John Friedman, Rabbinic Cabinet Chair
Tu B'Shevat, the
New Year for Trees, is upon us, and while it is an undeniably
lovely holiday, marked by respect for nature and big bowls of
fruit, it can feel a bit odd to celebrate trees from the depths
of an American winter.
Of course, the date
corresponds to Israel's growing season, the point in the natural
cycle when the earliest blooming trees begin to emerge from
their annual dormancy. The tithes once required of fruit growers
were reckoned according to the age of each tree, as measured on
Tu B'Shevat. Our celebration of the day in the Diaspora
is a quiet reminder of the Jewish people's tie to the land,
regardless of their distance from it.
As they so often do,
though, our sages also relate Tu B'Shevat to the
realities of human relationships, recalling that "Man is a tree
of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19). One of the interpretations
given to this simple verse is that, like the branches and leaves
of a tree, no one person stands alone.
Manifestly linked with
all who have gone before and all who will come after, joined to
those who may seem remote indeed, humanity itself branches and
spreads, never losing the essential rootedness that connects us
Trees themselves serve
as a wonderful symbol of this human connection. The seed planted
today bears fruit not for me, perhaps, but for my children, and
theirs. And, as Sandy Tolan's book The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of
the Middle East makes beautifully clear, the tree that
"belongs" to me may well "belong" to someone else, as
Having survived the
Holocaust after losing everything and almost their lives, the
Eshkenazi family immigrated to Israel from post-war Bulgaria.
They were settled with other refugees in a lovely home
in the town of Ramle (al-Ramla in Arabic). The Eshkenazi family
ultimately bought the home from the state of Israel and tended
carefully a lemon tree they discovered in its garden.
Then one day in July 1967, just a month after
Israel's resolute defense of the national dream in the Six Day
War, Dalia Eshkenazi opened her door to find Bashir Khariri --
come to see the home in which he'd been born, and from which he
and his family had been forcibly removed by the Israeli army in
1948. The lemon tree Dalia so loved had been planted by Bashir's
In 1991, after Dalia inherited the home from her
parents, she —with the participation of Bashir’s
family (now living in the West Bank)--turned the house into a
community center where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children
and families from Ramle meet. Open House was founded to create
community among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis in this mixed
city of 65,000 residents. On one Tu B'Shevat the
Open House community planted an olive tree in the same
Ultimately, Dalia and
Bashir forged a relationship of respect that is never easy.
Indeed, discovering our ties to the people around us,
coexistence with those we once held as enemies, sharing what we
love body and soul, never is.
But as Dalia and Bashir
prove, the effort can and must be made. It is only by facing our
difficulties that we find a way beyond them, only by respecting
all peoples that we will learn to stop killing each
A clear majority of
Israelis and Palestinians alike have come to understand that the
only way out of endless war is to share the land to which each
people is bound. Inexorably tied to each other -- whether easily
or not -- the two nations must find a way to truly honor the
fact that they, like all of humanity, are "a tree of the
In Brit Tzedek, we are
all working to achieve this end. Each of us has a role to
play in forging the path to real peace, planting seeds from
which our children will be nourished for generations to come.
Support Open House,
founded in 1991 to further peace and coexistence among Israeli
Arabs and Jews in Ramle, in the home Dalia and Bashir grew up
in. Donations can be made through Friends of Open
Support Rabbis for Human Rights as they plant trees in
the Galilee in areas that were burned this summer in the Naftali
Hills during the Lebanon War.
If children will be
attending your Tu B'Shevat celebration, create a Jewish
values "tree," asking them to describe what behaviors stem
naturally from values such as respect for fellow humans or
caring for the earth, and discussing how actions such as sharing
and protecting our resources play a role in achieving
If you would like to
add to these ideas, please contact Rabbi John Friedman, chair of
Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet at email@example.com.
Rabbi John Friedman serves as national chair
of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet. He was also the founding
chair of the Durham/Chapel Hill chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
and serves on its national board.
Friedman has been rabbi
of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina for
twenty-six years. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College in
Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1976.
Rabbi Friedman attended
rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and
has visited Israel frequently since. In 1997, he was part
of a delegation of rabbis that met with Palestinian Authority
leadership in Ramalah.
Rabbi Friedman attended
the University of Kansas, University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, and Harvard University where he was a Charles Merrill
Fellow in 1994. He received a doctorate from the Hebrew
Union College. His articles on Bible, Jewish literature, Jewish
education, and Black-Jewish relations have been published in a
variety of journals. Rabbi Friedman is also a trained
John is married to Dr.
Nancy Eisenberg Friedman. Nan is a pediatrician on the
faculty of Duke University Medical Center in the Division of
Pediatric Endocrinology. John and Nan are the parents of
Abigail and Joshua.
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