A Tu B’Shevat Prayer

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08 Feb 2006

Sometimes I think I’ve been endowed with an overabundance of feelings. Things often seem to affect me more deeply than they do other people. I used to think this heightened sensitivity was a blessing, a gift to be treasured, but lately I’m beginning to have my doubts. It often seems to bring more suffering than satisfaction. Sometimes I even wonder if it affects one’s emotional stability!

Twenty years ago, when one of our sons first moved to Gush Katif with his wife and baby, their world was engulfed in a sea of golden sand. Sand in the yard, sand in the car, in the house, in the beds, the dishes, the frig. Clearing away sand became synonomous with breathing. In order to restrain water, you build dams; to restrain sand, you plant. And so one of the first things my son – and everyone else in Katif did – was to begin planting.

Slowly, over the years, thick, grassy yards covered the grounds of Katif, surrounding the houses and public buildings. Flowers blossomed; trees and bushes bloomed and leafy palm trees stood aloft, waving their graceful branches over the settlements in a pose reminiscent of a perpetual priestly blessing. The sand was pushed out of the settlements and back to the dunes, the edges of the highways and the beach fronts.

One of the things my son planted was a gefen – a grape vine. It grew into a lush, leafy arbor the size of a small room. We used to say that when the children grew up, they would be married in the yard under this fruitful, living chuppah (wedding canopy). But mensch tracht un Gut lacht – man proposes but G-d, Who has His own designs, disposes. And so after twenty years, the day after Tisha B’Av, in the summer of 2005, our children left the only home their children had ever known, as they, and the other Jews of Katif, accepted the Divine Decree. As they left, someone snapped a picture (undoubtedly the saddest family picture we have) as they tore kriah as a sign of mourning at this new destruction, removed the last mezuzah from the front door, picked up their bags and left the piece of Eretz Yisrael they had worked so hard to build, amidst tears and heartbreak. On the way out of the yard, one of girls broke off a piece of the grape vine. She brought it to our house.

“Keep it for us, Bubby,” she said, “until we can plant it again.”

Grapevines, you see, take root anew. They can be replanted from shoots, branches or with their roots intact. And they are deciduous plants. They shed their leaves every fall and put forth new buds each spring. We were at the end of August. My granddaughter handed me a dry, leafless branch – a lifeless looking stick if ever there was one – stuck in a plastic juice bottle full of Katif’s golden sand. “Just keep watering it,” she said. “It’ll grow.”

And so I did. Every morning I went out to the porch and lovingly watered that stick. I spoke to it to, reminding it that each and every blade of grass has it’s own guardian angel which tells it: G’dal – grow! I’m your temporary guardian now, I told the vine. The Jews of Katif will take root again and grow. With G-d’s help, our children will also grow and develop and put forth beautiful fruit. So you grow too! No excuses now. Go to it!

And lo and behold, after a month I noticed a long line of miniscule green tips running down the length of the branch. It was the wrong season for grapevines to blossom, but they grew and blosomed anyway, turning into buds which opening into leaves. I conferred with the neighborhood florist about replanting the vine in a larger pot (the juice bottle didn’t seem large enough for all those leaves to develop) but he insisted it was the wrong season. Vines don’t grow in the fall, he said. I know, I answered, but no one told that to the vine.

I discussed the matter with my son and the grandchildren and it was decided to transfer the vine to a larger vessel. I wanted to plant it in Katif sand to lessen the shock (by now I was treating this vine like a member of the family!), but Katif sand is precious as diamonds now and I couldn’t find a child willing to part with the bag he or she had taken with them. (Most of the kids had taken bags of sand on the day of the expulsion but “our” sand was stored away somewhere, under countless other bags and boxes, in a relative’s shed.)

And so, six months after the Tisha B’Av destruction, shortly before Tu B’Shevat, the time of “awakening” and new growth for trees, I cut the plastic bottle carefully. With much love and not a few prayers, I gingerly removed the vine and replanted it in newly purchased soil in a larger flower pot, praying that it would take root, grow, blossom and give forth its fruit. And while I was doing so, I found that I was crying.

Stop being silly! I told myself as I wiped away my tears. It’s only a plant. What’s there to cry about? Yes, it’s only a plant, but so are we. Vulnerable plants on the soil of G-d’s earth, subject to storms, suffering and uprootings, but capable of new life, new strength, new growth. Capable of blossoming and giving forth new fruit, but always rooted in the soil of the past.

“B’ezrat Hashem (G-d willing),” said my son, “we’ll replant it. As soon as we have a new home and a new garden.” There won’t be time enough for it to grow sufficiently so that his daughter can stand under a second generation, fully grown, grape-arbor chuppah, but b’ezrat Hashem, we pray that her children will be so blessed.

Yaffa Ganz is the author of scores of well known children’s books including the Savta Simcha series, the Mimmy and Simmy books, and the history for teen-readers: Sand and Stars – the Jewish Journey Through Time. Ms. Ganz has also written extensively for Jewish publications and internet sites. Her latest book is A Different Dimension – an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life. The Ganzes are long time residents of Jerusalem.

© 2006 Yaffa Ganz

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.