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Tending to Democracy on Tu B'Shvat

January 24, 2021

Tending to Democracy on Tu B'Shvat

This week, the Jewish community will mark the date of Tu B’Shvat, a time to celebrate and reiterate our commitment to steward the Earth and coax forth its bounty. This year, Tu B’Shvat will occur just a week after this Presidential Inauguration, in a period of history when our democracy seems extremely fragile. Many have felt a certain barrenness of hope, a listless despair that anything can sprout and grow in a place so devoid of unity, truth, and empathy. But that is not the truest narrative we can tell about this moment in history, because beneath the cracked, dry surface, a heartbeat has continued to beat and prepare for a brighter day.

In her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” the Inaugural Poet, Amanda Gorman, alluded to Melachim (Kings) 5:4, a verse that describes true leadership, when leaders strive, above all, for the dignity and humanity of each person.

“And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.” 

What higher praise for King Solomonfor any leaderthan that each person is of high enough importance to have their own crops and trees to provide them sustenance, shade, and pleasure all the days of their life? Perhaps this is another way of saying “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” unalienable rights endowed to all men. In a country where deep-rooted disparities still favor some citizens over others based on rootless ideas such as race and gender, the picture painted by this verse can feel so far away.

But as Gorman said of the last few years, “even as we grieved, we grew.” 

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we'll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
But because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.

Although we can no longer blame the indiscretions of our country on its relative youthit has seen and done so much already in its short lifewe do know that democracy is always a seedling, requiring care and love to grow strong and flourish. As the late Representative John Lewis wrote, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part.” 

Just as we tend this Earth we have inherited, it is also our responsibility to nurture and defend the democratic dream through difficult winters like the one we are experiencing now. We must continue to “grow and hope and try.” Humility and humanity must and can bloom, if only we continue our unfailing stewardship together.  


Sara Bellin is a non-profit program manager and freelance writer in the Boston area. By day she engages with contemporary challenges in Jewish education, and then pulls up her chair again at home to write articles relating to Jewish lifestyle, identity and values. Bellin lives in Brookline with her husband, son, and daughter.

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