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Galilee Diary: Roots

Galilee Diary: Roots

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Galilee Diary and Ten Minutes of Torah)

tmt-bug.jpgWhen in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them.  You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.  Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?
 -Deuteronomy 20:19

While we don't have a lot of time to devote to our modest yard, we do get pleasure out of it.  Tami has managed to create some lovely different corners - everything from a cactus terrace to a sort of tropical jungle with a waterfall.  It is in a constant state of "needing work," but there is always something interesting blooming.  And over the years, we have planted a number of fruit trees, some of which have really been successful - a hugely prolific blood-orange tree; a sabra plant that has grown to monstrous proportions, yielding more fruit than we can possibly use or even give away; a pecan tree that produces enough for a couple of pies; a little clementina heavy with perfect fruit - and others more modest, like the peeling orange, mulberry, fig and grapevine.  And then there have been failures, like the guava, cherry, apple, plum, and grapefruit.  Our yard, indeed, is so small that we planted a number of the trees in the open space behind our lot, that borders on several neighbors' lots and the brushy undeveloped area leading down to the road.  Some of the trees were a joint project of a few families.

One of the neighbor families is building an addition to their house.  A few weeks ago, the contractor knocked at my door.  The only access for construction vehicles from the road to the work site would have to be through the open space behind our lot.   The clementina tree stood right where the trucks would have to make a turn.  No problem, he said, we'll use the tractor to dig a hole and move the tree a few meters back.  I had two choices: I could say no, in which case the tractor would just squash the tree by accident, or I could say yes, in which case the tree would likely be killed in the moving process - which is in fact what happened.  It was sad.  It turned brown within hours; and it had been covered with immature fruit.  I noticed a few days later that the contractor had removed the corpse.  It appears that the mulberry will be another casualty, but it was fairly young so it is less of a loss.  The pile of rubble is approaching a small orange tree, but I think it will survive.  My neighbor assures me the contractor will replace any lost trees; but with mature trees?  I'm skeptical.  Now I can't really complain as the trees were not planted on my property but on open land, so the planter took the risk.  And of course my trees were planted for pleasure - I don't make my living from them.  Still, there was something depressing about seeing a lovely, productive tree destroyed in a moment, with the pressure of the driver's finger on the lever controlling the hydraulic backhoe.

"Are trees of the field human?" a question that comes up in this country all too often.   Our little clementina seems trivial compared to the tangled piles of old citrus trees cleared from the sites of new shopping malls - or the recurrent and disturbing reports of the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank.  And all this in light of a century-old tradition that associates the planting of trees with the essence of Zionism - claiming, reclaiming, beautifying, making productive the land of Israel.  Are the trees of the field human?  It's interesting that the Bible repeatedly makes this comparison:
[The righteous person] is like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season... (Psalm 1:3)
The righteous shall bloom like a date palm; they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:13)

For two thousand years we felt we had no roots and longed to be like trees.   But we also couldn't wait to get into the driver's seat of a tractor.

Published: 8/18/2009

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel
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