There are certain moments when you need to think of just the right thing to do. Like when you wish to honor someone, but aren’t sure how. Or when you want to remember someone in a meaningful way. Or 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 so very real for a parent, particularly a mother who was already deeply connected to her unborn child, from the moment the pregnancy test came back positive, and more so with each milestone:

Hearing the first audible heartbeat.

Seeing all of the perfect little limbs on the ultrasound.

Feeling the first flutters of movement in her womb…

For a mother, it is a life when she recognizes it is so. In the unlikely event that the life is no longer, for everyone else it is as if it never was. For the mother, something that was very real is no longer. She will always have a hole in her heart. 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 with my sister, to do something to comfort her, but also to give her a way to channel her pain into an expression of permanence, of growth, of life.

An idea came to us that is at once universal and very Israeli. Trees are often associated with life, with growth, and with connecting generations past, present and future. And with Tu Bishvat, the Jewish “birthday” of the trees, around the corner, we realized we had found the perfect way to give our sister an opportunity to commemorate her loss and do something positive with her pain. We decided to plant trees in honor of her lost child in the land she chose to call home with her family almost eight years ago.

It was easy enough to arrange; everyone knows about the JNF trees. After more than a century planting over 250 million trees, the JNF has changed the very landscape of Israel. Without even getting on a plane, an Israel supporter can order 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 to a forest in another location in Israel. But there is another, very special way to plant a tree here. A way we didn’t even know was possible.

As citizens of Israel we see and appreciate the trees every day of the year. 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 a living  part of our lives.

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

What we really wished we could do was to plant the trees in their permanent location, rather than in the temporary garden, leaving the transplanting to someone else. But we did not see an option to do so, and so we resigned to do it the standard way.

The three of us met at the entrance to the beautiful Neot Kedumim park in central Israel. 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, told us everything we needed to know and gave us a number of tree varieties to choose from.

We selected three little saplings that promised to become almond trees when they grew up… Zecharia handed us each a cute little tool; a cross between a shovel and a garden hoe, then gave us an unexpected choice: Would we like to plant right there in the ceremonial garden, or would we prefer 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.

The author, far right, plants saplings with her sisters.

The author, far right, plants saplings with her sisters.

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 gently. We admired our handiwork then 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…”

blessing over planting 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 that our family’s trees would grow in. It was a perfect moment that we wished we had never needed. Yet need it we did.

The experience was moving and meaningful. Especially knowing that the roots of our trees, while planted in Israeli soil, initially took hold in our hearts. And will always remain there just like the child my sister loved, but would never hold.