Tu BiShvat, the “new year of the trees,” begins tomorrow evening. Around the same time tonight, as twilight moved in at the end of Shabbat, I got word via a Jewish anarchist text thread of Texas.
The “birthday” of the trees has become a favorite holiday for many of us anti-Zionist+rad+queer Jews—and is actually one of four “new years” within a single Jewish year, making it feel extra special when one needs a boost in winter. There is an elaborate and even sensual ritual that accompanies Tu BiShvat, involving four combinations of two colors of wine and the tasting of four distinct types of fruit, symbolizing the four winds or directions, the cycles or seasons of life, and earth/water/air/fire (or action/heart/imagination/spirit).
We honor the tree of life (or the trees of life, one could say), and what sustains and nourishes life—even when the world seems cold. Sap is still running through the trees; life is still running through us—even if that’s tough to see or feel. Even if we’re hurting, or rather, being made to hurt, from the antisemitism that seems so difficult for others to see or feel—even when it’s in plain view on a near-daily basis in the so-called United States these fascistic days. Even if we’re hurting, too, because our Muslim friends are being made to hurt from Islamophobia.
I went outdoors after I got the news, bundled from head to toe in black, as if I were the bare branches of the trees, and I walked among the trees, tilting my head back so I could see their many branches—like so many arms interlaced in support for the weary, for the grieving—stretching across the darkening sky. I tried to find life in those trees, in their impending day of newness. I tried to avoid the impulse to look at my phone, to look at the news out of Texas of another synagogue on another Shabbat, like a Tree of Life synagogue on a Shabbat just a few years ago, or synagogues on Shabbat during pogroms in the villages of my ancestors.
Trauma has branches too. So does antisemitism—but it involves branches torn from the tree of life, the book of life.
We should be communing with the trees. Instead, #AntisemitismHurts.
(photo: Jewish section of a graveyard, so-called Pittsburgh, winter 2021)