My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Walker, loved reading aloud to her class.
She loved reading the tall-tales — Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Davy Crockett, Casey at Bat, John Henry and Johnny Appleseed.
She loved holding up these picture books to my eye level, so I feasted on these fictional giants.
My brain devoured these fables as if they were cotton candy.
On the cold classroom floor, I sat cross-legged listening to these tales of American heroes –especially Johnny Appleseed.
You remember Johnny Appleseed — that classic 1948 Disney cartoon. (I wondered why Walt never created a tall-tales village in his Magic Kingdom and why none of these men seemed to be Jews.)
You remember Johnny’s picture, barefooted — with his sack of seeds hanging over his shoulder, a tin-pot hat resting on his head and in his right hand he held the Bible.
Johnny reached into the sack and sowed his seeds for future apple-eating Americans.
And as Johnny planted seeds across the northeastern states he sang:
“Oooooh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.”
As Miss Walker read, I knew that Johnny Appleseed was a real guy — named John Chapman.
But I wondered what type apple seeds Chapman placed in the ground: Red Delicious, Granny Smith, or McIntosh. I guessed he planted all of them.
So when I hiked in the woods near my Catskill Mountain home and found a lone apple tree, I thought,”Wow I just found one of Johnny’s trees.”
I pulled an apple off the tree, cleaned it on my sleeve and bit into it.
Imagining Johnny spreading the seed on the ground made the apple taste even sweeter.
I knew I was eating the fruits of Johnny’s labor.
I filled my sack with Johnny’s apples and presented them to my bubbe.
“Bubbe, please macht me an apple pie.”
And I can still taste the love my bubbe baked into that apple pie.
Those apples and Bubbe’s pies became part of my roots—my Borscht Belt country-boy heritage.
A heritage filled with my Bubbe also preparing apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah
A heritage filled with questions:
“Who planted the seeds in my Jewish heritage garden?”
“Why did they plant those seeds?”
“Which seeds sprouted and grew in to mature trees?”
“Which seeds rotted on the ground?”
I thought about seeds:
My mom’s copies of Hadassah Magazine— cultural seeds.
My dad’s library of books on Israel and the Holocaust—historic seeds.
My grandmother’s chicken soup, chopped liver, gefilte fish—gastronomic seeds.
My rabbi, my temple, my bar mitzvah and the torah—religious seeds.
I thought about Philip Roth, Shalom Aleichem, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Chaim Potok — literary seeds.
I thought about Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Sid Luckman — sport seeds
I wore kippas, tallis and tefillin — prayer apparel seeds.
I ate latkas with apple sauce, blinsis with sour cream, kosher dill pickles and pastrami on rye mit a smear of mustard — Jewish deli seeds.
I dropped coins into tzedakah boxes emblazoned with Stars of David and maps of Israel.
I planted trees in Israel (not apple trees) and bought Israel Bonds — building seeds.
I looked back on my life and saw my Hebraic orchard:
My three bar mitzvah boys.
My numerous trips to Holy Land.
This week alone, I watched two Israeli TV shows (Mossad 101 and Fauda), read three Israeli newspapers (Times of Israel, Debka and the Jerusalem Post) and listened to an Audible book about the Israel’s military industrial complex, “The Weapon Wizards.”
I produced an award-winning Holocaust film, “The Stairs“, wrote a memoir, “A Hebraic Obsession” and a children’s book called “The Hanukkah Bunny“.
So today I sing my version of the Johnny Appleseed song:
“Oooooh, The Lord been good to me.
He’s has given me the things I need.
A loving Mom, Dad, and Bubbe.
A learned Rabbi.and many a super hero
who helped my Jewish garden grow.
Thank you all for being my Jewish Johnny Appleseed.
Thank you Lord for being good to me.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.”