Tikkun Olam

Voices from the field

Let's Dig a Hole and Plant a Seed

By Lori Sagarin

When I think of pivotal memories... Tu B’shvat always emerges as one of the clearest. I am sitting in my Talmud Torah class, licking the backs of the JNF “green stamps” working my way down the card to purchase a tree in Eretz Yisrael.

I, not unlike many American Jews, imagined someday visiting Israel and seeing “my tree”. I planted trees in honor of relative’s special birthdays, anniversaries, and most notably, in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Recently, while visiting my parents I came across the letter, dated in the spring of 1969 from the desk of Coretta Scott King thanking me for honoring her husband in this special way. Re-reading this note reminded me how significant this tree planting exercise had been for me and my generation. It connected us in a very tangible way to the State of Israel.  We were the first generation who had not known a time without a Modern state and we appreciated the importance and significance of this faraway place in our lives.

I don’t imagine a single child in my 1960’s Religious School did not plant a tree. It was a given. No one had to prod or cajole any of us. It was just what Jewish kids did. Over the years, I think we have lost this connection. Yes, we continue to send tree forms home with our students each year prior to Tu B’shvat but only a minority plant trees and I imagine it is at their parents’ behest.

Two things have happened that have convinced me that time has come to renew our efforts in encouraging children to plant trees. The first is our international growing awareness and support for the green movement. We are all far more aware of the need for protection of natural resources and the roles trees have in that effort.  JNF has reinvented itself in order to provide a context for extensive green education through a Jewish lens and they are not alone. Hazon has produced a myriad of resources that any family or institution can take advantage in an effort to spread a green message and connect our families to Israel and our tradition.

The second are the recent Carmel fires which devastated northern Israel destroying conservatively 5 million trees. I am the kind of Jewish educator who consciously tries to avoid linking all of Jewish history to tragedy and endeavors to engage my students through the accomplishments of our people.  This event, however, is a tragedy with healing - healing that can take place at their hands through the planting of trees.

My congregation’s lay leaders have picked up the gauntlet and beginning on Tu B’shvat and continuing through Yom Ha’atzmaut are raising funds to plant a grove of trees. These trees will be a small effort to begin to replenish the lost Carmel forests. I am so proud and excited to be a part of a community that is ready to take action in such a meaningful manner. I look forward to incorporating the children in our schools in this effort, renewing the excitement and pride I felt so many years ago, licking those stamps, filling that card and planting that tree.

This past weekend we lost the voice of American Jewish music. Debbie Friedman wrote music that gave access to both liturgy and Jewish celebrations by creating the musical backdrop for generations. Debbie wrote an iconic song for Tu B'shvat for very young children the title of which is "Plant a Tree for Tu B'shvat". I couldn't have said it better myself.