Tu Bi-Sh’vat


“Humanity is a tree of the field,” declares Deuteronomy. There was an old song that sighed, “Spring will be a little late this year.” (I think it meant, “she said no.”) In Israel, despite last month’s snowstorm, spring comes a little early for wine-tastes – or oil tastes. Well, in our diaspora, we turn the literal seasons with their agricultural advice, into ethical lessons. I’ve heard the seasons labeled “botanical parables.”

In the cheerful grouchiness of my winters, both of discontent and of birthday milestones (like miniature tombstones), I seek out very local logos or boutiques for symbolic purchases. I want to celebrate this Tu Bi-Sh’vat in mid-January with a grand toast to two olive oil shops, both Providence parlors with lots of class. They harvest olives from all around the globe or from the edges of the four corners of Eden, in order to keep the evil eyes of heart disease or cancer away from our gates and doors.

I picked up a pretentious but pretty, and promising, tube of lip balm labeled “Eureka Lemon” and crafted right here in Li’l Rhody. It cost more than Chapstick, but the charming Mediterranean mural on the wall painted by proprietor Jennifer Fuccillo gave the buying experience a certain chic.

“Olive del Mondo” is independently owned and operated with a full tasting bar and offers a nice Tu Bi-Sh’vat prediction of spring to come with kosher products and comfortably contemplative armchairs.

And then, in Wayland Square, there is The Olive Tap, and they have, on the lower level, a fine painting of – but who else – “Olive Oyl,” the only alluring gal in the cartoon world of Popeye. With her high boots, long skirt, tight bun, and notorious dilemma (which is it to be, the vegan, slight, devout and devoted seaman who gets his strength from his special Hasidic diet, or the Big Brute, a veritable crude Cossack?)

Oh my, I’m getting lost here in my segue to the actual source material for the saga of the Thimble Theatre. You may already know that the model for the animated hero was an actual Jewish sailor kidnapped, or as it was termed “impressed,” by the Brits in 1812. They told him to pledge allegiance to the king on the new testament and he boldly countered with, “I yam what I yam!” – with a Yiddish accent? Back to the oil that calms troubled waters of anxiety!

My own dedication is to save the world from us, by protecting trees – in the wilderness, in our front and back yards, upon the groves that feed and cure us, and metaphorically/allegorically, by the light that comes from our candelabra, little portable “bonsai” trees that brighten our Sabbath tables. All this comes to us via the pressed olive!

Mike Fink (mfink33@aol.com) teaches at RISD.