Tali Joan Segal
Tu B’Shevat is almost here. The “New Year for the Trees,” as we call it.
Tu B’Shevat literally means the 15th of the month of Shvat, using gematria, the numerological system by which Hebrew letters correspond to numbers. “Tu” is the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters for the number 15.
The exact date of the holiday never made an impact on me until 2016, the year after my beloved father passed away.
My dad died on Feb. 3, 2015, the 14th day of Shvat that year, and we buried him two days later on the 16th day of Shvat. That year, I was not thinking about the holiday of the trees.
Then 2016 rolled around, and we observed the first yahrzeit, the first anniversary of my father’s passing, on the 14th of Shvat. We went to synagogue, we said kaddish, we lit a memorial candle and then I realized that Tu B’Shevat would be following immediately. As the yahrzeit candle would extinguish, the tree celebration would commence.
As my dad loved gardening. I remain intrigued by this connection, ever since realizing it on that first anniversary. It is so appropriate that this nature-oriented holiday always will fall immediately after my dad’s yahrzeit. Not surprisingly, knowing my dad, when he started as an undergrad at Penn State, his mission was to be an agriculture major; he then took his first sociology course and realized social work was his calling.
Although he took a different route professionally, he always had gardening among his avocations. Our childhood home was surrounded by the gardens my dad planted. We had vegetable gardens and flower gardens and fruit trees. We had a grape arbor. My dad taught me to make grape jelly and cherry wine with fruit we gathered right there on our property.
One June, many decades ago, when we were passing small farms on Skippack Pike, on our way to JCC Camps Arthur and Reeta in Zieglerville, my dad told us about how he would like to be a “gentleman farmer” one day. Those farms we used to pass are now housing developments and shopping centers, but I still think of those farms and my dad’s words whenever we travel that road.
My parents’ grandkids never had the opportunity to see the gardens my dad planted at the Melrose Park home where my brothers — Ari and Doron — and I were raised; my parents were in a high rise by the time they became grandparents.
The grandchildren, however, grew up helping my dad cultivate his tomatoes and other plants at my parents’ shore home. The grandchildren also helped my dad with his garden at the retirement community to which my parents moved more than a decade ago. “Saba’s Garden” was a thing that almost took on its own personality. (“Saba,” or grandfather in Hebrew, is what my kids and their cousins called my dad.)
My dad wanted to be a part of the garden club at his new independent living community. Unfortunately, however, my wheelchair-bound dad was not able to access the garden beds, which were at ground level. Fortuitously, I happened to mention this one day to the program and teva (nature) director at Ramah Day Camp, while I was waiting to pick up my daughter. The director, Glen Feinberg, suggested that my dad request that the garden club at his new residence include some raised beds.
My dad asked, and the facility built, raised beds, and not just for my dad; it built a number of them so that other residents could benefit from this as well. My family is forever grateful to Glen for this suggestion, which led to years of gardening enjoyment for my dad.
My mom, with the rest of the family’s help, did her best to continue the garden the year after my dad’s passing, in my dad’s memory. As the grandchildren were at camp or otherwise engaged for much of the gardening season, and with no one having the intense gardening passion that my father had, we decided to make a change. The following year, we moved Saba’s Garden to Camp Lee Mar, the camp for children with special needs in Lackawaxen, that my brother, Ari, directs. We knew the campers and staff would tend to it with love, and it has been a beautiful addition to the engaging summer program.
I happened to be at Camp Lee Mar the weekend the camp dedicated the garden — now known as the “Irv Segal Memorial Garden” — in our dad’s memory. The dedication ceremony was a surprise for our family — even for my brother, the director — pulled off by his wonderful staff.
The Irv Segal Memorial Garden now is part of the camp’s nature program. The Lee Mar campers learn responsibility as they tend to it, cultivating herbs, fruit and vegetables that they pick and eat as the summer progresses. The garden is in the center of the campus and a beautiful focal point that campers and staff pass numerous times a day. Since the dedication of the garden in 2016, the camp has added hammocks for free-time relaxation; there now is a small gazebo as well.
My dad, the gardening lover, was a pioneer in the field of special needs, starting socialization programs for this population in the early 1960s and starting the first supervised vacation program in the early 1970s. I love that his garden now is at a location where children with special needs tend to it. I also love that, as my dad’s yahrzeit will come to an end this Sunday night, the new year for the trees will start and that this connection will continue in perpetuity.
Several family members at the surprise dedication of the Irv Segal Memorial Garden at Camp Lee Mar in 2016. From left: daughter Tali Segal (author), grandson Aaron Glatter, wife Zipporah B. Segal, grandson Jake Segal and son Ari Segal (camp director).
This slate and this stone both are part of the landscape in the garden at Camp Lee Mar. The slate with “Saba’s Garden” formerly graced the raised bed at Irv’s independent living garden.