There's a long line in the grocery store. So what else is new? Ah, but today is busier than usual. It's the Fifteenth of the Jewish month of Shevat, the day that the soil of the Holy Land is rejuvenated for bearing its new fruit. Tu B'Shevat, as the holiday is known, is a day of happiness for all Jews to whom the land was bequeathed who adore and yearn for their beloved home
We faithful celebrates this day with an appealing array of fruits. So, of course, the number of shoppers is greater than usual; I'm not the only one preparing my fruit party.
Pomegranates, figs, dates, and grapes … my basket is slowly filling up. The seven fruits that the Holy Land is particularly blessed with are the main items on the day's agenda. The party, though, usually expands into a wider variety of assorted fruits including some unusual and exotic ones that I tend to overlook all year round. Like the apple-pear, the star fruit, the guava and the sabra.
The colorful, luscious pile evokes memories of the Holy Land.
Perhaps it's because I have a direct flow of Israeli blood running through my veins. Therefore, I had many occasions, while I was growing up, to hear loving talk about the Holy Land from close relatives. So the fruits, especially those belonging to the category of the shiv'as haminim, the special seven fruits, do remind me of the Holy Land in a most meaningful way.
DRIFTING BACK TO JERUSALEM
Some twenty five people are ahead of me in line, and my mind drifts away instinctively. I recall my visit to my grandmother's apartment in Jerusalem but a few years ago. The tiny apartment on Rechov Adani in the Beis Yisroel section is not much more than a piece of history by now, but how precious a remnant of an age gone by. It is a strikingly narrow, bungalow-like, two bedroom apartment. It is being used today but not by a family. It serves now as a dormitory room for Mirrer Yeshiva boys.
When we knocked on the door on several years ago, a jolly group of bachurim (rabbinical students) fell out and greeted us warmly. They were most agreeable about allowing us to have a look at our grandparents' apartment, although they seemed a bit uneasy about all the stuff they had lying around. In truth, we were so stunned by the looks of the apartment itself that their paraphernalia was, really, hardly of any interest to us.
Two small bedrooms, a small dinette area, and a small semblance of a cooking area and sink. That was all the apartment consisted of. We were horrified, to say the least.
How did our grandparents raise seven lively boys in this little nook? One of the bedrooms, my father explained, was graciously given to the widowed grandmother who was living with them! And the tiny bathroom we were seeing was a luxury that had been added in the latter years of their childhood. Prior to that, they used an outhouse that was located out the back door and down a flight of steps!
But you should see the glow on my grandmother's face whenever she reminisces about Jerusalem. What pride she exhibits when she mentions the names of her grandchildren who returned to settle there. You would think she had a mansion there. But it was not the living conditions that made the difference to her. It was the soil, the sky, and the atmosphere of Eretz Yisroel. It was living within reach of the Western Wall and other holy places. It was living among saintly, righteous people whose agenda was purely of a spiritual nature, far removed from material pursuits.
She often comments, in a surge of emotion, how the stones of the Holy Land are diamonds. "But," she adds with a nostalgic sigh, "you need the right kind of eyes to be able to see those diamonds."
WHEN IT ALL BEGAN
My grandmother often relates, with stars in her eyes, the fascinating tale of how her grandparents had come to settle there. Their first home was Poland, where they had hardly entertained any notion of moving away. That was, until her zeide (grandfather) had an incredible dream.
A distinguished, white bearded old man appeared to him and told him to pack his bags and travel to the Holy Land. Zeide politely explained the hardships entailed in the journey and his frank reluctance to undertake the endeavor. But the old man continued pressing the issue and even demanded from Zeide a tekias kaf, a handshake, which would be an expression of commitment. Zeide shook the old man's hand and then awoke, shuddering.
Zeide, of course, went to discuss the occurrence with his Rebbe [spiritual mentor]. He wanted to know if there was any real significance to the dream he had. The Rebbe nodded and gently advised Zeide to make the necessary arrangements and indeed resettle his family in the Holy Land.
But when Zeide came home and discussed it with his wife, she was shocked and naturally overwhelmed by the idea. She was in no way ready for a metamorphosis of this kind. Zeide did not discuss the issue further, and subsequently, and perhaps inevitably, as a result of grandmother's strong hesitation, the matter was completely forgotten for the next ten years. But, then Zeide had another dream.
The distinguished old man appeared in his dream again. He reminded Zeide about his handshake. "You must set out for the Holy Land," the old man urged. And again, Zeide awoke, trembling.
Zeide had an additional surprise at that time when his son informed him that he, too, had dreamed that an old man came to inform him that his father has agreed to move to the Holy Land!
Zeide brought up the subject with the Bubbe (grandmother) once again. This time, grandmother said that she would join Zeide on his trip to the Rebbe. She wanted to express to the Rebbe her reservations about uprooting the family and the various complications she foresaw.
Still, the Rebbe nodded decisively. His eyes expressed kindness and understanding, but a superior, far-reaching vision as well. He gently advised them to go, in spite of the hardships.
But grandmother was not yet ready. And then, grandmother became seriously, dangerously ill. Zeide sent the Rebbe a kvittel, a note that described grandmother's illness, and requested that the Rebbe pray for her recovery. The Rebbe sent a messenger to inform her that if she would firmly resolve to make the journey to the Holy Land, she would recover immediately.
When the Rebbe's messenger arrived, grandmother was hardly able to speak in her weakened condition. But she nodded deliberately and enthusiastically in response to the messenger's question about the Holy Land. Slowly but surely she recovered and, finally as the Master of the Universe had preordained Zeide, Bubbe, and their family of small children had indeed set out upon an unforgettable voyage.
The trip, in spite of its extraordinary hardships, was a successful one. They arrived safely at the border of the Holy Land. However, the Turkish officials, who controlled Palestine at the time, refused to permit the family to enter. This was a most unexpected greeting and a major disappointment for the weary group at the site of their long awaited destination. Some of the little ones began to cry and the adults, of course, felt helpless.
Suddenly, a kind gentleman appeared, discussed and investigated the relevant issues, and led them through a different entrance. Weary and happy, the privileged group of pioneers set their tired feet upon the beloved, holy soil that is Israel's.
TAKING THE INSPIRATION HOME
"Next!" the cashier calls out, interrupting my thoughts. "Next!" she calls again impatiently and much louder.
"Me?" I ask in a feeble voice as if I had just arrived from a tedious trip.
"Yes, you!" the lady snaps without even looking my way, her fingers furiously tapping at the register. I am surprised that it is already my turn, and surprised, as well, how far my thoughts had taken me. To grandmother's house on Rechov Adani in Beis Yisroel, all the way back to her grandparents' home in Poland, and back to the Holy Land again! Was the line that long?
One by one, as I pull them out of the basket, my shiny fruits are being tossed gently and swiftly into the bags. With the chime of the register, my fruitful dream has come to an abrupt end, and in a snap, I am again outdoors, rushing along with the stream of reality.
Only later, when the fruit party is all over and the children are sauntering off to do homework, as I'm mumbling the blessing of "Al ha'eitz," I pause to think again. I stop at the words Uvenei Yerushalayim… vehaaleinu lesocha, venochal mipirya, where we beseech the Divine to rebuild Jerusalem, to bring us up there again, and we will enjoy her fruit once more. Do these words not depict the thoughts that crossed my mind earlier this day? Would these words, perhaps with a little more emotion, better express my nostalgia?
I try to say it more slowly. I try to recall how my great-great-grandparents had been divinely, powerfully, and lovingly guided towards this special place in their personal way. How inspiring that they were chosen to be part of the valiant pioneer group of Orthodox Jews who began reviving the wasteland that the Holy Land was at the time.
Vehaaleinu lesocha. Indeed, the Divine, bring us all there, for always. Let Your mighty arm extricate us from exile and elevate us to the place where we really all belong forevermore.
Venochal mipirya, and we will then eat her fruits, but the party will be where it was really intended to be upon her holy soil.