One of my most treasured memories is planting a dried lima bean in a small, cardboard milk container I filled with black dirt. My kindergarten classmates and I watched these individual planters each day with anticipation and hope. We reveled in the excitement and thrill when tiny green shoots began to sprout skyward. Decades later, I fondly remember my little plant when I see spring bulbs push through the warm, moist soil.
There is a lovely Jewish custom which suggests that for each baby born, a tree be planted in their honor. When the child matures and marries, the four poles of the chuppah (wedding canopy) then come from his or her tree. This is another way of understanding our tradition of Etz Chaim, The Tree of Life. I was aware of this lovely minhag when our daughter was born, but we did not do it at the time. How lucky for us that another opportunity presented itself early on in her life.
When she was three, she came home one day with a tiny evergreen shoot in a 3 ounce paper cup. It was Tu b’Shevat, the Birthday of the Trees and she was so proud of this sweet little gift, which she and her classmates had each planted, with soil and water, in these small vessels.
My daughter’s preschool teachers had an age-appropriate curriculum for this, the “Jewish” Arbor Day. They taught the children about the holiday, the obligations we have towards the earth, and the Jewish custom of eating dried fruits and other natural foods on the holiday. It was a “green” event, in the purest sense, years before green was in.
We nursed the plant through the winter and, when spring came, my husband planted the seedling in our back yard. It had grown and strengthened and we were optimistic that it would take root.
It is never too late, as the saying goes, and I look at that tree every day. Seventeen years later, it is a strong, healthy evergreen, over six feet tall. It is a wonderful reminder of those early years in our child’s life and a harbinger of good things to come. Now 20 and a junior in college, I am so proud of my daughter’s accomplishments, but none more than what this tree represents: Dor l’Dor, from generation to generation.
Our children bring home so many things from school – art work, subject papers, report cards. We struggle to decide what to keep and where to put it all. It is rare that an item becomes part of the daily fabric of life, to be seen and enjoyed for more than a fleeting moment.
Tu b’Shevat is the 20th of January this year. In the middle of your busy life and frigid temperatures, remember that the seedling your child brings home holds promise. Continue to nurture both the plant and your child and, in the spring, join them in planting their tree in your yard. It will grow, like they do, into strong vessels of Jewish life and all the future can hold.
A version of this post was published in 2010 by The Jewish Advocate.
Written by Jan Moidel Schwartz, Director of Development for the MetroWest Jewish Day School in Framingham, MA. Read more at bethemensch.blogspot.com.