It’s Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees. Traditionally, Jews eat various fruits, especially those native to Israel, in honor of the holiday. Some even have a tree grown in Israel.
On the Rosh Hashana for humans, which occurs in the autumn, people pray all day, atone for their sins, and ask that God write them into the Book of Life. The darker side of the holiday, the obsession with the possibility of one’s own demise in the coming year, is dealt with masterfully in Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire.”
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So even though Tu B’Shvat is Rosh Hashana for the trees, we don’t reflect much on a tree’s misdeeds or whether its life should be renewed for another year. One thing is for certain, though, if actress Marisa Tomei’s parents were Jewish, they certainly wouldn’t pray that the gargantuan stink tree of their famous neighbor will be renewed in the Book of Life.
By any account, Sean Lennon’s tree is just an awful tree. I have never heard of an inanimate object accused of trespassing, but Gary and Addie Tomei, who live at 153 W. 13th St. next door to the musician and son of John and Yoko Lennon, are claiming the tree is doing just that.
According to Courthouse News, the 60 foot high ailanthus tree is not just driving them crazy, but is ruining the foundation of their home … literally. The tree is 24 inches in diameter, is 30-50 years old, and is mainly hollow and rotten inside (you see, it already sounds like a person).
In addition to the awful tree, Lennon’s pipes burst and caused damage to the Tomeis’ apartment. The couple are suing for trespass, injunctive relief and violation of the New York Real Property Action and Proceedings Law. Lennon, so far, has not expressed any willingness to have the tree removed, or any reason for his mysterious attachment (if he isn’t merely indifferent). If the Tomeis win, they can be awarded with $10 million and forced removal of the tree.
While John Lennon sang his son Sean was a “Beautiful Boy, ” this might not have extended to Sean’s taste in trees (which given Sean’s tender age when the song was written, perhaps was yet unknown).
It isn’t just this particular tree that is awful, but it’s a bad breed. The ailanthus tree is called by the Chinese “tree of heaven” and alternately, “stink tree, ” because it smells of spoiled peanuts and cat urine. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is aware of his awful tree species, and writes that it is known to destroy pavement and be destructive to buildings.
Famed New York author and tree fancier, Betty Smith, who wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, felt there were too many of the ailanthus, but gave it some points for resilience”It is the only tree that grows out of cement, ” Smith writes. “It grows lushly, survives without sun, water and seemingly without Earth. It would be considered beautiful, except there are too many of it.”