“The almond trees are blooming!” I excitedly emailed my mother a few days ago. She lives back in Montreal, my snowy alte heim, where the traditional first sign of spring, spotting a robin, usually doesn’t take place till some time in early April.
But, after twenty years in Israel, my heart still lifts when I see gnarled almond branches sprouting delicately lovely blossoms — and in January! This charming sight, even on the coldest, bleakest day, reminds me that warmer weather is coming.
A notable characteristic of shekediot (or Prunus dulcis, to give their botanical name) is that unlike many other fruit trees, they flower before producing leaves. As a result, their five-petaled white or pale pink blooms are all the more visible. Also, almond trees do not shed their old fruit. Instead, fresh young flowers share space with the leftover almonds of yesteryear. When, as part of some New Age-y, get-to-know-your-inner-self exercise, I was asked to draw the tree I most resemble, I chose an almond. Connection to the past and growth in new directions, as well as sturdy rootedness in the Land of Israel, are qualities I try to … well … cultivate in myself. I liked my new alter ego so much that I began using “shekedia” as a nom de plume (pen name) on the Internet — or maybe on the Net they call it a nom de souris (mouse name).
Wikipedia’s article about almond trees taught me an interesting tidbit: almonds are not horticulturally nuts, but instead are members of the peach family! If you have a look at unpeeled almonds, either in the shuk or on the hoof, as it were, you will see that they are encased in two layers – a fuzzy outer covering coats a woody shell somewhat similar to a peach pit. The almond seed itself closely resembles a peach kernel. Wild (bitter) almonds contain dangerous amounts of hydrogen cyanide, as do peach kernels, and their cultivation and sale is banned in the United States. So admire our Israeli wild almond trees from afar, but don’t be tempted to sample a taste.
However, whether nutty or peachy, domesticated almonds are a delicious tree fruit and as such, are often eaten as part of celebrations of Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of the Trees when the age of a tree is calculated for halachic purposes, falls on February 8th in 2012. This festive day is traditionally marked by eating fruit, especially olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates, sometimes as part of a seder, or ritual meal. Many charitable organizations raise funds at this time of year by selling attractive platters of dried fruits and nuts. In addition, schoolchildren in Israel often go to the forest to plant trees. I have happy memories of joining my kids years ago on a tiyul to the woods next to Har Nof, where we proudly planted tiny saplings.
AACI Jerusalem is offering three Tu B’Shvat activities this year:
1) A talk by Tomer of Victor’s Landscape Center — Wednesday February 1, at 11 AM. “All You Ever Wanted to Know about House Plants and Did Not Know Who to Ask!” Potted kitchen herbs will be offered for sale. Hosted by AACI Jerusalem Retired Active Persons. NIS 5 admission for members, NIS 10 for non-members, plus NIS 10 per plant purchased.
2) Tu B’Shvat seder for kids — Tuesday February 7, from 4:30-5:30 PM, Cost is AACI Members NIS 25 / non members NIS 30. Please pre-register so we know how much snack is needed. Elana or Rafi, Program Coordinators. 02-5661181.
3) Special Tu B’Shvat seder with Rabbi Barry Schlesinger — Wednesday February 8, at 11 AM. Hosted by AACI Jerusalem Retired Active Persons (RAP). Please call for more information 02-566-1181.
All three events will be held at AACI – Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center, Jerusalem, 37 Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2, Talpiot. 02-5661181.
Tu B’Shvat sameach, everyone, and Happy New Year to the trees!