I just returned from Shabbat in Ariel, the capital of the Shomron, or Samaria, or the northern part of the occupied territories – depends on who you ask. I ended up there after contacting the woman who runs Anywhere in Israel, which sets up students learning in Israel with a host family, you guessed it, anywhere in Israel. After telling a friend that I wanted to do something cool for Tu B’Shevat, which coincided with Shabbat this year, she told me to give it a shot. I got the hook up even though I’m not a destitute student. People seem to have similar sympathy for new immigrants.
So when I said that I was looking for a Tu B’Shevat experience, I expected to be set up with hippie types. Ones who will do a Tu B’Shevat seder, talk about the fruits and their meaning, maybe sing some related songs. Though that didn’t happen, it was a rich experience nonetheless. I’m a big believer that your circumstance delivers what you need at the time.
One of my hosts was a family that also made aliyah from the United States. Through them, I met a few other Anglo couples. A major motivation for moving to Ariel, most of them said, was that it was cheaper than Jerusalem and a nice community where not everyone is English-speaking nor religious, which is true of a lot of the other places outside of Jerusalem (and parts of Jerusalem itself) where Anglos like to live. Not Kfar Rockaway, as one of them humorously put it.
The other family who took me, a complete stranger into their home and fed me was an Israeli family in an adjacent area called Nitzarim. The community’s base is comprised of families who lived in Gush Katif, the Jewish settlement in Gaza, until they were kicked out by the Israeli government in August 2006. About one-third of the original Nitzarim community transplanted themselves, and the community’s name to Ariel. I was shown a photo album of life before the Disengagement. The seaside community was made up of modest houses set on lush grass, schools, synagogues with modern architecture. Today the family of eleven children, all old enough to remember being kicked out of their homes, lives in a set of caravans atop a hill in Ariel.
The Torah says that “Man is like a tree of the field,” (see Devarim/Deuteronomy 20:19 and commentary of Rashi, or My Jewish Learning for more). On Friday night, after dinner, when eating a round of fruits and nuts, the rabbi said, in Hebrew: “A immigrant to Israel is like a seedling that is planted in its natural habitat.” On Tu B’Shevat, he said, it is important to eat fruit specifically from the Land of Israel, which according to some opinions also includes southern Turkey, because it contains something that fruits elsewhere don’t have, Vitamin K – kedushah, holiness.
On Saturday morning, the rabbi at a synaoguge in central Ariel said that Tu B’Shevat is called “Chag l’Ilanot,” a holiday for the trees – not about trees, but for the trees. Environmental protection is called for in Judaism, he said. So why is Israel, a leader in hi-tech and lifesaving medical technology, behind in environmentally conscious measures such as recycling? (In areas that have recycling you need to carry the material – only plastic bottles, paper, and glass in most areas – to the appropriate communal collection bin, which might be blocks away) Part of the problem is that the solution most often proposed is through individual action. However, fretting over your family’s carpool won’t do much, when large companies pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The solution, he says, lies at a state or corporate level. (For an expansion of this idea, see this Ha’aretz commentary on Avatar, Tu B’Shevat and environmentalism.)
I’ll leave you with a final tree-related story, which is a synthesis of the story the rabbi in Ariel told and one that I learned on Birthright, years ago. A farmer sees an old man planting a carob tree, which does not bear its fruit for something like 70 years. The farmer asks the old man: “Why are you planting this tree? You’ll never get any use out of it during your lifetime.” The old man replied, “It’s true that I will derive no benefit from it, but just as the previous generation planted so that I could enjoy, I must plant for future generations.”
Alternative energy is disregarded often for being too expensive, the rabbi in Ariel said, but polluting the environment that our children and grandchildren will be living in is a much higher cost, he said.
On a lighter note, in my previous post, I discussed my interest in growing my own sprouts. I’ve been pretty successful since I began three days ago. I came home to find that my beans had sprouted while I was away! What costs something like 7 shekel at the store, I easily made on my own for about 1, and it’s fresher and cleaner of bacteria that likes to grow in sprouts.