Tu BiShvat and the Red South

The almond trees are blossoming
The sun is shining
Birds on every rooftop
Are announcing the holiday
Tu BiShvat has come
The holiday of the trees
Tu BiShvat had come
The holiday of the trees!

This is a popular song that is sung in Israel around the holiday of Tu BiShvat! The Hebrew date of the holiday is the fifteenth of the month of Shevat.

“Tu” stands for the Hebrew letters Tet and Vav, which have a numerical equivalent of nine and six, adding up to fifteen. This year the holiday falls on February 11.

Tu BiShvat is one of the four “New Years” in the Jewish calendar. Traditionally, dried fruits and nuts are eaten and, in some cases, prayers are recited thanking HaShem for his bounty and asking that it continue in the coming year.

In 1890, Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz took his students to plant trees in a forest in honor of Tu BiShvat. The custom was adopted by the Jewish Teachers Union and by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which was established to oversee land reforestation in Israel. In the early twentieth century, the JNF planted eucalyptus trees in the Hula Valley to stop the plague of malaria. Today, the fund sponsors tree-planting activities throughout Israel and the holiday has taken on an ecological significance.

In every Kindergarten, and in many schools, children come home with plants and many families make their way into the forests to plant trees with friends or by themselves. At this time those of us in school find ourselves in the mid-semester break. Students in colleges and universities are taking their mid-semester exams and, in junior and senior high schools, report cards are being given. My three children, who are university students, can barely stop to talk to me. The tests are relentless. The new semester begins on Sunday, and we will all take a deep breath and start again.

As mentioned, we plant trees and look forward to a balmy spring. However, last Shabbat the heavens opened up, and there was hail pelting the windows! My husband remarked sardonically, “Here come the plagues.” It was so cold that when we went to visit our son on the Army base we weren’t even able to sit on the stone benches.

It is cold. It is very cold.

Last night, the temperature went down to 3 degrees (°C) in Jerusalem. We were bundled up with scarves, hats, and gloves and still shivered.

I haven’t seen any almond trees blossoming yet, but there are signs of cyclamens and early spring flowers springing up. And in the South, near the Gaza border, there is a celebration this weekend of “Darom Adom,” meaning, the “Red South.” It is due to the abundance of red poppies that have revived after the long, cold winter, and display themselves in what seems to be pride and exuberance!

To me, it is comforting that we have Spring to look forward to after winter. I love that God has set it up this way. Sometimes during the winter, we think that we will never be warm again, and just when we think we can’t take anymore, it hails. It is even colder than we had thought it could ever be. We hunch over, sipping soup and stay home as much as we are able, resentful of the dogs who need to go out for walks.

And then, there is the glorious heralding of the red poppies in the south, and the long-dormant plants breaking their way through the cracks in the sidewalks to seek the sunshine.

The cold will not last forever. There will be a glorious spring. There will be a season of bounty after the barrenness. The apparent lack is only the inner working of the Spirit of God before the abundant harvest. Count on it. It will come.

Happy Tu BiShvat! Plant a tree, eat a date, rejoice in what will be, for “though it tarry, it will surely come.”

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion, February 9, 2017, and reposted with permission.