Categorized | Columnists, Light Lines

Anne Frank’s saplings are symbol of hope

Posted on 13 June 2018 by admin

Next Tuesday, Annelies Marie Frank will be 89 years old. Or maybe might have been, had she not died in Bergen-Belsen on March 12, 1945 — exactly three months before what, in better circumstances, would have been her “Sweet 16” birthday.
My mind-jogger here is Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, who tackled this topic from a new angle more than 2½ years ago. That was when she contributed a piece, provocatively titled Anne Frank and a Tree of Hope for the Future, to ReformJudaism.org’s daily email Ten Minutes of Torah. Its subject was her October 2015 trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, for a special dedication at the Clinton Presidential Center: a sapling from Anne Frank’s 150-year-old horsechestnut tree. Here is the backstory, in the rabbi’s own words:
“Anne Frank lovingly wrote about ‘her’ tree throughout her famous diary, and for decades it remained outside the ‘secret annex’ that has become a memorial and museum perpetuating Anne’s hopeful message to the world. Several years ago, knowing the tree would soon die, the Anne Frank Center devised a plan to cultivate several saplings, which are now planted around the world and serve as a focus for education and inspiration…”
I learned from this Ten Minutes of Torah segment — which I’ve saved all this time! — that 11 saplings were allocated for distribution in the United States. But in order to receive one, a hopeful host had to be willing to assure that the tree would somehow be used for educating its community about its own history. And what better place to receive one than Arkansas, Rabbi Feldman said, “…a reminder of past acts of discrimination and persecution there…” which include Native Americans being forced to vacate land that had been theirs for centuries; centers ringed with barbed wire, to which Japanese-American citizens were relocated during World War II; and the horrors of racial injustice, perpetrated within a time that many of us still alive today can remember ourselves. Commenting on the latter, Rabbi Feldman remarked, “The dirt around the young sapling will be packed down by the tread of Jim Crow.”
Obtaining this sapling was a joint project of the Clinton Center and the Sisterhood of local Congregation B’nai Israel, and the speaker chosen for the dedication event was Lexi Elenzweig, president of the synagogue’s youth group. These are her words:
“I am 17 years old, just a little older than Anne Frank was when she died. The tree inspired Anne to write about her hopes and dreams or the future…words in her diary that have inspired millions of people around the world, including me…The roots of this sapling are grounded in history…as they take hold, this tree will also become part of this place, anchoring itself into the future of this region. The branches are reaching towards the future. As they grow higher, they will provide inspiration for us to always reach towards the good and light in this world…”
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” commented Rabbi Feldman. She had a chance that day to hear from both President Clinton and the director of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House. But for her, the best moment of all was when Lexi opened her remarks like this: “As a leader of our youth group and a future member of a Sisterhood, I am inspired by the legacy of the women of Sisterhood, and the ongoing work they do today to repair, heal and transform the world.”
Other places to visit the Anne Frank Trees of Hope are Seattle, Washington; Sonoma State University, California; Boise, Idaho; Farmington Hills, Michigan; Boston Common; Southern Cayuga Central School District in upstate New York; the White House, the World Trade Center site in New York City; the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; and Little Rock Central High School. Each offered a compelling reason to be chosen from among 34 hopefuls; to read about them, Google “For Anne Frank’s Tree, 11 New Places to Bloom” at nytimes.com.

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