In 1990, at 8 years old, I went away to sleepaway camp for the first time. My parents chose Camp Morasha in Pennsylvania, 3,000 miles away from my Seattle abode, partially because my father had attended years earlier, and partially because it was filled with my cousins. It also granted them an excuse to eat their way through New York’s kosher restaurants on their way to seeing us on Visiting Day, but this is a realization I only came to recently.
Is listening to stories a traditional sleepaway camp activity? At Morasha it certainly was. Every Shabbat morning, instead of a speech about that week’s Torah portion, we were told a story. It was always about the animals of the Magical Forest. We looked forward to hearing about Leah the Lion, Moishy the Monkey, Ze’ev the Wolf, and more.
But there was one story that we all looked forward to the most. At the end of the summer, at our mini-awards ceremony, our teacher Morah Ahuva would send us off with a story. She told the story of the tiny apple tree in the forest who was surrounded by tall oak trees. And every night the tiny apple tree would peek up into the sky and see the millions of stars that appeared to be dangling from the branches of the oak trees. He would ask God, “Please, God, I would like to have stars on my branches.” And God would say, “But your blossoms smell beautiful and provide a pleasant scent for all who walk by, isn’t it enough that you have something to give?” And the apple tree would say, “I only want stars on my branches so I can feel special, too.”
And when the apples grew on the tree, and people picked them and enjoyed the fruit, the apple tree still looked up at night and saw the stars on the oak trees and asked God to please put stars on his branches, too. And God would say, “But you provide delicious apples to those who are hungry, isn’t it enough that you have something to give?” The apple tree shook his branches as if it to say no, and the shaking caused an apple to fall, and when it fell, it split horizontally down the middle and inside he saw…a star! And the apple tree said, “There have been stars on my branches all along.”
The message of this story was always clear. We all have stars on our branches. And the way Morah Ahuva told the story put tears in our eyes and smiles on our faces. When she took the stage with her apple and the knife to slice it and show us the star, we knew what to expect but listened anyway. It was tradition, and a beautiful one.
So when my recent PJ Library delivery came, and I opened the package, and inside was The Apple Tree’s Discovery, I was ecstatic and my heart flooded with memories that brought tears to my eyes as I stood by the half-opened front door of my home and clutched the book to my chest. I noticed, also, that the book was written by Dr. Penninah Schram, who was my speech professor at Stern College for Women and is a fabulous professional storyteller. The Jewish world is a small place sometimes, I thought to myself. The interconnectedness of the Jewish world is why tradition continues. It is how Morah Ahuva could tell a story every summer, and Dr. Schram could publish it for PJ Library…tradition. (Are you singing Fiddler on the Roof right now?)
At bedtime that night, I pulled out the book, sat my boys on either side of me, and began to read. I tried my best to sound like a children’s storyteller, remembering my lessons from Dr. Schram’s class, and attempting to channel Morah Ahuva. When I was done, Izzy said, “I heard this story at school. You have to cut the apple this way, not that way, so you can see the star.” It was a part of his personal history now, as well. I looked down at my sons and wondered how many other of my former bunkmates from camp were at home across the country reading The Apple Tree’s Discovery to their own children with the same hopes, or how many kindergarten teachers are bringing apples to school before Rosh Hashanah and taking the opportunity to slice it in half horizontally and tell the story.
Would you like to receive free Jewish books from PJ Library? Kveller is now offering subscriptions to families in the New York metro area. To enroll, click here. If you don’t live in the area, click here to find your PJ community.