Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, is a day for me that is forever linked with the yahrzeit of my father, Yisrael ben Yosef, Ira Lulinski. My father was a child during the Holocaust when he miraculously escaped the murderous Einsatzgruppen mass shootings and ran into the woods where he hid for for two years and fought with a Partisan group. With the exception of my grandfather, his entire family was killed. While it was G-d who spared his life, the trees in the forest helped provide shelter from the evil Nazi storm.
On Tu B’Shvat, we celebrate the hope that is represented by the growth of a tree. The seeds are planted and the roots are often invisible. These roots lay the strong foundation for a tree that will ultimately flourish, grow many branches and be fruitful.
Our Jewish sources are rich with comparisons about trees and life. One of the most familiar concepts in Judaism is that the Torah is a Tree of Life, which nourishes us with its endless source of guidance and knowledge. Trees are resilient, sturdy, can weather storms and survive through difficult seasons. Last week, in Parshat Bo, we read the iconic scene where G-d communicates with Moshe in the form of the Burning Bush. The fire raged yet “the Bush was not consumed”. This image can be seen as a foreshadowing of the future of the Jewish people; endless suffering and destruction, yet the Jewish nation would survive and be eternal. Perhaps it is as though the fire of the Shoah was revealed at the same time as the promise of eternity.
My father lived through the fire of the Shoah. It could have consumed him and he could have given up hope. Yet, although painful and difficult, he was able to rebuild. The home that he built, together with my mother, emphasized to me and my sisters a love of Torah, Israel and Yiddishkeit. He instilled in us a deep understanding of his roots. While It was difficult for him to share the heart-wrenching details of the tragedies he experienced, he nonetheless would speak proudly about his family, and the generations that preceded him with their long history of scholarly Lithuanian Jewish learning and practice in his hometown of Miory. He managed to forge a connection between the family that he lost and his children and grandchildren through his personal history, generous love, warmth, and his unique self deprecating sense of humor.
On Tu B’Shvat, we recognize the potential of growth, the hope of tomorrow, and the reality that there is no future without being firmly rooted in the past. My father’s life personified this idea. He lived through the fire but was not consumed by it. He taught us of his past while simultaneously planting the seeds for a promising future. My sisters and I have taken this lesson and made it our own as we continue to impart his legacy to his descendants. We miss him terribly but we are blessed with the values that he taught us. On his third yahrzeit, through the heartache, we can feel his presence and will continue to learn from his inspiring life, to be grateful in spite of the pain, to choose life and to always be able to see the forest through the trees.