The Book of Trees
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When Mia, a Jewish teenager from Ontario, goes to Israel to spend the summer studying at a yeshiva, or seminary, she wants to connect with the land and deepen her understanding of Judaism. However, Mia's summer plans go astray when she falls in love with a non-Jewish tourist, Andrew. Through him, Mia learns about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and starts to questions her Zionist aspirations. In particular, Mia is disturbed by the Palestinian's loss of their olive trees, and the state of Israel's planting of pine trees, symbolizing the setting down of new roots. After narrowly escaping a bus bombing, Mia decides that being a peace activist is more important than being religious.
I didn’t know much else about Israel until Aviva suggested I come to yeshiva with her. Before that, Israel was a foreign, shadowy topic on the nightly news. Aviva’s mom, Mrs. Blume, showed me slides from one of her trips to Israel. She sat me on her living-room couch one Saturday night and turned on a slide projector. A view of green hills and lakes hovered on the wall. She turned to me. “When I think of Israel,” she began, “I always think of the Jews who arrived there after World War Two: Holocaust survivors who lived through camps like Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen.
Chani lowered her voice. “Do you know how to play that Jaywalkers’ song, the one that’s always on the radio at home? ” She sang the first line. I hesitated. I thought of Don reading those terrible lyrics to us in our kitchen, and then I thought of us all up at the cottage. For a moment my mind wandered and I was under the birch trees at the shore. I shook my head. “Sorry, I don’t know that one. ” I went back up to my room and chose a postcard of a waving Israeli flag. Dear Don, Where you are, trees are part of nature.
I sat for a few more moments, and then I got up to go meet Aviva on Ben Yehuda for dinner. As I was going down the steep tile stairs, I saw Andrew coming in from the street. Heat crept up my neck. I felt my pulse quicken. “Hi. ” I pushed my sleeves up my arms and then tugged them down. Andrew put down his backpack. “Hey, guitar girl. I was thinking about you. ” “You were? ” I held my breath. “I was wondering if you were okay. ” “I’m all right. You? ” “Sure, fine. As fine as I can be. ” Andrew leaned against the wall and took off his sunglasses.
I had been swimming in Tel Aviv and chasing Andrew instead of learning the week’s Torah portion. “So, what’s the story of the week? ” I tried to keep my tone light. Conversation stopped. Aviva raised her eyebrows at me. My cheeks grew hot. “I missed class yesterday,” I mumbled. Dan took a sip of wine. “The Jews enter Israel after wandering in the desert for forty years, but Moshe isn’t allowed to enter because he doubted God. ” I knew Moshe was Moses, but I didn’t know this story. “How did God know Moses doubted him?
I nodded. “Sure, thanks. ” I slouched back in my chair. “I don’t understand politics at all. ” Andrew smiled. “I don’t get most of it either, but I do know one thing: there’s a power imbalance. And it’s not fair. ” I sighed. “Power imbalance? ” This was far more complicated than trees planted over a village. “Israel is a first-world country with huge American financial backing. The Palestinians are a poor native people who have been uprooted. ” I must have given him a quizzical look. He sighed. “Have you ever walked the ramparts, the wall around the Old City?