This article originally appeared on My Jewish Learning.
(JTA) — My mother died in February, and since then I’ve been caring for her home. At the time of her death, she had over a hundred plants — and that’s only inside the house. Outside, there were hundreds more — roses and lilacs and dahlias, lilies of the valley and irises and daffodils, violets and honeysuckle and sunflowers. They bloom in almost all seasons, from late winter to late autumn. Except when the ground is frozen, there is never a moment when something is not blooming in my mother’s garden. And she celebrated when they bloomed, whether once a season or once every 10 years. They were, in many ways, the great work of her life, and it’s powerful for me to be caring for them now.
I grew up surrounded by those plants. I ate wild strawberries, chestnuts and pears. I used pine needles for doll beds and hickory nuts for toy food. I slept (or pretended to) on carpets of moss and used branches of sumac as scepters. Once, I dug up some daffodils near the creek and moved them to my “garden” in the woods. My mother was furious (though those daffodils still bloom in the woods every spring). But my early plant experiences were mostly good. I planted peas with my father, and watched him guide the young bean plants up their poles. I noted when the violets came out and when the chestnuts fell from their trees. I particularly loved the wild roses that bloomed in June (in fact, they’re blooming now). For me, as for my mother, the plants are their own kind of people — beings I try to nurture, appreciate and understand.
So it’s moving to me that the Jewish tradition sees plants in a similar way — as beings with voices. Psalm 96:12 states: “Let the fields rejoice and all that is in them; let the trees of the forest sing for joy.” Psalm 17:33 proclaims: “Let the trees of the forest sing at the presence of God.” In Psalm 48:8, the fruit trees offer praise. In Isaiah 55:12, the trees clap hands.
Maimonides understood these verses to be metaphors, but the Midrash — writings that fill in gaps in biblical texts — claims that trees do in fact speak with one another and with other creatures, and that they discuss the earth and its well-being. The Jerusalem Talmud too understands these verses expansively, saying that when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai began to teach mystical secrets, the trees started to sing. The Zohar, the mystical Torah commentary, imagines that when the Creator visits the Garden of Eden at midnight, the trees burst into song.
This description of plants is a reflection of the way many of us experience plants — as alive, and in relationship to us. And it’s likely they reflect how our ancestors did too. Many indigenous spiritual practitioners consider plants to possess intelligence, so it’s certainly possible our ancestors saw plants this way as well. And it might be time for us to be mindful of this too, given that we are breathing in what plants breathe out, and vice versa.
A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University has recently discovered that plants make sounds, albeit at a frequency we can’t hear, and that they make more sounds when distressed. This claim was made long ago in the Midrash, which teaches that when a tree is cut down, its cry goes from one end of the world to the other but no one hears. How differently might we act if we could hear the cries of trees and plants? And how much richer might we be if we could tune into their songs?
Indeed, this might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. In some kabbalistic understandings, we have plant consciousness inside us. According to the mystic Hayyim Vital, plants are a category of beings known as the tzomeach — the growing ones. They exist among four kinds of living creatures: humans, animals, plants and stones (yes, even stones are considered beings). Vital says that the human soul reflects all these kinds of beings, and so perhaps we are kin to all of them. Even God has plant-like aspects: The kabbalists call the structure of the divine personality the Tree of Life, and in the Zohar, the Divine Presence is called the gan, the garden, or the chekel detapuchin kadishin, the holy apple orchard.
My own small New York apartment has many fewer plants than my mother’s home, but I care for them lovingly. Once, while I was away, the cat sitter forgot to water the fuschia and when I came home it was nearly dead and had only five living leaves left. I slowly nurtured it back to health, watering often but not too much, and now, a year later, it has bloomed many times. I may not be able to hear its voice, but I can see its beauty and I can feel the power and persistence of its life-force. As the summer solstice approaches, I invite all of us to celebrate, protect and listen to these green beings, these creatures who eat light and who create the very air we breathe.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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