Sunday, February 5, 2017

Saplings honoring lost life take root in Israeli soil, and sisters' hearts

The author, far right, planting seedlings with her sisters at Neot Kedumim.

This personal, heartfelt story of three sisters and their meaningful planting at JNF's Neot Kedumim arrives just in time for Tu BiShvat, the "world's first Earth day." Learn more about JNF's connection to the holiday here

By Laura Ben-David

Everyone knows about the JNF trees. With more than 250 million planted over more than a century, JNF's a true institution that has changed the very landscape of Israel. Without ever getting on a plane, Israel supporters can write a check and have a tree planted in honor or in memory of a loved one. Visitors to Israel can come and personally plant a sapling, in a special garden in central Israel, to be transplanted later to a forest. But there is even another way.

I'd never planted a JNF tree. Somehow, of all those 250 million trees, I couldn't take responsibility for any. Perhaps one was planted in my honor when I was small? If so, no certificate exists to let me know it happened. It doesn't matter. As citizens of Israel we see and appreciate the trees every day. We enjoy their beauty. We benefit from their shade. We inhale the scent of the leaves, the flowers, even the bark. We eat from their fruit. They are part and parcel of our lives.

But sometimes something that never occurred to you will strike you as the perfect thing to do. Like when you wish to honor someone and can't think of an appropriate way. Or when you want to remember someone in a meaningful manner. Or even when you wish to honor the memory of a soul who was never born...

There is such a soul in our family. My sister recently had a late miscarriage. A loss that is oh-so-real for a parent, particularly a mother who is already deeply connected to her unborn child from the first positive pregnancy test. The first audible heartbeat. The first ultrasound when they measure all of its little parts. The first flutters of movement in her womb.

For a mother it is a life when she recognizes it is. In the unlikely event the life is no longer, for other people it is as if it never was. For the mother, there is a hole. For her there will always be that "what if?" There can be no photos, no real mementos. In fact, a miscarriage can be a very lonely loss. 

Our family wished to share in that loss. To do something to comfort our sister, but also to give her a way to channel her feelings in an expression of permanence, of growth, of life. Planting trees in Israel, in the land she chose to call home with her family almost eight years ago, felt like the perfect answer. 

We arranged for a very private event. Just three of us. Two sisters representing the rest of our family members who are abroad, escorting our youngest sister, to do the planting together.

What we really wanted to do was to plant the trees in their permanent locations, rather than in the temporary garden to leave the transplanting to someone else. But we could not figure out a way to do that through the website so we were resigned to do it the standard way.

The three of us met at the entrance to the beautiful Neot Kedumim park. There we found Zecharia, our guide, a real salt-of-the-earth Israeli with a knitted kippah on his head. He led us to the ceremonial tree planting area and gave us saplings to choose from. OK, they weren't more than sticks with clods of earth stuck to one end. 

We chose three little sticks that promise to become almond trees when they grow up. Zecharia handed us each a tool that was like a cross between a shovel and a hoe, then gave us an unexpected choice: Would we like to plant here in the ceremonial garden, or would we like to take a little hike and plant our trees in their permanent places? Without hesitation we opted for the hike. We couldn't have been more pleased.

Side by side, three sisters dug our little holes, carefully placed the miniature roots of our tiny, future trees in them, and replaced the dirt, patting it gently. We admired our handiwork. We said a little prayer for planting trees:

"And these saplings which we plant before thee this day, make deep their roots and wide their crown, that they may blossom forth in grace, amongst all the trees in Israel..."

We took a step back, absorbing the moment, listening to silence only broken by the gentle breeze and an occasional bird, and admired the beautiful and rich landscape our family's trees would grow in. It was a perfect moment that we wished we never would have needed. Yet need it we did. 

The experience was moving and meaningful. Especially knowing that the roots of our trees, while planted in the Israel soil, initially took hold in our hearts. And will always remain there. 


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