Seeing trees blossom and grow fruit in the Land of Israel as I leave my house every late winter and early spring morning makes me realize another way in which I am grateful to be able to live and raise my family here. When we built our house, it was important not only to plant trees, which Jews have done for more than 100 years, and where Israel has become the only country in the world to enter the 21st Century with more trees than it had at the beginning of the 20th Century, but also to realize the prophetic blossoming of the Land. “But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branch and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for they are soon to come.” (Ezekiel 36:8)
I was reminded of a visit a few months ago with one of Israel’s political, social, and cultural icons as I walked out my front door recently, looking at the growing grape leaves, the branches of the apricot tree bending with the weight of the early fruit, and the lime and cherry tree beginning to blossom and show early signs of fruit from which we will benefit and a short few months and fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophesy in my front yard.
Yaakov Kirschen is the creator of “Dry Bones,” one of the most widely followed and enjoyed Israeli political and social cartoons. Through a mutual friend I had the privilege to meet him; to meet the man whose cartoons and familiar characters profoundly depict Israeli society almost poetically since 1971. And, yes, even prophetically.
As I left my house that morning, I thought to myself, “What do I bring as a gift for a man who is synonymous with Israeli society and was hosting me at his home.” Spotting my lime tree with a few limes still growing, I picked one and brought it to him as if a gift from the Land in which he has become so deep-rooted these past five decades.
Ninety minutes later, I arrived at his front door, greeted by him and his lovely wife, and presented my token gift. Little did I know that a simple lime grown in the Judean Mountains would spark such gratitude and be symbolic of a relationship that has established roots with a man who in his own right is somewhat of a prophet.
Yaakov was excited to receive my lime and instantly asked his wife to bring out Diet Coke for us as he cut generous slices before squeezing its juice into our cold drinks. He explained that he hadn’t had a lime since 1971, and told me why limes are so rare in Israel. (If you’re curious why, please email me for a fascinating answer that depicts a small part of Israeli history since the early years of the State.)
Our conversation went in many different directions, about many different topics. It was as if I was having a reunion with an old friend, for the first time. And as I was leaving he gave me gifts, the fruits of his ingenuity. While not as juicy as my lime, his gifts to me were powerful and meaningful, and depicted Jewish history going back to thousands of years. One of the gifts was a copy of his book, “Trees; The Green Testament.”
As all of his poetic and insightful writing, Yaakov tells stories through the eyes of his characters. He decided that he would tell a bit of the story, a concise history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel through the “eyes” of trees. My fruit trees are less than two decades old, but Yaakov was able to represent a vision of trees going back thousands of years. In doing so, he underscored the deep roots that the Jewish people have in the Land. Because the story is told through a cartoon, Yaakov’s book is an easy, quick and yet very powerful and insightful read.
As he said, “I wanted to explain why I had moved to Israel. I wanted to explain myself, my people, our history, the Biblical prophecies that spoke to us, and our hopes for the future.” A chance encounter with an old olive tree provided the inspiration and prism through which to tell that story.
He is poetic in his ability to capture important and sometimes complicated ideas and tell them through a one to four-image cartoon, usually with 40 to 50 words or less.
While being someone deeply rooted in the history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, I found several instances where he was able to pick up and highlight significant nuances that are important for anyone to understand. It’s essential to note that in a world with growing delegitimization of Israel, “Trees” is an essential read for those who understand Israel’s roots in its Land and one to by which appreciate that through a different prism.
Yaakov was a gracious host, very interested in me, my family, and my work. He not only inscribed a copy of his book for me, but also another copy along with the generous offer to draw a custom Dry Bones cartoon for a generous donor to the nonprofit for which I work. (You’re able to bid on that special gift by emailing me here to receive a personal Dry Bones cartoon of your own from a man whose insights are synonymous with the last five decades of modern Israel, infused with thousands of years of its history.)
If you want an enjoyable and insightful book from a truly unique perspective than none other than Yaakov Kirschen could have created, you can order your own copy for yourself or as a special gift for someone else here.
I’m long overdue for another visit with my new old friend. However, indicative of his brilliance, I now look at the history of Israel, and my life in Israel, very much through a different lens inspired by my friend Yaakov, for which I am profoundly grateful.
I used to live in White Plains, NY, and gained familiarity with all of Westchester County. In 2004 I pulled up my roots from the US and planted myself and my family in the Judean Mountains, affirming God’s gift and promise to Abraham and his descendants. If you can’t join me in person, you can join me in solidarity. Be among those who bless Israel, and declare today that you are a Judean. Contact me at FirstPersonIsrael@gmail.com.