Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author

Flowers and the Tree of Life

Photo credit: Shoshana Lavan
Photo credit: Shoshana Lavan

Friday was the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue horrific shooting five years ago. But I did not realize this when I set out with a group from our Palestinian-Jewish Israeli partnership chapter of עומדים ביחד نقف معًا, Standing Together, to the Galilee Hospital in Nahariyah, in northern Israel, not far from the Lebanese border. We went there to hand out to the staff and patients flowers, and notes saying “Protecting Solidarity” in Arabic and Hebrew, to raise their morale and encourage the amazing solidarity among Israeli Palestinians and Jews found in Israeli hospitals, especially since Hamas attacked and this nightmare war started on October 7th.

While waiting with my friend Shoshana at a bus stop at the entrance to our kibbutz for our friend Tahani from Kafr Manda (the Arab village across the street) to give us a ride, a big truck pulled up, and out came my friend Mustafa from the Bedouin village across the valley from my kibbutz, Bir al Maksur. We were so happy to see each other (it had been a while, and these times are so stressful) we embraced, asked about our families, and I asked what he was up to now.

Mustafa went to his truck, opened the doors, and I saw it was filled with flowers. He now delivers flowers, he told me, as he handed me and Shoshana each a bouquet of red roses. Then Tahani pulled up, so we left. Already, my day was off to a good start.

Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David

When we got to the hospital and joined our group, I was amazed to see the whole hospital is now underground. A huge space exists beneath the hospital for wartime — with art, even, on the walls! — to protect the patients and staff who cannot run to a shelter when a missile is falling and a siren goes off. But the conditions are still far from ideal. Yet, the mixed staff of Palestinian and Jewish Israelis continues to work with dedication to their patients and profession, without discrimination or preference based on nationality or religion. It was so heartening to witness.

Truly, the staff and patients received us with such warmth and joy, it was medicine for the soul. They appreciated our appreciation, and they also appreciated our message of solidarity among Palestinians and Jews in these very challenging times. One woman cleaning the floors was so grateful, she laughed when some leaves from the flowers fell on the floor and I started to apologize. “Don’t worry about that,” she told me with a laugh. “I don’t mind the extra work. It’s for a good cause.”

Photo Credit: Noa Kali Margaba

I especially loved being in the maternity ward, so full of life and hope. I met baby Tia, who had been born just the day before, and her ecstatic parents. They put the rose I handed them into her basinet as they rolled her away. I could not tell if they were Arabs or Jews, and what did it matter anyway? That is the point.

Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David

As we were leaving, my friends Shoshana and Tahani and I noticed a beautiful mosaic on the wall in the entrance to the maternity ward, titled “The Tree of Life”. We were so moved by it, by the reminder of the emergence of life amidst all the tragic death around us the past few weeks, Shoshana took a photograph of Tahani and me in front of it.

Photo credit: Shoshana Lavan

When I returned home, I had a spiritual companioning session on Zoom with Anna, a client who was a congregant and staff person at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, when the shooting took place. She grew up in this synagogue and still considers it her spiritual home. She reminded me that it was the anniversary of the shooting that very day. I remembered the Tree of Life mosaic and was stunned — although not surprised, as I am a staunch believer in synchronicity.

She then told me about a dream she had. In the dream, she is at the Tree of Life Synagogue looking for the “Tree of Life”, but she cannot find it. She searches desperately, but all she can find is walls and walls of plaques with people’s names on them. The message of the dream: We (humans) are the Tree of Life. It is our kindness to one another, our banding together to help in times of need, and to continue to love across borders and boundaries, to connect despite separation. That is our hope.

What a perfect message for our times.

Later that day, I sent Mustafa a photograph of his bouquet of flowers, his beautiful and generous gift, on my Shabbat table, with the words, “Shukran Ktir,” Thank you so much. His answer: “Afwan. B’keif,” You are very welcome. With pleasure.

And I know he meant it.

Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David
About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two novels, three spiritual journey memoirs, and the first and only children's book on mikveh. Her memoirs include: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual companion (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. Her debut novel, Hope Valley, is available at: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, is available at: Yonah and the Mikveh Fish is available at: Her new and second novel, To Die in Secret, is available at: Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2024. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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