At first glance, one might find it difficult to conceive a connection between the Holocaust, a Bar Mitzvah and the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat). What has a nature festival to do with a Jewish boy’s coming-of-age ceremony and what have either of them to do with the greatest tragedy in Jewish history – at least in modern times?
Last Shabbat (Saturday, for my non-Jewish readers), my nephew Tamir celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. At the (Reform) ceremony, the Torah scroll was symbolically passed, hand to hand, from generation to generation – from grandparents to parents to the present generation. Later on, my father presented Tamir with a Bible he received on the occasion of his own Bar Mitzvah, celebrated in 1940, far from parents and family, who were left behind in Poland when my father left on the last Kindertransport to escape from Europe days before the outbreak of World War 2. My grandparents didn’t make it and I never knew them. I am not ashamed to confess that I watched with tears in my eyes. My sister, speaking in my father’s name, said that this Bar Mitzvah, this mark of the continuity of the Jewish People, despite every attempt to destroy us, was their victory. Tamir himself saw the symbolism in the fact that his Bar Mitzvah fell on the very day the world commemorated our tragedy with the International Holocaust Memorial Day.
You could say that every Bar-Mitzvah marks a rebirth, a reaffirmation of the will of our people to live.
Or, to put it in the words of Nietzsche, so beloved of the Nazis: "That which does not destroy me makes me stronger."
Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, which occurred this Shabbat, also celebrates renewal and rebirth. Although winter still holds the Holy Land in its grip, tiny green shoots are already fighting their way through the soil, seeking the pale winter sun, fighting for life – much like the Jewish People.
Although Tu Bishvat is actually celebrated in winter, by this time of year, the almond trees are already starting to blossom. I myself have a bougainvillea on my balcony and window-boxes planted with geraniums. My bougainvillea, which, a few weeks ago, seemed to be at death’s door, is once again bringing vibrant colour to my urban existence and yesterday, I noticed the first geranium blossom of the season – another tiny miracle. And if it’s miracles you want, what could be more miraculous than the birth of a baby? Mazal Tov to my youngest sister on the birth of a daughter, Romy, on December 25th.