Tu B’Shvat for the Plant Killer

There is no official name for people like me. Sure, I can say that I have a black thumb, or that what I do is involuntary plantslaughter, but those words are insufficient when I go through the list of plants I’ve killed.

Until I moved to Israel and then became a parent, Tu B’Shvat wasn’t really a Jewish holiday on my radar. I chalk it up to the years spent at Yeshiva elementary school, when Tu B’Shvat meant wearing blue and white to school, dancing around the gym like a maniac with friends, and bringing home a white paper bag filled with dried fruit and nuts. I went to elementary school in the 80’s, well before nut allergies were so prevalent. And, every single year, I fell into the bukser trap and allowed my friends to convinced me that bukser, a.k.a. dried carob, was actually chocolate. Try chewing that for five straight minutes, it definitely does not taste like chocolate. As I grew up, I decided to use Tu B’Shvat as another barometer on weather change. It was my Jewish Groundhog day, but swapping tree planting in Israel for Punxsutawney Phil.

I managed to get through my twenties before a plant entered my home. I dated men who were thrilled that I was anti-flowers, happy with my logic that I’d prefer not receiving a gift that would eventually die a smelly, messy death.

And then, three weeks after I moved to Tel Aviv, my friend Jeff bought me a cacti as a housewarming gift. It was squat and cute, with a little pink fake butterfly perched in the soil. I thanked him graciously, but looked at the gift warily. My knowledge of the cactus came from bad Hollywood films; I knew cacti grew and thrived in the desert, and that if you were dying of thirst you could cut the cactus in half and there should be water inside.

The cactus was dead within the year. I threw it out with a sigh and a prayer that it would be the last plant I kill. And then, I got married, had babies, and those babies grew up into children old enough to go to gan. Sure enough, that first Tu B’Shvat, my eldest daughter brought home a poor man’s version of the chia pet and a bamboo plant. And, she absolutely LOVED her plant; she wanted to water it, and talk to it, and stand on the chair and watch it “grow” on the windowsill. She begged me to take good care of it, because she wanted to see the leaves grow and grow.

The anxiety began to build, but I decided to tackle the task of becoming a plant person and became excited. I could totally do this, or so I thought!

I did research online about how to care for this little bamboo plant, and even went to the local nursery to buy additional plants for the home. Everything I read said how plants in the home were so wonderful for air quality, and they look so cheery, and your home looks so warm and inviting. Photos of the “perfect” home always had clean floors and window plants, so I bought into the fantasy and tried my hand at caring for plants. In my mind, we would have planters full of herbs and flowers on the balcony, a potted lemon tree growing near the balcony doors in our dining room. I would grow parsley and basil, mint and oregano in my kitchen, and just pluck and use as needed. In the bedroom, a beautiful orchid plant in a shiny, elegant, black pot would be the centerpiece of the room. And, my daughter’s bamboo plant, would grow and flourish on the living room windowsill.

Two years later, and there is no potted lemon tree in my dining room. A Weber barbecue and our Succah poles are the only items on our balcony. The parsley and basil, mint and oregano that were in my kitchen, turned brown and grew cobwebs. I over-watered the chia pet and hid the remains in my bathroom until she forgot it existed, and then I chucked it out with the evening trash.  I never even bought the beautiful orchid for our bedroom.  And my daughter’s beloved bamboo plant died during a week long trip to Caesarea, because I forgot to ask someone to water it during our absence.

Regardless of my clear inability to care for plants, they just seem to keep coming into our home. And so during gan pick up yesterday,  I forced a smile and feigned excitement as my daughter’s ganenet showed off her Tu B’Shvat project. Another poor man’s version of the chia pet, with a big red nose and glued googley eyes.

I chattered away about the holiday during our walk home; we sang those Tu B’Shvat songs, and then when we got home, I put my daughter down for a nap. I walked into our Mamad and surveyed my windowsill, at the cherry tomato plant that died weeks ago, its leaves now brown and wilted, drooping sadly over the side.  At the planter full of Thai and Italian basil and parsley, half its leaves gone from use, the others beginning to turn yellow. And at the still thriving small oregano plant we got as a Chanukah gift from my brother and sister-in-law. In my mind, I bet myself on how many more weeks the oregano would last before it too, would get thrown out in the trash.

And, steadfastly, I made room on the sill for the plants that are still to come.


About the Author
Shira Zwebner is a public relations consultant and writer living in Jerusalem. A Mommy blogger and recent Olah, Shira writes about living and raising a family as an American trying to find her niche within Israeli culture.