The king-size billboard on Palmach Street, located around the corner from my Jerusalem apartment reads, “A New Beginning.” It is an advertisement for renewed construction, a new housing project in place of one that existed for many years. The sidewalks along Palmach Street are also shifting into renewal mode. Improved underground infrastructure is in high gear, the pavement has been dug up, and flat, grey rectangular stones are being laid, in place of the cheap, cracked asphalt that covered the street for over half a century.
Despite the inconvenience of workmen drilling, using oversized equipment that triggers endless traffic jams along the street, pedestrians sense that something new is starting. I feel a spring in my step, especially as I try crossing the hollowed-out street on a sunny winter day in order to reach the local supermarket. Sunshine is like a shot of adrenalin; a positive injection, radiating promise that this annoying hassle for drivers and pedestrians will eventually end, and a gentrified, user-friendly neighborhood, without traffic jams, will take its place.
Entering the supermarket, I am greeted by a dazzling Tu B’Shevat display of dried and fresh fruits, as dazzling as the sunshine outdoors. Abundant food for thought helps push my wagon up and down the aisles starting from the elongated row of dairy products.
I always believed Israel is a land flowing with milk and honey, although I never knew where the milk or the honey was hidden, and when, if ever, it would surface. Israel’s recent initiation of natural gas flow into Jordan and Egypt, bears historic significance. The development of undersea gas, turning Israel into an economic superpower, is a mind boggling new phenomena that none ever dreamed, or imagined, would happen in our lifetime.
New beginnings are not only housing construction, sidewalk renewal, or gas flow. This past month has also seen multitudes of people in Israel, and the world over, engaged in spiritual renewal: completion of the seven and a half year cycle of studying the Talmud Bavli, and the beginning of a new cycle of daily study of Talmudic texts has gotten under way again.
I did not participate physically in any of the extraordinary siyum celebrations. Instead I was a spectator from the comfort of my home, seated in a chair at my computer screen. The thrill of the humongous crowds participating, their sincere joy alongside the sound of music, kept me firmly in my seat, engrossed for hours. Unlike the open-air stadium, my apartment was heated, and glasses of tea and cookies at my side helped keep me spiritually focused throughout.
Sixty, and even thirty years ago, one hardly ever heard about Daf Yomi study, or seven year celebrations. Recently, I was approached by a group of serious, dedicated women to join their daily early morning Daf Yomi learning circle. I am truly inspired by all who have taken upon themselves this daily process, particularly the women. Nevertheless, I turned down their offer.
My grandchildren teased me. They wanted to know why I’m not starting. I laughed, assuring them, “Everyone has a purpose to fulfill in life. Daf Yomi study is not on your grandmother’s ‘purpose’ list.” I quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Torah is G-d’s song. We collectively are its singers.” As an ordinary spectator singer, I admire and appreciate all the learned scholarly voices, studying intensively to understand every note of the Talmud. This includes my son-in-law, Yossi, who made a very meaningful family Siyum HaShas, completing the seven and a half year learning cycle on the night of my husband’s second yahrzeit.
Checking out of the supermarket and returning home had me once again negotiating the heavy traffic on Palmach Street, only this time carrying bags of beautiful fruits.
I remember the sad state of winter fruits 59 years ago when, as newlyweds, my husband and I first made aliyah. The only winter fruits available then were oranges and tangerines. The only nuts we ever saw on any table were sunflower seeds. Today the market stalls are filled with apples, pears, melons, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, kiwis, pomelos, and huge displays of varied fresh and dried fruits and nuts that spill over from one display to the next. The quantity and quality of Israel’s produce is staggering.
As Tu B’Shevat approached, I enjoyed the first signs of new growth, the first buds to blossom, at the brit of a new great-grandson, named for his great-grandfathers.
G-d’s bountiful gifts include the gift of this land that whets appetites, and satisfies palates, that grants physical and spiritual sustenance, and calls for Jews outside the land to fall asleep with a dream, and wake up with the purpose of a new beginning, of building a home in G-d’s country, of enjoying “peirot haaretz” the fruits of Eretz Yisrael. Rather than hoping and praying to make it onto that last flight out, it is wiser to be settled, ready and waiting at the entrance to Jerusalem for that supreme celebration; to be here physically on that greatest of days, among the blessed who will greet, and be greeted by, Moshiach tzidkeinu.