A Tu Bishvat Reflection

By Tzachi Levy

The Jewish calendar summons us to celebrate many chagim and moadim (holidays) throughout the year. Each Jewish holiday commemorates something different and practices a different ritual, but one constant you can count on across all celebrations is that delicious food will play a part.

On Tu Bishvat, more than any other holiday, represents the renewal of a flourishing Jewish people in Israel. Such is the reason it was adopted by the Zionist movement into a national holiday. It may be surprising to think about this month (Shvat) as one of regrowth and renewal. As we in Washington cuddle under blankets and wrap ourselves in coats and scarves, the trees of Israel are blessed by rain and the first buds begin to appear on the shaked (almond) trees. Just as the cherry blossoms signify the arrival of spring here in the capital of the United States, the white-pink colors of the almond tree’s flowers flourish across the mountains of Jerusalem, the upper Galilee, the coastlines and even in the south where I live, signaling the arrival of the chag.

In the torah, we find countless connections between man and the trees, the trees and the land, and the land and Judaism. For me personally, Tu Bishvat has always held several meanings. In my family, it is tradition to collect as many dried fruits as we can possibly find. It becomes a competition with ourselves to see if we can find more than the previous year. Last year, we counted over a hundred varieties of dried fruits (who knew there were so many?)!

This year, I have found another meaning to Tu Bishvat. This month, my family and I will be celebrating our six months in Washington, and my six months of shlichut (emissary service). How symbolic that the Israeli holiday and my personal celebration fall around the same time.

A flower’s blooming is a result of a process that has occurred several months or even years before the bud appears. Only once the sun is shining and the conditions are right does the budding occur and the fruit appear.

A similar process is happening with my shlichut. The seeds were first planted within me as a child, when my grandparents would tell me stories about their love and devotion to the land of Israel and the time they spent volunteering in the Palmach. Perhaps the seeds were also planted by the stories from my other grandparents, who escaped Europe shortly before the fire and destruction of the Holocaust.

These seeds were then watered and nurtured as a teenager; at school and while participating in my youth movement, we learned about Zionism and demanded from ourselves to live those values.

The first sprouts appeared when I volunteered for Nahal, a special unit in the army with my friends. Funny enough, we were called garin (seeds). Together, we garin established Kibbutz Eshbal. And if that wasn’t enough, shortly after, I began my first shlichut.

Each year, we celebrate the same chagim with the same rituals, but each year, the celebration looks a little bit different than the previous year. This is also the case with each shlichut I have been on—it looks and feels a little bit different every time. Half a year into my fourth shlichut, currently I feel great. The Jewish community here in Washington is unique, fascinating, complicated, loving, welcoming and truly puts Israel on the agenda. These, together with a sun shining, are the perfect conditions for a shaliach to flourish.

Now at six months in Washington, I have an opportunity to reflect upon the road paved by the shlichim who came before me, but also to begin planning the path that I will pave for the next shaliach.

At my home in Rockville, growth is already becoming evident. My two children, Oz and Bareket are already arguing in English, and bedtime stories are now “The Cat in the Hat” or a new PJ library book. NFL games blare from the television on Sundays, and we plan to watch the Super Bowl.

One small seed holds so much power. Inside that seed is the potential to grow into a beautiful, strong plant, to flower, to fruit and to flourish. I hope that this Tu Bishvat, you remember this seed is also inside all of us.

Chag Sameach!

Tzachi Levy is in his first year as The Jewish Agency Senior Shaliach (Israeli emissary) to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Most recently, he served as Director for The Jewish Agency’s Shinshinim Shlichut Program. Tzachi has a B.A. from Beit Berl College in Informal Education and History, and a M.A. in Public Administration from Sapir College. Prior shlichut opportunities have allowed Tzachi to serve as an emissary to Pittsburgh, PA and to South Africa. As a 13th-generation Israeli, Tzachi’s strong family roots and Zionist youth movement education serve as his motivation and energy for working at Federation and in the Jewish world.