Tu’Bishvat, the new year of the trees, is a festival and celebration that has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years. Tied often to the environment, it helps raise awareness of our relationship to the natural world. This year, however, I was reminded of a linkage that should worry all of us.
Trees are a part of our Midrashic experience. There is very famous one about Honi and the planting of a carob tree. The planter says that it will take decades to grow and mature, outlasting the life span of the questioner. When pushed, the man planting the tree reminds us that he does this just as his ancestors did for him and that we are linked, in a real way, from generation to generation. History is a part of the Jewish d.n.a. But history is fading.
A Pew Foundation report that is seeing the light of day notes the diminishing impact of the Holocaust. Their survey of almost 13,000 Jewish and non-Jewish adults and teens found that while most knew that this event took place, only 45% of adults and 38% of teens knew that 6 million Jews had died. Are we loosing our grip on our past? And we know that if we do not understand history, we will repeat it. Slavery is another example. I wonder how many teens and young people will see the movie “Harriet” and understand the context of slavery, the Underground Railway and the shadow that slavery still casts on this country. An NEA survey from 2018 cited that only 8% of high school seniors could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. And how many of the current group have studied American History to see parallels from what was to what is?
The strength of the tree is in its roots. A strength of a people is in the roots of its history. Once those roots begin to erode, one can make the case that the society itself begins to erode. We are a people linked to history. If we forget that, we stand at the brink of apathy and self delusion.
Rabbi Richard F Address