On the 74th day of the war, I visited Kfar Aza.
I stopped to look at a pomegranate tree amidst the ruins.
The pomegranates on its boughs were overripe.
In and of itself, this fact was not particularly striking. It certainly couldn’t compete with the burned house across the pathway, where it took weeks and a team of archaeologists to find evidence of the owner’s death. It couldn’t even compete with the unburned house beside it, perfectly whole, yet marked with ominous red graffiti by ZAKA volunteers.
But my eyes kept coming back to the pomegranates all the same. Just as my thoughts kept returning to the overladen citrus trees we had passed earlier.
We all know what happened to the people who would have picked those fruits in a normal autumn.
The presence of the overripe fruit made those people’s absence real to me.
* * *
Now it’s the 110th day of the war, and tonight we will sit around our table to celebrate Tu Bishvat, New Year of the Trees. But it is hard to feel festive. Instead of focusing on the fruit we’ll eat tonight, my thoughts keep returning to the fruit of Kfar Aza.
Fruit is eloquent: its very existence tells the story of the process that created it. Each pomegranate tells us that a seed once turned into a shoot and broke the surface of the earth, a tree grew through different seasons, and flowers turned into fruit, and ripened, carrying summer’s warmth into the colder months.
The overripe pomegranates of Kfar Aza tell other stories, too.
Planting a tree is an investment in the future. Kfar Aza’s trees tell the stories of the people who chose to make this investment, people who loved their kibbutz enough to lay roots in it, who poured their efforts into building a future, a life, on this land. The trees are tall, telling the story of the years it took them to grow, years that the people of Kfar Aza used to build families, businesses, happiness. The canopies of those trees witnessed generations of residents growing and living and loving in their shade.
But the overripe fruit makes me think of another story, another process, another cause entirely — the one our enemies pursued while our people were nurturing life.
As the trees grew, and as our people built lives there, our enemies built tools to bring about our deaths. They tightened their control over Gaza, they dug tunnels, they accumulated weapons.
The overripe pomegranates of Kfar Aza bear witness to the fruition of their plans.
I look at the fruit we will soon cut open for our Tu Bishvat celebration, and my heart is heavy in my chest.
* * *
Tu Bishvat is meant to be celebrated when the boughs are bare of fruit, since it was originally a cutoff date between one year’s taxable fruit harvest and the next year’s yield. Yet as we prepare for this year’s Tu Bishvat, the boughs of the trees in Kfar Aza are still bowed down by last year’s fruit.
I too feel bowed down by the fruit of past processes, by the consequences of everything that brought us to this war.
I wish, more than anything, that we were done with these consequences, that we could look to the future free from their weight.
I wish that all of the captives taken by Hamas were already back home and that Hamas was already dismantled, that the war was won and that the horrible daily “released for publication” notices were a thing of the past.
It hurts to know that we have long way to go before any of these wishes can come true.
* * *
When I visited Kfar Aza, a kibbutz resident walked with us and spoke of the future. “The kibbutz voted to move to temporary homes in Kibbutz Ruchama,” he told us, and smiled. “That is, until we can go back home.”
I thought of this man, and of his smile, as I bought fruit for tonight’s celebration. I thought of him as I picked apples and pears grown right here in Israel, a plum from an Israeli orchard, and last but not least, one enormous pomegranate. How remarkable, I thought, that this man thinks of the future, despite everything he lived through, the hell he survived: 20 terrifying hours in a safe room with his wife and daughters, his neighbors’ deaths, the loss of his home — none of it killed his determination to move forward, plan a future, and even smile as he looks ahead.
The trees of Kfar Aza bear witness to the spirit and aspirations of the people who planted them. That spirit still lives in this man, in his smile. In so many like him, who are choosing life.
The pomegranate seeds will be red in my hands tonight, red like the blood — far too much blood — we have bled since Simchat Torah. One hundred and ten days worth of bleeding, of funerals, of grief.
But I will set my sadness aside tonight, and look to the future. I will ask myself what new fruit I wish to nurture into being, instead of focusing on our experiences of loss. I will hold the memory of the overripe pomegranates of Kfar Aza in my heart, but at the same time, commit myself to the spirit of the people who planted the pomegranate tree in the first place.
If they can go on putting down roots and building lives, how can the rest of us do any less?
* * *
God, when we open a pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah, we say, “May our merits be as numerous as the seeds in a pomegranate.” God, may we merit that we never again see overripe fruits in a devastated Jewish village. God, may our actions now, in this very moment, merit to be the seeds of a better tomorrow, of a safer, kinder, healing future in this land.