by Hazzan Ben Tisser
Next Monday we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Shevat, the beginning of the new month of Shevat. Of course this month is best known for being the host to the Tu B’Shevat holiday, which we celebrate as the “birthday of the trees.” I have many fond memories of being a student in day school in Los Angeles, attending assemblies where we sang Israeli songs about trees and nature, and then went up into the Santa Monica Mountains to plant evergreen trees. We were taught that children in Israel were doing that very same activity that very same day in the hills around Jerusalem.
As a child in LA, it was perhaps more challenging to understand the nature (pun intended) of Tu B’Shevat than it is here in Chicago. Winter brought cool mornings, yet the sun still shined brightly most days, and the majority of trees and flowers remained in bloom throughout the year…so there wasn’t this sense of transition out of winter in the same way. In Israel, it is around this time that the shkediyah, the almond tree, begins to bloom, signifying that although we are still in the throes of winter, spring isn’t far off, and that the promise of nature renewing itself is very real.
Last year, Shevat took on a new meaning for me and my fiancée, Robyn. On 5 Shevat, Robyn lost her teenage son; and on Tu B’shevat, we brought him to his final rest. There are certain details I don’t wish to discuss here. What I do want to share, however, is that there is something painfully beautiful about recalling Isaac’s memory each year at this time.
When we experience a loss of any kind, there is a period of sadness. Obviously it’s on a completely different scale, but even when we get to the end of autumn and the trees are bare, our mood changes. We know that for the next few months we will have lost something significant in the beauty of nature. And then comes the end of winter with the promise of renewal. Life moves forward. Trees grow new leaves; flowers bud and blossom anew…none exactly as the year before, and none with any hint of how things will develop in the year ahead…but there is this sense of renewal nonetheless. And so on Tu B’Shevat we have a seder. We celebrate the promise of nature by tasting sweet fruits and nuts, saying blessings over the beauty and wonder of nature.
In our home, Tu B’Shevat will be different. This year it marks one year since we buried a beautiful young man. It has been a difficult year. And yet, as our family has taken new shape, it has been a very wonderful year. This year we will be sad as we remember Isaac, but we will be filled with hope and wonder at the power of the universe to propel us forward, as we look ahead to days of celebration, of love, and of new stages in life. And that is the very miracle that makes life so wondrous.
I would suggest to us all that this year we make something special of Tu B’Shevat. Let us find that for which to be grateful in our lives. Let us look ahead with hope to the warm, beautiful days of spring. Let us remember that which has transpired since the last New Year of the Trees, and let us be filled with wonder and excitement for that which is yet to come.