Long ago, in ancient Israel, a newborn would be welcomed with the gift of a tree. A fragrant cedar would be planted for a baby boy and a noble cypress for a baby girl.
These trees would be nurtured and tended by the family, growing alongside and along with the child. Twenty years or so later, at the time of the child’s marriage, the boughs of the tree would be cut to form a huppah, the delicate wedding canopy that is draped above the bride and groom, symbolizing the protective wings of God and the home that the couple would build together.
In Europe, perhaps due to constant mobility and the fragility of place, trees ceased being used to mark a Jewish birth and an alternate tradition developed: a bottle of schnapps, hard liquor, was set aside at the birth of a child to be opened only at the celebration of that child’s marriage.
My husband’s family follows the schnapps tradition. So years ago, we set aside creamy bottles of scotch at each of our babies’ simkhas, each bottle duly tagged.
Time has passed, and some bottles have been retrieved and opened. We are now, amazingly, on to the next generation. When I suggested to my now-grown son - as we prepared for the naming ceremony of his newborn daughter - that we get a bottle of schnapps to set aside for her wedding, he balked. Quaint though it was, the tradition held no real meaning for him.
Not one to flinch from new traditions, I quickly took this as an opportunity to create one. Seeking the new in the wisdom of the old, I imagined reclaiming the personal tree-planting tradition. But, both because it is somewhat fanciful for young, mobile parents to imagine that a tree they plant on private property today will be accessible to them some 25 or 30 years hence, and because JNF does a good job in “planting a tree” for you, I decided that the cedar/cypress route be bypassed for now. Yet something arbor-ish seemed called for, and pressing.
It was the leaf that I picked up on the day of my grand-daughter’s birth that gave me the answer. The ritual we were seeking had to be able to capture time, bottle up the air and ardor of that special moment, safeguard it, and reveal it burnished and unblemished years from now. A leaf preserved could do just that.
I decided I would collect a bouquet of leaves from these first days of my grand-daughter’s life.I would press them, preserve them, and present them to her on the day of her wedding.
Perhaps I will weave them then into her bridal bouquet; perhaps into the boughs of her huppah. Perhaps they will adorn the aisle she and her beloved walk down.
There is time to decide that. For now, it is good to know that the leaves will be the carriers of the vibrancy of the season in which she was born; the winds that blew as her parents welcomed her to this world, the way the world was when she came with the unique promise of her presence.
I have begun to gather leaves for her.
And somewhere, I will plant a tree.