With Rosh Hashanah on the horizon, I am filled with excitement for the pomp and piety of the Jewish New Year. From rapturous prayer services to magnificent meals replete with ceremony and symbolism, I adore every element of this elevated and holy day.
Though there is a vast collection of classic symbols associated with Rosh Hashanah, the pomegranate has always been my favorite. With its wealth of succulent seeds, this alternative “apple” is an icon of abundance, fertility, and life. An imperial orb with a regal crown and rich crimson hue, the pomegranate also signifies the special intimacy that exists between humankind and the “King of Kings.”
However, I believe that this fantastic flowering fruit should be known above all as a symbol of possibility, as its magical metamorphosis from flower to fruit perfectly exemplifies the universal promise of potential.
I recently came to this realization while strolling through my charming Israeli neighborhood admiring the breathtaking tapestry of bold and brilliant colors. While the walkways were awash with all kinds of flowering flora, it was the parade of pomegranate trees that grabbed my attention and revealed a fascinating natural phenomenon.
Although I had always assumed that all pomegranate trees flowered and then bore fruit, further inspection of my neighborhood trees and a quick Google search disclosed a very different set of facts. I learned that there are actually two distinct types of pomegranate trees: those that bear fruit following the pollination of their flowers, and those that only flower, no matter how much they are pollinated. In fact, one horticultural blog stressed that if someone erroneously purchased the flowering variety for their garden, there is absolutely nothing that can be done to make it bear fruit.
When I read this, something stirred deep inside me.
Pomegranates and disability
As a member of the development team at ADI, an organization that cares for and empowers Israelis living with and touched by disability, this floricultural fact seemed to echo an erroneous yet pervasive public opinion about disabilities.
For generations, people with disabilities have been sidelined, underestimated, and disparaged owing to an assumption that ability can be ascertained at a glance. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rooted firmly in one’s potential, ability must be developed and refined.
ADI’s exceptional professional staff and dedicated volunteers spend their days doing just that: cultivating growth and proving that, while there may be scientific proof that some pomegranate trees are incapable of bearing fruit, this pomegranate paradigm does not apply to humans. As anyone who has spent even a few minutes with our ADI family members can attest, everyone can blossom and bear fruit if they are shown lots of love and given the tools and opportunities they need to draw out their potential. Every one of our residents and special education students began their rehabilitative journeys saddled with prognoses that were punctuated by negativity and despair. In absolute terms, their families were informed that there was nothing that could be done to advance their abilities.
“He will never walk,” concluded one doctor. “She won’t ever be able to communicate,” asserted another.
Yet, following months of extensive therapy and the determined mastery of specialized mobility equipment, a supposed “wheelchair user for life” takes his first independent step.
With intensive training and state-of-the-art retinal technology, a young woman who cannot speak or learn sign language finds a way to make herself heard and understood – she speaks with her eyes.
So, while it may be true that the trained eye can easily tell the difference between ornamental and fruit-bearing pomegranate trees, the contrasting human reality is that we can never quite tell what people are capable of simply by looking at them. With hard work and nonstop nurturing, every person can bear beautiful fruit.
It is for this reason that we must reserve a special place on our Rosh Hashanah tables for the pomegranate.
As we bless the New Year and resolve to be more tolerant, empathetic, and self-aware in the months ahead, the pomegranate reminds us that when cultivated with compassion people of all abilities have the capacity for growth and that it is our societal responsibility to ensure this evolution by pollinating others with positivity.
This Rosh Hashanah, I urge you to count your abundant blessings by way of the pomegranate’s plentiful seeds and take a moment to consider how you can help promote potential and advance ability for all. Because with humanity, anything is possible.
The writer is the North American director of development for ADI (adi-israel.org), Israel’s network of specialized rehabilitative care for those touched by and living with disability, and an international advocate for disability inclusion, equity, and access.