DID WE SEE OUR SHADOW?
A Jewish holiday is celebrated today. It is T”u B’Shevat (the 15th of Shevat) and is called the Birthday of Trees. On our secular calendar, it occurs sometime in late January/early February. On our Hebrew calendar, it is ALWAYS the same date…the 15th of Shevat…right at the full moon.
Growing up in Kansas City, I never quite understood T”u B’Shevat. I DO remember bringing a couple of quarters to Religious School to buy leaves for a tree, that would be planted in Israel by JNF (Jewish National Fund). But it was confusing. We were in the middle of winter. Sometimes, there was snow on the ground. We were wrapped in sweaters and coats and gloves. Why were we celebrating TREES?
Once I visited Israel, I understood. See the picture above? I took that photo this morning. The almond trees are blooming…right on time…exactly at T”u B’Shevat. And anyone witnessing a dazzling array of white and pink buds all over Israel bursting forth this week understands why T”u B’Shevat is called the Birthday of Trees.
In America, we have the odd “holiday” of Groundhog Day, where we wait to see if the groundhog sees its shadow. If it does, we have 6 more weeks of winter. If not, the weather will be calmer and “winter” will end early.
Strange to rely on an overgrown rodent (sorry, all you groundhog lovers out there) to prognosticate about the weather.
I think the way Jewish tradition has us “check in” on the weather makes a lot more sense! For many generations and centuries, we were tied inextricably to the land of Israel. From Abraham to Joshua to King Solomon, we were in the land. Our lives were centered around how the land provided for us. Then, for generations and centuries, we could only dream about the land, for we had been displaced. But, we kept our hope alive that the land – the place – would once again be central to our lives. Perhaps one of the great symbols of that hope was the Jewish observance of T”u B’Shevat.
Whether on the frozen steppes of Russia or in the frozen suburbs of America, we believed that “spring” would come, that we would eventually return to the land. And, once more, live in harmony – and with an interdependence – with the land of Israel. In 1948, that dream became a reality, with the establishment of the State of Israel.
See that almond tree bud in the picture? It is the Jewish symbol of hope.Today, we hope that Israel will continue to blossom with vitality, safety…and with a core commitment to remain what it was always dreamt to be: a place where the Jewish values of Torah and tradition could come alive. It has come a long way in achieving that dream. As with all realities, it still has a long way to go.
I return home from Israel this week. As I do, I will keep the image of hundreds of almond trees blooming throughout the countryside in my mind. It will remind me that Spring is on its way...both the climatic spring…but also the spring of democracy, the spring of justice, the spring of coexistence, the spring of peace. May these blossom as well, in the coming months. In Israel. In our own community. In the world.