My two youngest children are not going to school today and yet what they will learn today is a lesson that will last them all their lives. Like tens of thousands of others, they are going out into a forest to plant trees. That simple. That true.
Today is Tu B’Shevat – it is, though you may laugh, the new year of the trees. We have one – we even have more than one if you count the solar year that begins on January 1st and the lunar year that begins each Rosh Hashana holiday. Why shouldn’t the trees have one?
The first year I was in Israel, I finally understood what it means – this new year of the tree. On the exact day (and yes, it was a lucky coincidence that it happened that day and not the day before or after) of that first year in Israel, the almond tree blossoms opened for the first time. It doesn’t always happen, but that first year it did. Later, I would learn that it depends on where you are – the warmer it is (near the coast, for example), the trees blossom sooner.
But it didn’t matter then. The blossoms were opening – ON Tu B’Shevat. That was Israel – the place where the holidays make sense because they are as much about land as they are about seasons. In America, Jewish holidays come and go with the months of the year; in Israel, they come and go with the land. Passover marks the end of winter, the beginning of Spring. Tu B’Shevat is all about the trees.
So my children go into the forests with their friends – and plant more trees. With this they learn that there are never enough trees in Israel – more than 5 million less this year because of the devastating Carmel fires. So we will do what we have done for the last 100 years. Quietly, without politics, with love – we will plant our land.
They also learn that this land is theirs and build a connection that transcends time. Only our people have cared enough to make the land blossom for its sake, for its beauty. It isn’t crops we plant, but trees. Each child has heard the story of Honi (you can read it here).
In short, Honi comes across an old man planting a carob tree. He asks the man why he is planting something that takes 70 years to grow, something that he will never see. The man explains that as his grandfather planted one for him, he plants now for his grandson to see some day.
And lest this story venture too far from my sons, the soldiers, let me tell you a quick story. It’s cold where my children are going. They will be planting south of Jerusalem, in an area known as Gush Etzion – a special, beautiful place of great historic and national importance, a symbol of our fight to live here.
Last week, my youngest son joined in an overnight march to remember 35 brave men who were ambushed and murdered. It is the story of the Lamed-Heigh…I’ll tell that one next…as I should have last week. It is geographically located south of Jerusalem and at a higher level. It will snow there before it will snow in Jerusalem, the nights slightly colder.
My daughter is taking two sweaters and a warm shirt and I hope she will be warm enough. Davidi wanted to just go with a shirt and sweatshirt and I was complaining that he needed to take another jacket.
Elie stopped me explaining that his younger sister would just whine and complain, but if Davidi was cold, he’d just be quiet and be cold. It was, for both of them, a good moment, a show of confidence. Davidi towers over me now. He’s so tall – just coming up to Elie’s height, having passed both his father and Shmulik already. At just 15, there’s probably a good chance he’ll be the tallest in the family. He’s beautiful and strong and I have to stop thinking of him as my baby.
He packed his own food, pushed aside my wanting to make sure he had enough for the day. Already the baby is gone, the man on the horizon. I don’t want to meet the man so soon. I’m not ready. It’s enough that I had to let Elie grow up, and Amira and Shmulik. Davidi too? He is the first of my children born in Israel, the first gift of this land.
The sun is shining here. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. How I wish I could be going with them to plant, to touch this land, to tell it softly, as I have in the past, how special it is to be here. So, I will end where I started, with the wonderful knowledge that my two youngest children are not going to school today and yet what they will learn today is a lesson that will last them all their lives.