consider this: With the money saved from a few simple home repairs, you can fix your house and your world.

The holiday is often observed with a Tu B’Shvat seder, a Feast of Fruits. Nuts in the shell, like almonds, play a part in the ritual, and to those bent on repair, they bring to mind another kind of nut — those metal hexagonal ones that are really holding the world together.

Repairs have never been more expensive, but repair parts and instructions on how to install them have never been more accessible. With household expenses such as insurance and utilities on the rise, why throw away that perfectly good but too-expensive-to-repair appliance when you can fix it yourself?

What you can toss is that old stereotype of Jews, men or women, not being handy, or even owning tools.

To get started, the Talmud says, "On three things the world stands: on justice, on truth and on peace." Generations of Jewish engineers, plumbers and electricians would add a fourth: a toolbox.

With a household tool set as basic as flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, pliers and hammer, you can save enough money over a year to green up your yard for the next Tu b’Shvat.

My toolbox was a wedding gift. It was wrapped with a bow, just like the other presents, but over the years its contents have far outlived the usefulness of the crock pots, slicers/dicers and sundry plug-in space-taker-uppers that we received for our home.

Over time, my tool box has opened my eyes to conservation. I like to think that with my repairs of a washing machine, dryer and oven, even computer, my personal landfill is smaller.

Each repair has been a reminder that what is broken can often be fixed. With each repair, each turn of the wrench, the kabbalistic concept of the Tu b’Shvat seder known as asiyah — gaining awareness of the physical world — becomes more accessible.

For those who are tool challenged, do as Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, suggests: “Find for yourself a teacher.” 

I consult with my father-in-law, Stanley Berko, a professional who has repaired appliances for much of his adult life: TVs, ovens, microwaves.

In a kind of repairman’s oral law, he has passed down to me, patient phone call after call, an order to repair worth sharing: “Always check first to see if it’s plugged in,” he invariably tells me. “Then check the circuit breaker,” he adds for good measure.

This might sound like a big “duh” until Stanley regales me with tales of the house calls he has made in which the plug is simply out or the breaker popped.

Our dishwasher tanked recently. Not enough water was going in, resulting in cloudy drinking glasses and a serving of grayish dried patina on everything else.

With California in a drought, all that extra hand rinsing certainly wasn’t helping.

By Googling the dishwasher’s make and model number along with the prompt “Doesn’t clean, not filling with water,” I found a help site where several respondents for a similar request had suggested clearing the filter in the washer’s inlet valve.

But where was the valve? At an Internet parts site I found a schematic that showed the valve and filter were up front and easily accessible. I also found instructions on how to remove and clean it out.

After unplugging the appliance and turning off the water, I did exactly that, with the aid of an adjustable crescent wrench and screwdriver. The result: cloudless cups and clean cutlery.

A basic repair call would have been $100. Additionally there would have been the cost of a replacement part and the labor to install it. By doing the repair myself, I saved a lot of green.

Yes, there was fire in Israel, and with a simple repair or two you can save enough to replant a couple of trees — with enough leftover for a fine spread of nuts (the edible kind) for your Tu b’Shvat seder.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at  edmojace@gmail.com.)

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