To Be Or Not Tu Bishvat? A 70-Year Dream

Is it possible for seventy years to be like a dream?

Tags: Tu Bishvat
Yonatan Sredni

Judaism כחלון במקלט ויצו
כחלון במקלט ויצו
Arutz 7

Of all the stories associated with Tu Bishvat (the Jewish New Year for the Trees), the one I always found most difficult to relate to is the one about Choni Ha’Magel (the same sage who once prayed for rain during a drought and refused to move from with a circle until the rain came - which it finally did).

The Talmud (Taanit 23b) relates that one day Choni was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked the man, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Choni then asked, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found already grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me, so I too plant these for my children.”

 Choni then sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, “Are you the man who planted the tree?” The man replied: “I am his grandson.” Thereupon Choni realized that he had slept for 70 years.

At first glance, this appears to simply be an ancient variation of the classic Rip Van Winkle tale. It’s just another story told to children at a school Tu BiShvat party before they devour all the Israeli fruits.

But strangely, this story resonates more deeply with me this year than ever before. In Judaism, a generation is generally considered to last 70 years. That fits very well with the story of Choni and the carob tree, but in a wider context, considering we are about to mark Israel’s 70th year of Independence, it’s only fitting that we look back to Tu Bishvat of 1948.

Consider this. On Tu Bishvat of 1948 (which fell on January 26th that year), the Jewish people were at a crossroads. The tremors of the Holocaust were still being felt with Auschwitz having been liberated exactly three years prior. A mere two months before Tu Bishvat 1948, the UN voted in favor of the partition plan. And most importantly, but unbeknownst at the time, on Tu Bishvat 1948 the Jews in Palestine were just three months away from the British leaving, Ben-Gurion declaring independence and the War of Independence breaking out.

In 1948 the Knesset was not formed yet, as it will celebrate its 70th birthday only on Tu BiShvat of next year.

Although I cannot know for sure what those early pioneers felt 70 years ago, on Tu BiShvat of 1948, but “uncertainty” is definitely a safe bet.

Fast forward 70 years to 2018. Not only do we have an independent and democratic Jewish state of Israel, the first of its kind in 2000 years, but it is thriving.

Could our parents and grandparents in 1948 ever have imagined Israel leading the world in technology, innovation, and science? Could they have fathomed Israelis winning Nobel Prizes, playing in the NBA, or starring in an American superhero blockbuster film? You’d have to be dreaming.

Well, that’s exactly the point of the story above. What exactly lead to Choni’s 70-year nap? According to the Talmud, Choni was troubled throughout his life as to the meaning of the verse, 'A Song of Ascents: When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers.' [Honi asked] Is it possible for seventy years to be like a dream? How could anyone sleep for seventy years?" He got his answer when he saw the man planting the carob tree, slept for 70 years, and then witnessed the man’s grandson enjoying its fruits.

The problem for us today is that many of us take the dream that is the state of Israel for granted. Those of us who were born after 1948 simply never knew a reality where Israel did not exist.

So what’s the antidote? Are we all destined to be sleepwalking through life here in Israel like dreamers or is there a way for us to snap out of our 70-year slumber?

I consider myself to be a pretty “with it” person. I try to keep up to date with what is going on in Israel at all times. However, recently I was thrown for a loop.

On January 1st, I began a new job writing English content at WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) in Tel Aviv. As a writer, I figured I could rather easily gather information from various sources and write “feel good” stories about the important work WIZO does.

But two weeks ago I had an eye opening experience. During the annual MOR (Meeting of Representatives), when WIZO delegations from around the world came to Israel for their annual conference, I joined theses ladies for a trip to Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood to The Rebecca Sieff Center for the Family. There I met high school students at the WIZO Vocational High School who were studying vocations such as cooking, hairdressing, and music production. I learned that these are students who couldn’t make it in other high schools, but here at the WIZO school they were thriving as they learned skills that would help them learn a profession to earn a living after graduation.

We then visited a day care center, a shelter for battered women, and we were given a lecture on families in the shadow of violence. That week I also learned about hungry children in Israel. I even personally met a young teenager who openly spoke about her difficult family situation where there was no food at home. She used to go to school hungry, but now, thanks to the WIZO school she now attends, she eats three meals a day and is excelling in her studies.

Through these experiences, I was awoken to just some of the challenging realities of Israel. Was I guilty of being a sleepwalking dreamer too?

Perhaps another Tu Bishvat story can provide a solution.

One bitterly cold Polish winter night, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asked his student Rabbi Yitzchak Meir to speak at their Tu Bishvat seudah (festive meal) of fruits from the land of Israel.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir chose to discuss the tractate which teaches that Tu Bishvat is the New Year for Trees, and gave a lengthy and complicated discourse on the subject.

When he finally finished, The Kotzker Rebbe replied, “If we were in the land of Israel, we could just go out to the fields and look at the trees. We would then understand what ‘New Year for the Trees’ really means, and we would not need scholarly learning on the subject! For there, in the land of Israel, Tu Bishvat does not say ‘darshuni’ [expound upon me], but ‘asuni’ [Do it!].”

We just need to wake up and realize how lucky we are and how far Israel has come in just 70 years. There is a time to talk, there is a time for doing, and yes, there is even a time for dreaming.  Perhaps former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said it best, “For me, dreaming is simply being pragmatic.”

The writer is Head of English Content at World WIZO in Tel Aviv.