This Tu BiSh’vat, May We Begin with the Trees


Science can now confirm that hugging trees is good for you.

If the idea of hugging a tree makes you a little uncomfortable, rest easy. You don’t have to hug them to derive benefits. Just being in their vicinity can positively affect your health.

In a recently published book called Blinded by Science, author Matthew Silverstone explains that the vibrational properties of trees can improve many health issues, including concentration, reaction times, depression, stress, and other forms of mental illness – even headaches!

Although the term “vibrational properties” sounds complex, it’s actually quite simple: Everything vibrates, and different vibrations can affect our biology. Thus, when you touch a tree, or spend time in close proximity to one, the tree’s rate of vibration – which differs from your own – can affect you in positive ways.

It’s pretty fascinating. What’s even more fascinating, though, is that science is only recently understanding what religions have known for thousands of years.

In Jewish tradition, a tree is one of the most potent symbols we have. Trees symbolize a bridge between heaven and earth, as well as Torah, human beings, and God’s Divine structure.

But it is now clear that trees are more than just symbols of power. Trees have power – transformative power.

Even the first humans sensed this. Adam and Eve were drawn to the Tree of Knowledge long before anyone could scientifically explain why.

“Once upon a time,” writes Rabbi Daniel Swartz in an article about Judaism and nature, “we knew less about the natural world than we do today. [Yet] we understood that world better [for] we lived ever so much closer to its rhythms.” Rabbi Swarz reminds us that the Bible is a story about people with intimate knowledge of the land, knowledge that is reflected in the language and poetry of our prophets, psalmists, and wisdom literature.

When Isaiah compared Israel to a terebinth oak in the fall, his audience could immediately appreciate the double-edged nature of his metaphor, for while the terebinth is at its most glorious just before all its leaves drop away, it is also one of the hardiest of trees and can even re-sprout from a stump. To our modern ears, though, the metaphor is lost. Most of us aren’t intimately familiar with the characteristics of the terebinth. We live among trees, if we’re lucky, but how many of us really take the time to learn about them? And how many of us stop to notice whether or not we feel differently around them?

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, in the 18th century, knew that he felt differently when surrounded by trees. He wrote this now-famous prayer:

May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees (and) enter into prayer…may all the foliage of the field – all grasses, trees, and plants …send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things…

Rabbi Nachman knew the transformative power of trees. They transformed him and his ability to pray and connect with God. They transformed the prayers themselves.

We know now that Rabbi Nachman, a great teacher, scholar, and spiritual seeker, struggled with mental illness throughout his life. He experienced mood swings and bouts of paranoia – but under the trees, it seems, he felt better.

How many of our daily aches and pains, how many of our daily sorrows and woes, how much of our unhappiness, could be alleviated by spending a little more time around trees?

Rabbi Swartz writes, “We have set ourselves apart from the world of the seasons, the world of floods and rainbows and new moons…”

But our Torah, our very own Tree of Life, urges us to engage with nature, to care for trees and to learn from them. In a war, we can destroy just about everything except for fruit trees, and even if the Messiah himself arrives, should we be in the middle of planting a tree, we must finish planting before going to greet him.

That’s how important trees are! Adam and Eve knew it. Our psalmists and sages knew it. Rabbi Nachman most certainly knew it. Children know it. Maybe you knew it, too, once?

Rabbi Swarz questions whether “we can move from our discord with nature to an informed harmony with this, God’s universe.”

If we can, it begins with hugging trees.

May each of us, at this Tu BiSh’vat – the New Year of the Trees – refuse to be complacent in accepting the ills and sorrows of our lives. May we seek out ancient and modern cures alike – and may we begin with the trees.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb is the director of education and family programming at Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism in Toronto, Canada.


How Golda Meir Helped Make the State of Israel Possible

Golda Meir


Last month at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, our guide off-handedly mentioned that if we wanted to read a great speech, we should read the speech Golda Meir gave in Chicago. Immediately, I Googled the speech.

It was January of 1948 and the Jews in Palestine already were fighting neighboring Arabs on a regular basis. Convoys of cars going up to Jerusalem were being ambushed; skirmishes were breaking out all through the country. To help finance the fighting, David Ben-Gurion sent Golda Meir to the United States to raise funds from the American Jewish community, the strongest and wealthiest such community in the world.

Although Ben-Gurion himself wanted to go, the executive council of the provisional government voted that Meir should go instead, leaving him to do the groundwork necessary to establish the Jewish State since the British would be leaving the country in a few months. Eliezer Kaplan, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency, had made an earlier trip to raise $7 million, but had failed in his mission.

Meir was relatively unknown within the American Jewish community, but upon her arrival in New York – back in the U.S. for the first time since she had left Milwaukee years earlier to live in Israel – her sister, Clara, suggested she try to speak at the annual conference of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. The body would be meeting that weekend at the Sheraton Blackstone Hotel in Chicago.

Francis Klagsbrun, in her new book, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, quotes Meir: “‘I was terribly afraid of going to these people who didn’t know me from Adam,’ she recalled. ‘I admit I was shaking. I had no idea what was going to happen.’”

Nonetheless, she addressed the gathering:

Friends… These young boys and girls, many in their teens, are bearing the burden of what is happening in the country with a spirit that no words can describe…. All we ask of Jews the world over, and mainly of the Jews in the United States, is to give us the possibility of going on with the struggle…. We are not a better breed; we are not the best Jews of the Jewish people. It so happened that we are there, and you are here. I am certain that if you were in Palestine and we were in the United States, you would be doing what we are doing there…. You cannot decide whether we should fight or not. We will.… That decision is taken. Nobody can change it.

After speaking, cigarette – but no notes – in hand, for 35 minutes, Meir unapologetically asked for between $25 and $30 million. She closed her speech with these words: “I beg of you – don’t be too late. Don’t be bitterly sorry three months from now for what you failed to do today. The time is now.”

The next day, according to Steve Nasatir, president of the Chicago Federation, with whom I spoke recently, JUF Chicago leaders took out a loan for $5 million and handed it directly to Meir.

Upon leaving Chicago, she visited 19 other cities across the country, returning to Israel on March 19 with $50 million, enabling Ben-Gurion to buy Jeeps, guns, planes, and ammunition in Czechoslovakia for the soldiers fighting desperately to create the Jewish state. Ben-Gurion later wrote in his diary: “Someday when history will be written it will be said that there was a Jewish woman who got the money which made the Jewish state possible.”

Indeed, less than two months after Meir returned from the U.S., several hundred people gathered in Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to hear Ben-Gurion declare the establishment of the Jewish State on Friday, May 14, 1948. Among the 37 signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence were only two women, one of whom, of course, was Golda Meir.

Thank you, Golda, and thank you, too, to the American leaders who listened to a little-known woman speak in Chicago and heeded her words. Indeed, Golda was right; I’m glad we were not too


Hadassah Advocacy Update

Hadassah National Board passes two Policy Statements:

A Nursing Policy Statement, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing. The statement honors the nursing profession and reaffirms support to enhance nursing education and promote supportive workplace policies. The full Nursing Policy Statement can be read on Hadassah’s website. Join our October 2018 Mission to Israel and select the Nursing Track.

Hadassah joins with countless women seeking accountability and change for victims of sexual harassment and assault. We reaffirm and expand our previous policy statement to include sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and include actionable steps that can be taken to mitigate some of the systemic ways that women remain vulnerable. The full Sexual Harassment and Assault Policy Statement can be read on Hadassah’s website.To gain deeper understanding on how sexual harassment negatively impacts women’s health, attend our Women’s Health and Advocacy Conference May 15-17 in Washington D.C.

February Yarhzeits

2/1 Bess Blumenfeld
2/1 Conley Cook
2/1 Mortimer Friedberg
2/1 Sroel Weisz
2/2 Betty Malinow
2/3 Donald Haughay
2/3 Fannie Lichtenstein
2/4 Louis Bruck
2/4 Louis Himber
2/4 Ethel Silver
2/5 Max Berman
2/5 Isador Cohen
2/6 David Cohen
2/6 Ann D. Finkelstein
2/6 Isaac Malinow
2/6 Amelia Mann
2/7 Jonas H. Bernanke
2/8 Louis Smith
2/9 Lazorus Cohen
2/9 Bessie Gray
2/9 Rose Platt
2/9 Isaac Revich
2/10 Rose Perlman
2/11 Charles Finke
2/11 Sheila Rose Tanenbaum
2/12 Ben Abelkop
2/13 Harry Finkelstein
2/13 Otto Teszler
2/14 Harry Smiley
2/15 Sarah D. Cohen
2/15 Samuel Hecklin
2/16 Mimi Gelband
2/16 Gussie Hecklin
2/16 Ada M. Rovin
2/16 Josephine Usiskin
2/17 Lenore Axelrod
2/17 Avraham Weisz
2/18 Jacob Finke
2/18 Jeanne Hutchison
2/19 Moises Reteiny
2/19 Harry Stemberg
2/20 Jim Ely
2/20 Alvin H. Levin
2/20 Israel Shinberg
2/20 John S. Steel
2/21 Samuel Cohen
2/21 Emil Mortge
2/22 Morris Cohen
2/22 Abraham C. Felsher
2/22 Efim Abram Minevich
2/22 Alan Silverman
2/23 Haya Sara Gilpin
2/23 Allen Haughay
2/23 Ethel Morstein
2/24 Ludvik Weiss
2/26 Sigmund Pickus
2/26 Aaron Tanenbaum
2/27 Iman H. Bornstein
2/28 Kathleen Bruck
2/28 Ruth Crosby
2/28 Anne P. Gray
2/28 Sam Kassler
2/28 Louis Levy

Hadassah Update!

Our next meeting is Wednesday, February 21 at 10:30 am. You are welcome to pack a lunch and stay for the Rabbi’s Brown Bag Lunch at noon that day.

Looking ahead on Saturday, March 3, Hadassah will be sponsoring the tisch following morning services. We will be organizing that during our February meeting, so we hope you will attend if possible.

See you around the Temple
Nancy Rosenberg

February Dates to Remember!

2 Kabbalat Shabbat
3 Minyan Tisch Service
4 Sunday School
7 Hebrew School
9 7:30 Service
10 Saturday Service
11 Sunday School Speaker 14 Breakfast Schmooze
14 Hebrew School
16 Kabbalat Shabbat
17 Saturday Service
17 Social Night
18 NO Sunday School
21 Hadassah Meeting
21 Rabbi’s Brown Bag Lunch 21 Hebrew School
23 Soup & Salad
24 Saturday Service
25 Sunday School
28 Erev Purim
28 Hebrew School
28 Reading of Megillah

February Birthdays

2/4 Lisa Frye
2/7 Michael Gelburd
2/9 Judy Golub
2/9 Kathy Vess
2/10 Beth Levine
2/16 Milton Vogelstein
2/18 Helen Feldman
2/19 Maxwell Goldman
2/20 Susan Price
2/21 Sydney Brough
2/24 Pam Kaplan
2/27 Christopher Brough
2/27 Arden Levy
2/27 Helga Moglin