The Almond Tree
During the month of Elul, I am flooded with memories of my childhood in Greece. I remember my Parents, Grandparents and extended family. Most of them are no longer with us but my memories of them are as bright now as when I was a child.
Near the front entrance of my Grandfather’s house, an Almond Tree towered over the roof of the house. During the spring months the flowers of its branches formed a white canopy over the front patio and a white carpet when they fell on the ground. When the almonds were harvested my Mother made delicious confections such as marzipan cookies. The Almond Tree became my place of solitude. I always felt at peace while sitting on the soft white blanket of its pedals.
When we returned from our mountain odyssey of hiding to Trikala in 1945, my Grandfather’s house and the Almond tree remained standing. The tree seemed larger and stronger than I remembered. It continued to bear fruit. The Almond Tree represented perpetual rejuvenation and rebirth. The occupants of my grandfather’s house were missing. I was praying and hoping that my beloved Grandfather, Elias Roussos, his sons and daughters would miraculously appear.
Around the same time in 1945 my Mother was given the honor to renovate the Temple ruined during the war, and replant the Biblical Garden which she designed in 1939. On April 23, 1939 my parents Alice and Abraham Barouh were married in the new Temple. Their wedding was the first at the Temple, because all Jewish weddings at that time were celebrated at the bride’s home. My parents wedding and the dedication of the new Temple were celebrated at the same time. Four Hundred guests were invited Jews and Gentiles alike. The Archbishop of Trikala, Mayor, Chief of Police, all of my Father’s friends and coworkers from the bank were invited. The whole Jewish community including Rabbis and Cantors attended.
My mother designed a Biblical Garden in 1939 for the dedication of the new Temple. She planted fig trees, pomegranate, peach, plum, apple, and of course an Almond Tree. In addition a palm tree, very rare for Trikala was planted. She planted flowers of every color, such a climbing roses, jasmine, gardenias, and azelias. In the middle of the garden was a water well, we called it Miriam’s Well.
After the war was over in 1945 my mother was asked again to supervise the renovation of the Temple and the Biblical Garden. I was five years old at the time. My Mother took me by the hand and we went in the sanctuary in front of the ark under the eternal light and we prayed. My mother told me “Sarah, you will help me rebuild our Temple”. With God’s help and the financial support of the Jewish community the Temple was restored.
The day arrived for the re-dedication of the Temple and also the Memorial of all who lost their lives during the Holocaust. During the renovation of the Temple my mother and I planted hundreds of King Alfred daffodils. When the daffodils emerged from the ground, the trumpet like coronas of its yellow flowers resembled small heads as if those who died during the war were reborn.
Wouldn’t be wonderful, I thought if God who created the Almond Tree and the daffodils, could bring back all the members of my family who suffered and died during the war? When I mentioned this concept to my mother she felt it was much too serious for a little girl and enrolled me in after school French and English classes.
After the renovation of our Temple we had a bitter sweet re-dedication. My Father was the key note speaker. All the local dignitaries were invited Jews and Gentiles. I was sitting next to my mother who was crying softly and I joined with her hoping that my Grandfather and the rest of our family in heaven were smiling. They will always be remembered.
May all your Memories be Happy and Bright, and may the New Year be Healthy, Sweet, and filled with Shalom-Peace.
Sarah Barouh Schweitz
Sarah, thank you so much for taking us back to your childhood home in Greece. The continuing presence of the almond tree is a rich and hopeful image for us all. I have never heard of a biblical garden and am fascinated by your description of the trees, flowers, and Miriam’s well. The daffodils (first harbingers of spring) continue to show us that life goes on and there is sweetness and beauty in the world.
Sarah, your story is wonderful. The symbolism of the almond tree, the garden, the daffodils and the well are the makings of a novel. Thank you for telling.
Beautifully written Sarah. It’s nice for me to remember back to your father Abe and his great smile and warm greetings here at TBS.