Clergy note the coinciding of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Tu Bishvat, the holiday celebrating the “new year” of the trees. Many themes run between the two calendrical landmarks, but the connection seemed obvious.
I have visited Poland three different times. My nightmares usually come from the Belzec death camp. Belzec, located close to the railroad to logistically maximize the number of Jews killed in a day, was built with the sole purpose of extermination. Jews would leave the trains and march straight into the gas chambers, meeting their death within minutes of arrival. Imagine the psychological horrors as Jews were sometimes handed a rock instead of soap as they entered the “showers.” There were almost no survivors from this killing machine.
I distinctly remember the pine trees camouflaging Belzec, intricately woven around its perimeter. Those trees called to me, tearfully whispering the stories they witnessed. Very few humans were able to share the messages of the men, women and children murdered at Belzec. But the trees. The trees heard the screams. The trees sagged and heaved with pain as they watched innocents killed day after day. The same trees hold lifetimes of memories, begging us to share in the responsibility of hearing and seeing the ravaged souls ripped from their earth. Trees swaying through stormy nights and cloudless days, promising that in this darkest moment of history, the Jewish people would not be uprooted.
When we put the Torah away, we pray the words, “Etz Haim Hee…” It is a tree of life. We hold tight to the lessons of Torah, drinking its nourishment, the sustenance of Torah flowing from generation to generation. Like a tree, we pray to stay grounded and allow our branches to grow and extend, offering protection, comfort, embrace and life to those in need.
But unlike the trees at Belzec, we do not merely witness stories with silence and pain. We have the holy ability to scream and be heard. To point out injustices and gain attention. To take action with our souls and with our voices.
For the trees that endured the thundering of our people: I pray that you only hear prayers of peace and cries of joy. And the stories of the Shoah will continue with us, planted deep within our hearts, urging us to plant seeds of truth, humility, justice, and love.
This post is presented in partnership with The Jewish Journal; click HERE to view the article.