Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from veteran Jewish Studies Teacher Sean Herstein.  Sean, a Ramah Wisconsin alumnus (Nivo ‘93), former counselor and Rosh Eidah, earned a Masters Degree in Education through the Pardes Educators Program in Jerusalem and has taught at Day Schools in the Twin Cities and Los Angeles.  Sean, who plays the trumpet, is also a long-time member of our tizmoret (orchestra) and a tremendous resource to many a staff ligot (league) basketball team.  Sean now lives in California with his wife Olivia, and daughters Nava and Miriam.

Reflections on Tu B’Shevat or What’s Your Favorite Tree?  – by Sean Herstein

Judaism asks us to live our lives with gratitude and an awareness of the world around us.   By reciting blessings before and after eating, we acknowledge those who were involved in taking ingredients from their natural state and turning them into something we can enjoy.  The Jewish calendar also builds within us an appreciation for the passage of time, the seasons, and our growth and development at human beings.  Among the Jewish holidays, Tu B’Shevat calls us to notice and appreciate the many gifts we receive from nature, especially trees.  When I lead a Tu B’Shevat seder I always ask each participant to share with the group a little about their favorite tree.  When it is my turn, I always mention a particular tree at camp. 

Many of us overlook the significance of the trees in and around camp.  While we may feel a sense of loss when trees are cut down in camp, during the summers we are often more focused on inter-personal relationships than inter-natural ones.  In the spirit of acknowledgement and appreciation, and in celebration of Tu B’Shevat, I would like to share a few thoughts on trees and camp.

How many discussion groups or classes on the kikar begin with the question, “Shade or sun?”  I always prefer to seat my groups at the edge of the shade so that each person can decide if they want to discuss issues of Jewish identity while being warmed by the sun or protected from its harmful UV rays.  In addition to the basic benefit of shade, the trees at camp also contribute to many memorable events.

Many left-handed power hitters over the years have looked towards the tall pines that create the right field wall of our softball field.  “If only I could hit it into those trees,” they would tell themselves.  A few of them have actually managed to hit such a prodigious shot.  A ball hit directly into those woods is a sight not easily forgotten. 

Trees also provide the opportunity for acts of compassion by people.  Over the years we have experienced a number of significant weather events at camp.  I will always remember with appreciation the way our dedicated maintenance staff, supported by their extended families and friends from the greater Conover area, responded to major storms in the 90’s.  Within hours they would use saws to safely clear the camp of dangerously sharp broken branches.  When asked why so many people came to help, they simply responded by saying that they thought we could use a hand.

The most significant tree, to me at least, sits at the top of the hill across the lane from the Marp.  This tree provides shade for the picnic table where morning snack is distributed, basketball games and tennis matches are watched, and Torah and Hebrew are studied all morning long.  I have found that if you lie on this table at night, and look up at the leaves of that tree with the black sky as a background, shades of green appear in those leaves that are not visible anywhere else in nature.  It was this tree that first opened my eyes to the simple, yet awesome, beauty of nature at camp.  In fact, this is my favorite tree.  What’s your favorite tree?

Wishing you a wonderful Tu B’Shevat,