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By Tamara Cohen
Religious Affairs Committee


Today is Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees. It is a very appropriate day to remind ourselves of the importance of peace, not just for the benefit of the Israeli and Palestinian people but for that of the land and its resources as well.

One of the mystical elements of Tu Bishvat that originated in the Kabbalistic observance of a Tu Bishvat seder is the division of fruit into four categories, which are said to correspond to the four mystical worlds and also to four kinds of people. These same categories are fittingly applied to four different approaches to the issues of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility of peace.

The first category of fruit and nuts consumed at a Tu Bishvat seder includes fruit with hard inedible exteriors but soft, edible insides. These include oranges, walnuts, pistachios, bananas, and others. In a sense this is a starting point for many of us from which we approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We build shells around us that we believe protect us, but we must also realize that they make it harder for us to listen to or be approached by others. These shells are made of our fears, stereotypes, misconceptions, and the ingrained myths we were taught about the other. While these shells protect us to an extent, they also prevent us from growing. Thus it is important to break out from these shells, and expose our more malleable core in order to yearn openly for peace and security for Israel.

The second category of fruit and nuts eaten and blessed at the Tu Bishvat seder is characterized by a soft exterior but has a hard pit inside. These include dates, apricots, olives, persimmons and others. This kind of fruit can symbolize another stage in understanding and reckoning with the conflict. Here we are more open to dialogue, having given much thought to the compromises necessary to achieve a resolution to this conflict. But there remain certain issues that we are not willing to consider. At our core, as symbolized by the pit, there is something hard, an idea or ideology that seems intractable to us. This pit interferes with our overarching desire to understand and engage.Tu Bishvat invites each of us to reflect on what, for us, constitutes this pit and to consider how our individual pits present challenges and opportunities in our work together.

The third category of fruit eaten at a Tu Bishvat seder is comprised of fruit that can be entirely consumed, fruit without inedible shells, peels or pits. This includes figs, berries, etc. These fruits offer us a vision of ourselves entirely dedicated to working towards and supporting a solution to the conflict. This category symbolizes both the intellectual and the emotional engagement in which we bring our hearts and our heads to our work on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians.

Finally, the last category of  fruit, one that is not of this world. This is the ideal vision of peace, one we cannot actually taste or see but can only imagine. We need this vision to keep us going when we are frustrated or despairing, but we cannot allow its distance from our reality to keep us from reaching for it.

As we celebrate this birthday of the trees, let us keep in mind the many kinds of people we aim to engage in our work. Let us also remember the symbol of the tree of life, and renew our commitment to nurture that tree of life so that its shade and fruit may one day nourish Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs alike.


Suggestions for Tu Bishvat:

1. It is traditional to plant trees on Tu Bishvat. Consider making a donation to the Olive Tree Project of Rabbis for Human Rights to support Palestinians whose olive trees have been cut down. Money donated to the fund will support the of planting trees on the West Bank, the purchase of olive oil produced by Palestinians, donations to Palestinians in need, and educational work to protect olive trees. Send tax-deductible donations to Rabbis for Human Rights North America, Box 1539, West Tisbury, MA 02575.

2. Review the Tu Bishvat supplementary materials developed by Rabbis for Human Rights

3. Register for Brit Tzedek's Third National Conference and attend "The Environment as an Ingredient for Peace" workshop presented by environmentalists Jeffrey Albert and Daniel Orenstein. The conference will take place President's Day weekend, February 19-21, in New York City.

If you have other ideas, please contact the Brit Tzedek Religious Affairs Committee.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206
info@btvshalom.org
www.btvshalom.org



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