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Tu B’shevat- Where the real growth takes place

Sometimes getting a holiday wrong is a way of getting it right

When I was a little girl, I remember watching a PBS special called Molly’s Pilgrim. It was a program about a family that immigrated to the United States from Russia. Molly was the daughter of two immigrant parents who was thrown into a culture that was hard for her and her parents to understand, a language she spoke with an accent, and a school system where everything was foreign, yet despite it all, her goal was to fit in to this new world. Around Thanksgiving time molly’s teacher gave the class an assignment where each student was to bring in a doll that they would create to be modeled after the pilgrims who came to the new world.

Molly had worked for weeks creating the perfect version of the American Pilgrim, but on the night before the assignment she was too tired to finish, so her mother offered to finish it for her and she sent molly to sleep. Molly woke the next morning to find that her perfect American pilgrim had been turned into a doll that looked just like she did back in Russia. Molly was distraught crying and ashamed at how she would face her class. Her mother said that she made a pilgrim, and that a pilgrim was someone who came to the new world in search of religious freedom and that is who Molly and her family were, so then this doll that looked like Molly was indeed what a real pilgrim looked like.

I have thought of this story many times since we made Aliyah because I feel that I often find myself in what I would call “an immigrant moment”, where we do what we think is right because we don’t always understand, or we do it because we see things just a bit differently, and sometimes we do it because we did it back in America, and an American never really believes that they are an immigrant. Tonight when I presented my daughter with the bag of nuts that I thought the note said I was supposed to send for her Tu B’shevat seder at school she looked at me like I was from mars, and told me “Shkedim (almonds) Ima!” Well I did buy shkedim- I bought a perfectly good bag of nuts, but they weren’t almonds and that is what I was supposed to send. So immediately my JPGS (Jewish parental guilt syndrome) was in full swing as I couldn’t get to a store before school tomorrow, so I started texting everyone on my block in search of Almonds. No one had almonds.

So I made an executive decision. I decided that Tu B’shevat is not just about sitting around and eating a bunch of dried fruit and nuts, it’s a holiday that celebrates growth and resilience. Just like we turn to the trees in the debt of winter, in conditions that are not optimal for blossoming- and we say grow, so too is real life growth- it doesn’t always happen when everything is perfect, in fact most of the time it takes place in the “winters” of our lives. So I sent my daughter to school with a bag of pecans, and I told her that I had misunderstood the note. She would be fine, because at the end of the day it’s not really important that she didn’t bring in the right nut. What is important is that she can learn to be resilient- to survive and thrive in the face of life’s unavoidable. It is important for her to be able to roll with the punches and not sweat the small stuff, because there will be many misunderstandings along life’s journeys.

What is important is that she grows up deeply rooted in gratitude for what others have done for her. That she is appreciative and proud of her parents who have made many sacrifices to bring her to a land where she has a front row seat to watch the almond trees bloom, even if she sits under that tree eating pecans.



About the Author
Yona Israel Goldman is a recent Oleh living in Israel with her family. She is the founder of Challah for Thought and program director at Lev Modiin.