Today is one of my favourite Jewish holidays. It’s the birthday of trees. When I was a child, we planted a tree in the backyard. I used to find a really nice tree and hug it and wish it happy birthday. This latter wasn’t due to any religious proclivities – I loved hugging trees when I was little and this was the perfect excuse. If I had time and could find a good paperbark, I’d take a bit of the paperlike bark and write a poem to trees, on their birthday. Luckily for the world, none of these poems survive. I don’t think I showed them to anyone, either. They were between me and the birthday celebrants. I once made a magazine using paperbark, but that had nothing to do with the birthday of trees.
These days, I donate a sum of money that has symbolic significance and someone plants trees for me, in a place that really needs them. Every year I do a bit of an internet search to decide on which organisation should get my money. I donate, then promptly forget how much money and which organisation. The trees will be planted, that’s the important thing. I may, however, quietly whisper a “Happy birthday’ when I press the ‘donate’ button.
Because the old Jewish way of counting used the alphabet, every word in Hebrew has a numerical value. The word I chose for trees today was “Life.” I didn’t have enough money to plant that many trees, but I had enough to spend that amount of money on planting trees somewhere they were needed. I forgot, however, to whisper that happy birthday. If I were still that tree-hugging five year old, I’d wonder if they missed me. (Let me make up for dereliction and whisper right now…)
I’m back. I even sang trees the birthday song this year, because it’s midnight and midsummer in Australia and it seemed appropriate.
One of the small mysteries of my life is that so many people tell me how important Chanukah is. I know this is because it’s closeish to Christmas so it’s considered an acceptable festival by many non-Jews. Tu B’Shvat (today) is only a little further away, and it’s all about trees. Why can’t the secular world choose it, instead?
I may never truly understand why the non-Jewish world favours the festival when we gamble above the festival when we plant trees.
Our next important festival is the one where it’s obligatory to get drunk. I have my own version of the Purim story. If any of you are interested in it, let me know and I’ll put it up here when the time comes.