The poem “Aliyah” (going upward) gives us a portal into Tu BiShvat – how to celebrate a tree and honor our connection to trees. Trees “anoint” us, honor and bless us with shade, beauty, fruit and so much more.
Tu BiShvat is a Jewish holiday that does not get the respect and attention it deserves. Likewise, trees often go uncelebrated and unnoticed.
The role of the poet is to notice and to transform us through this noticing. Jessica Jacob’s marvel of a poem “Aliyah” celebrates a tree that is a key part of childhood. In this poem, Jacobs gives us, the reader, the role of the tree.
One way we can celebrate the holiday of Tu BiShvat is to remember trees that played a starring role in our life and in our core memories. I admire the way Jessica Jacobs pays homage to the tree in her grandmother’s yard. I marvel at the way the tree is a “conversation between roots and sky” – much like prayer can be.
Like poetry, Judaism is rich in metaphor; Jewish texts make frequent use of trees as a metaphor. We have the “Tree of Life”, the “Tree of Knowledge” and the sefirot of the Kabbalah are represented as a Tree of Life.
There is a special blessing which we recite after making aliyah and reading the Torah, in which we say: Blessed are you, G-d, Sovereign of the World, who has given us the Torah of truth, planting within us life everlasting.” The Torah is planted within us. It is part of us. And just like trees, we are growing upwards, in our yearning and learning, ascending, and transcending.
By Jessica Jacobs
Let me speak to you as the tree I climbed as a child,
the one in the far corner of my grandmother’s yard,
whose bark was a tapestry of rough diamonds.
Your first branch was low enough to leap to,
textured enough to hold me. And each branch after
placed as though to keep me climbing.
I paused only to press my ear to your trunk
and hear it: the heartbeat of water
moving toward the leaves, the conversation
between roots and sky. Climbing until my hair
twined your needles’ spines; until, anointed
by your green, you took root within me; so I speak
from the part of me who grows you, grows
with you, who will always live in your branches.
And in the boughs, so many there with me.
A vantage we could not have reached
on our own, a vision otherwise beyond us.
All of us, in that overstory, unalone.
Deborah Leipziger is a poet, author, and advisor on sustainability. Three of her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Born in Brazil, Ms. Leipziger is the author of Story & Bone, forthcoming from Lily Poetry Review Books in early 2023. Her poems have been published in the UK, US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Is...
What are some ways we can make aliyah or go up, transcend?
What is the difference between being “unalone” and together? Why do you think the poet chooses the word “unalone”?
Blending Judaism and science
Do you think the holiday of TuBshvat will become more important in the Jewish calendar as we learn from science about the importance of trees for our survival?
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