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A Jewish National Fund Blue Box similar to the one my grandfather kept on his desk.
This week, the Jewish world, will celebrate Tu Bishvat, the New Year of trees. Often referred to as Judaism’s Earth Day, it is a time when Jews renew their commitment to care for the earth, celebrate nature and anticipate the renewal of the natural world.
The other day, as I thought about the coming holiday, I reflected on my own environmentalist roots. I remember the famous 1970s “Crying Indian” public service campaign by the group Keep America Beautiful that said, ‘People start pollution; People can stop it.”
As a child, I took the campaign’s message seriously and would pick up garbage on the beach when my family went to the Jersey Shore. Years later as a counselor on a teen tour, I made my campers pick up trash at the national parks we visited two and three times before leaving.
Another thing that shaped my desire to care for the environment was The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Published when I was one-year-old, the book tells the story of the Once-ler and the fuzzy little man who implores him to stop destroying the earth by shouting, “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees!”
But while the message of the ’70s environmental movement resonated with me as a young girl, two other things influenced my commitment to ecological causes – a tin can, and a paper certificate. These items were not found during one of my garbage pick-ups, but rather in my grandparent’s home and at my synagogue.
When I was a child, I often would go to my grandparent’s house. During these visits, I would go upstairs and play dress-up with the clothes and jewelry in my grandmother’s bedroom closet. When I was finished, I would go across the hall to my grandfather’s office and sit at his desk. I would open his drawers and examine the various trinkets on his desktop – a University of North Carolina paper weight, a beer stein with the university logo used as a pencil holder, and newspaper clippings and photos my poppy had tucked into the side of his desk blotter.
But the item that most intrigued me was a blue tin box with a slot on top and a map of Israel, a Jewish star, Hebrew letters, and the words Jewish National Fund on the sides. I would toy with the box, turning it over-and-over and wonder what was this mysterious piggy bank. What did my grandfather do with the money he saved in it? What kind of magic was there in the country pictured on the box?
I learned over the years that my grandfather sent the money he collected to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization dedicated to developing and cultivating the land of Israel. The group was, and is an environmental leader and focused resources on afforestation and water among other things. I understood that if my poppy were collecting money for trees in Israel, then trees must be important.
The other object that taught me to revere nature was the tree certificate I received in religious school after planting a tree in Israel. I recalled my Sunday school teacher telling my class that trees were to be respected and how we could help the earth by planting one in the Jewish state. I remember she said that if we did, we could even visit our tree when we were older.
The idea of having my very own tree in a foreign country that I could go see one day sounded awesome. I had to have one! I already knew from my grandfather’s Blue Box that our planet needed trees because they had both community and social value. I imagined that the tree I planted would bear a sign with my name and stand in a forest in Israel doing very important things like providing oxygen and preserving soil.
You can understand the disappointment I felt when I discovered, as a 16-year-old that none of the many trees planted by Diaspora Jews in Israel had my name on it. But while I realized that the sapling I planted as a young child was simply one among millions, I still believed it made a difference. It still was part of a larger ecosystem that supported wildlife and improved air quality.
The JNF Blue Box and tree certificates issued when you purchased a tree in Israel were an integral part of my childhood memories and helped me to understand my obligation for caring for the earth. Now, as a parent, it is my responsibility to ensure that my child understands that he too is a Shomrei Adamah or guardian of the earth, and like the Lorax, he also speaks for the trees.
Luckily, Cameron shares my interest in ecological issues, so Sammy learns about the importance of caring for nature from both of us. To reinforce the message of environmental stewardship that we deliver through our everyday actions, such as picking up garbage on walks with our dog, recycling, organic gardening and supporting sustainable agriculture, we also put tzedakah into a Blue Box and plant trees in Israel.
We do this because, in today’s fast-paced, disposable world, someone needs to heed the Lorax’s call to care “a whole awful lot.” This Tu Bishvat consider planting a tree, and please, remember to treat it with care, give it clean water and feed it fresh air.
Our Blue Box with certificates for trees we have planted in Israel in Sammy's honor.
Sammy with "our Israelis" Tal and Gilad. Two weeks ago, Gilad was in Dallas to help Sammy celebrate his 9th birthday.
Two weeks ago Sammy celebrated his ninth birthday. It was a day filled with love, excitement and camp.
The day started like all Saturdays do in our house, with cinnamon challah French toast and quickly progressed to getting ready for Sammy’s weekend sports event. This week it happened to be a swim meet.
Sammy was excited for this particular meet because he was going to graduate from the 8-and-under division to the 9-10 section. After his races we planned a celebratory family dinner at his favorite restaurant followed by his requested birthday dessert – a cookie cake like they make at camp.
The experience of overnight camp has been a powerful one for Sammy, and has impacted him in large and small ways. The cookie cake is an example of the little influences, while a phone call I received during his swim meet reminded me of the big ones.
Prior to one of Sammy’s races Gilad, one of the Israeli staff members from camp, called to say that he was in Dallas and would love to see us later in the day. “Absolutely!” I responded, “Join us for dinner and Sammy’s birthday celebration.”
We all have a special relationship with Gilad not because he was Sammy’s counselor, he was not, but because prior to the start of the summer we were his Texas host family. We volunteered to house for two days two staffers from Israel before they traveled to camp for orientation.
During that time we introduced Gilad and our other guest, Tal, to Tex-Mex food, Dallas culture, and the heat and humidity that is summer in Texas. They reminded us of the joy in welcoming the stranger and the magic that happens when we take time to disconnect from our busy lives and engage in meaningful conversations with others.
With Gilad’s call we had the opportunity to reconnect with one of “our Israelis” and give Sammy the gift of a little bit of camp on his birthday. When Sammy finished his race, I told him that Gilad would be joining us for dinner. “Yes!” he said with a celebratory fist pump.
It is said that camp is a great way for children to develop lasting relationships and deepen their connections to Jewish life. But it has done both of these not just for Sammy but for Cameron and me too. Opening our home to counselors from abroad enable all of us to participate in this bonding experience. It expanded our sense of Jewish community and brought us into a more personal relationship with Israel.
No longer are the events in the Middle East just something we read in the media or are interested in because of our affiliation with Judaism. Now they affect real people who we are in real relationship with. As we listen to the news we hope that Tal, who is finishing his military service, is stationed far from any potential conflict and we are thankful that Gilad is in the U.S. for the year while he works for The Jewish Agency for Israel.
I know that as Cameron and I discussed sending Sammy to a Jewish overnight camp we did not think of how the experience might benefit our family. Like many parents we focused on what camp would do for our child – help him unplug, build character and community, develop self-reliance, and create habits of Jewish engagement and practice. But what we have learned is that camp’s influence extends beyond the summer and children, and can touch the entire family.
Four years ago I travelled to Israel with 15 other women for the Jewish women’s renaissance project mission. I was scared of what would be waiting for me in Israel. I found a deep connection, a Hebrew middle name and amazing memories.
Today, I am travelling to Israel, this time with my husband and son. I will hugging my parents for the first time in 15 years. They will be hugging their grandson and their non Jewish son in law.
I am still scared. But a new scared. Last time seemed more about what I was leaving behind. This time I look forward.
From Tel Aviv to Atlanta: After our goodbyes were said, a few tears, a 12 hour flight and 16 hour unexpected roadtrip down the Eastern seaboard, my husband, baby and I are officially ex-expats. The move from Israel back to the United States was a little tougher on me physically than I expected. Sometimes I do forget I have to slow down a bit more than usual as I have hit my final trimester, but we are finally settling in nicely. With cars purchased, house rented and boxes unpacked, we are now focusing on everything we have to do to prepare for our son.
Besides the usual, like the bi-monthly prenatal appointments, showers, birthing classes and decorating the nursery, we are beginning to research mohels to perform the circumsicion, a rabbi to perform the conversion and local synagogues to find the perfect fit for our growing interfaith family (in the middle of the High Holidays mind you!). There is a lot to do in the next three months, but I think we’re up for the challenge.
I have already noticed little differences with being pregnant in the States than in Israel. Because the birth rate in Israel is higher than in the U.S., I would see pregnant women everywhere and now I feel as if I rarely see another pregnant woman on any given day. In Israel, my OB was very dependent on technology and genetic testing to track the progress of my pregnancy. I had an ultrasound and a blood or genetic test at nearly every appointment while in Israel, while my new OB in the States will only perform one ultrasound and will rely primarily on tracking my symptoms, weight and growth for the rest of my pregnancy.
Oh and of course, Americans are far more aware of personal space than Israelis so the belly rubbing and uninvited advice from strangers has slowed quite a bit since moving back. I have to tell you, I actually kind of miss it!
Deciding upon a name for your child can be one of the most fun and most stressful experiences parents-to-be can face during nine months of pregnancy. Honoring family members, naming after favorite authors or television characters and the age old close-your-eyes-spin-three-times-and-point-to-a-name-in-the-baby-book are all perfectly good methods of deciding on the name of your child.
Even after all those discussions, you have to go through the obligatory fail-safe name rules:
“Nope, can’t use that as the middle name… look what the initials spell.”
“No, that name rhymes with a part of the anatomy I do not want associated with my sweet child.”
“Hannah Hannah Bo Bana… Fi Fy Fo Fanna, Hannah!”
On top of all this, we, as an interfaith couple, have had extra “rules” to follow.
First, of course, our Jewish child should have a Hebrew name. Per my husband’s Ashkenazi side, the baby cannot be named after a living relative, but should honor a relative that has passed on. Per my husband’s Sephardic side, we should name after a living relative so that person may enjoy the honor. Per my husband’s Israeli family, our child should have a modern Israeli name. Per my husband’s Orthodox family, only traditional names from the Torah are acceptable.
Confused yet? Then we have to take into account my husband’s particular sensitivity to names since he grew up with a very traditional Israeli name in the United States that turned out to be the name of a Disney character while he was in third grade… a girl Disney character. Poor guy. So since we plan on living in Israel and the United States during the child’s life, the name has to work in both Hebrew in English (sorry: Nimrod, Dudu and Moron are out!).
Plus, my American family has to be able to pronounce this Hebrew name (not an easy task with Southern accents).
After months of searching, throwing out names, rediscussing names, arguing and maybe just a few pregnancy hormone induced tears, we finally have a name for our child!! Baruch Hashem! We happily share the name with our family. Yes, sharing the name before the brit milah is a big no-no, but I think we deserve a break on this one. What do you know? They hate it.
Hello readers and fellow parenting bloggers! I am excited to begin sharing our story with you and learning a lot more along the way.
First, a little about me: I am an Evangelical Christian woman married to my wonderful Jewish husband for nearly 3 years. Our interfaith journey together has stretched nearly a decade and has even brought us to live in Israel for a year! Being pregnant in a foreign country has been quite the adventure in itself. Did you know your pregnant belly is public property in Israel? It has taken some getting used to random strangers rubbing my belly and exclaiming a hearty “B’sha’a tova” [in good time] or “Mazel tov” [congratulations], but I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed the attention.
Although I have no plans to convert and am very strong in my faith, I am very committed to my raising my piece of the Jewish family. I am actually a parent-in-training as I am due with our first child in January of next year. We can’t wait to meet our little boy and begin this new chapter of our lives together.
I hope you enjoy reading my blog posts and of course I always welcome advice, comments and questions. Until next time, I’m off to pack for our second international move back home to Atlanta…while 6 months pregnant!
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