Tu B’Shevat was always a big celebration in our home. My mother’s name was Ilana אילנה, tree in Hebrew, and she was born on Tu b’Shevat in 1937. Her birthday was always celebrated around a table filled with delicious dried fruits and nuts. My mother loved trees and even our names reflect this love.
My name is Erez ארז, reminiscent of the cedars of Lebanon that were brought to Jerusalem by King Solomon to build the first Jewish temple. My brother Amir’s אמיר name refers to the canopy of a tree and my sister’s name Neta נטע translates as sapling.
This Saturday will mark the first Tu B’Shevat without our mother. It will not be a sad dinner. We promised ourselves that we will maintain this tradition and tell our children the heritage of their amazing grandparents.
There is one ancient Oak tree in particular, found in the lower Galilee that will forever remind me of my parents. This tree reminds me of a story and of something my father would say to me as a boy that, to this day, fills me with confidence. He would say:
“Go on son, try finding your own way, but remember that we are here to back you up whenever you need us.”
The story of Yigal Paykovitz-Alon reminds me so much of this simple but important message.
Yigal Alon is one of Israel’s greatest leaders and this is the story of how he picked his last name: Alon (Oak Tree).
At 13 years old, Yigal Paykovitz’s father called him to the grain storage and said to him: “You have reached the age of your Bar Mitzvah now. You are a man and it is time for you to have your own pistol.”
He removed a small browning pistol that had been hidden on his person and handed it to his son. “Tonight”, said the elder Paykovitz, “you will be guarding on your own in our old oak fields. Make sure that you do not use this pistol unless your life is in danger. If thieves come to the field, don’t fire at them immediately. Fire your pistol into the air as warning.”
Excited and nervous, the young Yigal walked 4 ½ kilometers to the oak fields. He hid behind a large rock, his pistol in hand, and guarded the fields. At 2 AM, Yigal noticed 3 Bedouins on horseback approach the field and begin to collect the crop. This was the moment of truth for a boy that would later become a major General in the Israeli army.
He cried out loud in Arabic “Andak” – stop – but the 3 man did not run away. Instead they started to walk towards the boy. Yigal shot his pistol in the air as his father had instructed but the 3 men continued to near.
Suddenly, from out of the darkness, a loud voice was heard: “Andak!” in a heavy Russian accent. A man on a horse galloped into the field shooting a pistol into the air. The 3 men escaped to their horses and ran away.
Under the light of the moon, Yigal recognized the mysterious rider. It was his father, hiding nearby the whole night, guarding the young guard.
The moral of the story for me was that simple message that I so often heard from my own parents: Go your own way. Take risks. You will always have us at your back.
When Yigal Paykovitz was asked by David Ben Gurion to replace his “foreign” last lame with a more “Israeli “name (as was asked of all officers of IDF), Yigal remembered his first experience in combat in the oak fields. The Oak Tree (Alon) – that was his inspiration.
And Yigal Alon came to be.
When I heard of the new initiative Plant Israel at Home™ of the innovative startup The Israel Forever Foundation, I felt this was a great story to share in honor of the upcoming holiday. To know that even those living far outside of the land of Israel can feel a connection through a symbolic act as planting Israeli wildflowers… it warms the heart just as my mother’s love for the trees after which we are named.
May our commitment to Israel be as sturdy as an oak tree, and as enlightening as the stories of its leaders.