Credit: Juan Emilio Prades Bel/Wikimedia Commons
Today we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, also known as Rosh Hashanah La’llanot, or the New Year of the Trees. Some people will honor the holiday by hosting seders, exploring a variety of fruits and nuts that grow in Israel, or trying a new fruit. Others, including myself, will use this holiday as an opportunity to plant parsley seeds, in hopes of using that homegrown parsley at our Passover seder tables. This is only possible because parsley germinates in almost exactly the amount of time there is between Tu B’Shvat and Passover. I will start with soil, tiny seeds, water, and light—and I hope to harvest the fruits of labor in a few months time.
As my parsley grows from seedling to mature plant we must be attentive and patient. We do not expect instant gratification when we plant seeds because we understand that seeds need time to grow. It does not matter if we want to reap the fruits of our labor immediately. That is not how plants work. The same, it seems to me, is true for cultivating a just and peaceful society; it will not happen instantaneously, it requires time to grow and bloom.
No, peace does not appear out of thin air overnight. Like parsley roots, its roots take time to take hold and grow in Israeli and Palestinian communities. To see any level of success or gratification, we must first intentionally plant the seeds of peace in people—in Israelis and Palestinians—and then tend to these seeds with a pairing of loving attention and action, not empty statements and declarations. Only then does the deeper work really begin.
From within the muck and mire of the current social media landscape, it is easy to shift our attention away from the caretaking of these seeds of peace. They can appear so tiny in comparison to the overwhelming pain and despair that Israelis and Palestinians feel. This is why so many of us and our loved ones feel like there is very little hope left after October 7th. One dear friend of mine refused to acknowledge the pain and suffering present in Gaza. She firmly believed that the Israeli military was completely in the right, even when innocent civilians were killed. Yet another friend could not acknowledge the horrific actions of Hamas on October 7th, acting as if the massacres did not happen at all. I, too, am not immune from the feeling of despair. Often, after reading through posts and comments on social media, I take my eye off of the larger goal: holding everyone’s pain while still moving forward. Instead, I sit frozen, unsure of how to engage with others while staying firmly rooted in love and care. I let the overwhelming despair take hold, like a weed. And so I have struggled to figure out how to gently approach conversations with my friends, my family, and with myself. My hope is to redirect all of the fear and anger that I feel and see around me into productive efforts focused on what is desperately needed in Israel and Palestine. But now is not the time to avert our gaze. Seedlings of peace can still so easily be overtaken by the weeds of despair. Now is the time to direct our loving attention towards activists and organizations on the ground who are so deeply committed to pursuing peace. I, and all of us, are all responsible for doing what we can to ensure that peace is at the center of the discussion, even when we feel depleted by that conversation. I know that I must gently approach tough conversations with patience and curiosity, understanding how fragile this moment feels for everyone.
Seeds cannot grow into plants without water and nutrients, and they can come in the form of acknowledgement of the other side—their pain, their story. Yet I see post after post, statement after statement, denying the reality of Israelis and Palestinians. I find myself hesitating to open social media, hesitating to start a conversation with loved ones who post extremely one-sided ultimatums.
The only place I have found real hope is Standing Together (Omdim Beyachad-Naqif Ma’an). I watched their Instagram presence soar and push against the narrative that all hope is lost. In particular, their posts showing thousands of people marching to call for an end to the war has helped me see that there are Israelis—Jewish and Arab—who are keeping the idea of peace alive in the Israeli conversation. I have started to regain my hope and faith in having conversations with loved ones again, because Standing Together reminded me to recenter peace as the ultimate goal in Israel and Palestine. We must collect this hope like a gardener collects rainwater and water our seeds with stories of what brings us hope in this impossible moment. Hope is found in a society shared by all Israelis–Jewish and Palestinian. Hope is found in the efforts to create connections and dialogue against all odds. These stories of hope nourish us and our ongoing commitment to achieving peace.
Peace will not appear overnight. We must have patience and tend to the seeds we are planting. And when the first sprouts appear, we will experience joy and gratitude for visible progress, fully knowing that we aim to nurture those sprouts into something much larger than any individual. Do not give up on those seedlings in this season–keep reminding yourself of what peace could be in the long run.