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New Beginnings (a Tu B’Shevat story)

If you ask Allie, things started going downhill after what everyone now refers to as ‘the scandal.’ But things weren’t going well for her even before the incident. She had trouble fitting in at school and out of school for that matter. Yes, she participated in activities at school, such as the orchestra, where she played cello, and she played on the soccer team, at least until the scandal, but she was actually quite shy, maybe even a bit of a loner. At the least, she had an independent streak. She didn’t have many friends and no close friends, and certainly none among the popular crowd. The boys weren’t terribly interested in her, but that seemed fine with her; she didn’t appear very interested in them. That’s another thing that makes the incident so puzzling.

Some people think the whole thing had to do with her looks; that she really longed for boys to be interested in her and thought this was how she could be attractive to them. You know, putting out to win attention. But I think those who say that are underestimating Allie or don’t really know her. Sure, she didn’t think she was pretty and, maybe she didn’t have the right look in the eyes of the popular kids who thought only girls who were blond and ridiculously thin but still had big breasts were pretty. Allie was tall and lanky with somewhat small breasts. (Ironically, she has grown into a striking, tall, shapely young woman, but that came a few years later.) Her hair is black and naturally frizzy, which caused her endless fits along with her thick dark eyebrows and large, dark eyes. Her mom suggested more than once that her kind of hair would look better cut short, but long hair was the look everyone wanted. So Allie wrestled with various combinations of braids and ponytails and different hair clips and scrunchies to tame her unruly hair. I prefer to think her hair reflected her spirit and her attitude–independent, daring, bold, obstinate, even wild and barely contained. In that sense, he hair explains the incident as much as anything else, but people scoff if I suggest it. No, they’re convinced she was just desperate to attract the interest of the popular guys who otherwise only looked at the prettiest girls.

The scandal actually wasn’t a very big thing, but the newspapers got hold of it and then TV news reporters showed up with their cameras and microphones. At that point, the whole thing blew up into this huge circus with investigations and finger pointing and hearings and everything. All the hoopla probably scarred Allie and the others more than the actual incident. But maybe that’s what some people intended; that it would teach all of them a lesson. Don’t get me wrong. I think what she did was atrocious, lewd, and frankly, pretty dumb. It reflected incredibly poor judgment, and I was extremely disappointed in her.

The whole thing happened on a school bus returning from a soccer game. Allie played on the varsity soccer team, not a star but a solid contributor. The boys’ and girls’ soccer teams had games with the same school on the same afternoon, an unusual scheduling occurrence. After the games (the girls lost, the boys won) the kids piled onto the buses to return. Usually the boys and girls teams travel on their own buses but this time the boys’ and girls’ teams mixed it up for the ride home. Allie and some of her teammates ended up sitting in the back of one bus with a bunch of boys, several of whom were stars on the team and were very popular. I guess the boys were really pumped from their win. Someone, it was never clear who, suggested a dare game. First one of the girls was dared to kiss one of the boys and she did. A boy was dared to squeeze another girl’s breast and he did. Then someone suggested a girl give one of the boys a hand job. It was Allie’s turn.

At first she was reluctant, but the other kids in the back of the bus started shouting and egging her on. Then a boy dropped his shorts and held his penis out. “I’ll get it started for you,” he said. Meanwhile everyone was shouting and cheering. Whether Allie was baffled or confused or simply shocked by this behavior, she reached over, put her hand around his penis, and started stroking it. I gather she wasn’t very accomplished and experienced at this task, for which I am happy, and after a minute or so nothing happened. She let go of his penis. He pulled his shorts back up. Suddenly everyone seemed embarrassed. The incident could have ended then and there, but it didn’t.

No sooner had the kids gotten off the buses and into the cars of their parents waiting in the parking lot then word of the incident spread, getting wildly exaggerated in the process. Before long people were buzzing about the consensual intercourse that had occurred right on the bus. Although the media did not use the names of Allie or the boys or the other girls because of their ages, everyone soon knew exactly who was involved. Parents were justifiably outraged. The school administration, the league, the school committee, and the police all became involved.

The official fallout from the incident was predictable. All the kids who were in the back of the bus, girls and boys, were barred from playing any school sports for the rest of the year. Allie, the two other girls directly involved, and the three boys who directly participated also were suspended from school for three days and put on probation for the rest of the year. It wasn’t clear what the exact charges were, but everyone agreed that some rules must have been broken and some punishment was required. The school and the community had to make a clear statement that this kind of behavior was totally unacceptable and would not be tolerated.

The unofficial fallout, however, hit Allie but not the others. According to the buzz, she was the instigator. She was a slut. She had been throwing herself at these boys all along. It was her only way to get any guy to pay attention to her. She had been giving hand jobs to boys and doing much, much more all along. And, of course, she was blamed for the subsequent poor play of both the girls and boys sports teams since key athletes had been barred from competing for the rest of the year. None of this was true of course. Not a single word of it. While she was far from an innocent victim in this affair–she didn’t deny her involvement–she certainly wasn’t the instigator. School had never been fun for Allie, although she was an excellent student. As I said, even before the incident she had never really fit in. Now, she was clearly on the outside and an object of ridicule. Kids who had been friendly toward her avoided her. Even kids in the orchestra shunned her and whispered behind her back. She put up a brave and dignified front, but I think she was miserable. At this point, however, I will turn the story over to Allie and let her tell it her own way.

I hate high school. They treat you like a child. I hate the ridiculous games you have to play, like turning in stupid math exercises. If I get an A on the test, why do I have to turn in some stupid homework exercises? Same with papers. Why does the teacher need to see the outline? If I write an A paper, what does the outline matter? That’s what I mean by ridiculous games–all the stupid shit you have to do instead of doing the real work, the only work that should count for anything. This isn’t new. This didn’t just start after the big goddamn scandal. It’s always been like this, just stupid, ridiculous games.

And then there are the kids. Did you ever see the kids here? They all look like they walked out of a Gap or Abercrombie clothing catalog, a whole goddamn Abercrombie army. They wear the same tops and the same jeans and the same jackets and have the same straight hair and stupid hairstyles. And they think the same way, or don’t think might be a better way to put it. Do they think about the environment? No. Do they think about racism? No. Do they think about violence or war or anything important? No. All they think about are the latest CDs and MP3s and cable TV shows and clothes. The guys are worse. If it doesn’t have to do with sports or cars, they’re clueless. The only ones with any brains are the geeks, but all they think about are computers. Even the kids in the orchestra are assholes. I can’t wait to get to college and get away from these zombies.

Anyway, I don’t really know why I touched that kid’s dick. I thought he was one of the most stuck up, full-of-himself assholes on the soccer team. Maybe I should have just yanked it off. You know, I’d never seen a dick before for real. I mean I’d seen pictures and maybe I’d inadvertently glimpsed my father naked for an instant once. Of course, I diaper Nathan, my baby brother, but he’s just a little baby (my father calls him our unexpected gift from God). Anyway, he doesn’t count. So maybe I was just curious. I don’t know. Now they call me a slut. Who are they kidding? Some of these girls are having sex every week. I have been kissed once, two years ago at summer soccer camp by a guy who lives three hundred miles away. But suddenly I’m this big sex maniac who is after every stupid guy in this school. And they all know it’s a big fuckin’ lie.

I mean these kids are such jerks. They can’t seem to let it go. I was, like, walking by this one kid who recently broke up with his girlfriend and you can bet they had sex. He was standing around with a bunch of his pals. “Hey, how about servicing me?” he called, pretending to unzip his fly.

“I’d like to but I don’t think I can,” I purred as sweetly as I could. “Susan said yours is so small she needed a magnifying glass just to find it. I guess that’s why she stopped going with you.” Really, who needs this kind of shit?

So now I’m just, like, counting the days until I get the hell out of here and go to college, but that’s gonna be another year and a half. As far as having a life, I didn’t have a life before and I have even less now. A few kids used to talk with me during the day. I would sit with a couple of girls in the cafeteria, but that’s all over. The day after our suspension ended, I went to my usual seat in the cafeteria and they got up and walked away. Well, pardon me. One of those girls was on the bus. In fact, she was the next one in the dare game; she was ready to kiss his goddamn dick. But now she isn’t going to sit with me any more. Fuck her.

My parents. Oh God, where do I start with my parents? Actually, they have been pretty good about this whole thing. They even believed me, believed that all I did was touch it with my goddamn hand. You couldn’t guess all the stupid parents in this town who thought we had, like, full intercourse; that we actually fucked on the bus. How stupid can you be? Have they ever been on one of those buses? The seats are barely wide enough for your butt. I guess they thought we must have done it standing up. I used to do some babysitting, but I guess I can forget about that, except for my baby brother of course. Anyway, my parents can’t understand why I did it, why I didn’t just turn away from the whole thing. “It is so not like you, Allie,” my father kept repeating, shaking his head as he would say it. I guess I haven’t been very helpful in explaining it because, like I said, even now I’m not sure why I did it myself. I know it was stupid. At one point, my parents even hired a lawyer to help me with all the investigations and hearings. I don’t think the lawyer really did much, but I appreciated that she was there. Actually she was pretty nice. Maybe I’ll become a lawyer and try to help kids.

Now I feel my parents are always watching me. They used to be fine letting me alone. I’d spend time in my room or go for long walks by myself or just kinda veg out in front of the TV and they’d be cool. But now they keep asking how I am, what I’m doing, do I have any plans, what happened in school–all that kind of stuff. Believe me, you don’t want to fuckin’ know what happened in school, I want to shout at them.

The only thing we regularly fight about is synagogue. They are pretty observant. I had to go to Hebrew school until I had my bat mitzvah. My bat mitzvah was OK, but I hated Hebrew school. Nobody, like, wanted to be there, all the kids were always acting out and causing trouble, and nobody learned anything anyway. It was a huge waste of time. When I was little, they took me to synagogue almost every Saturday. They loved it. They would sometimes lead different parts of the service. They would hang around with their friends during kiddush or get into discussion about the weekly parsha, the week’s stupid Torah reading. But I hated it. It was boring, and I never made any friends there. People tried to be nice and friendly, but I don’t know. I just never got into it. I mean, like, I can see that there is good stuff there and maybe it will mean a lot to me when I’m older, but I just never got into it. As soon as I had my bat mitzvah, I told my parents I’m outta here. Every now and then they insist I come with them, usually at holidays or if one of them is doing something special, like reading the Torah.

At least the people at the synagogue don’t treat me like I’m some sort of scum. Most of their kids go to Hebrew day school or Hebrew high school so they don’t really pay much attention to what happens in the public high school. The few that do go to public high school are even bigger losers and more out of it than me so they don’t count. Also, everybody there respects my parents and probably believes the truth about what happened. I went with my parents shortly after the whole thing exploded–they insisted I come and I didn’t feel like fighting with them. Everyone acted like nothing happened. Well not exactly like nothing happened; they came up and just said they were glad to see me. Even the kids who were there acted pleasant enough. At least nobody asked me to jerk him off. That alone was a big improvement.

So I spent Christmas vacation pretty much by myself. I went skiing for a couple of days with my family. My mom found a babysitter she trusted at the ski lodge so she was able to ski with my dad and me some of the time. That was the most fun I’d had in months. For New Years Eve our family always goes out to dinner with another family. This year my parents brought along the baby, but he mostly slept. I hate going out to dinner with my parents, but what else did I have to do on New Year’s Eve? It’s not like anybody was asking me out on a date or inviting me to a party. After dinner we went home and, like, watched videos until midnight when we watched the ball drop in Times Square. Whoopee.

The real problem is coming up next week. My parents are going out of town for some kind of convention. My mom is a social worker and they are having a conference. They do this every year. I wanted to stay home for the weekend, but they said no way, especially after all that’s happened. They want me to go with them, but I refuse. I went in the past. It is always at the same place, a crummy hotel in some nothing city. It’s not even in the city but at an interstate highway interchange outside the city. It has an indoor swimming pool that smells funny. I’m not going to hang around a smelly pool all weekend, that’s for sure. So basically, I’m fucked.

OK, you get the picture. Allie is a very unhappy camper. You can see that as well as I can. Maybe you’ve guessed by now that I’m her father. Well, we’re certainly not going to leave her home, and she doesn’t want to come with us. That’s a problem. If she had a good friend who we trusted, we’d arrange a sleepover or invite the friend along and the two could hang out by the pool. Believe me, the only smell is chlorine. But whatever friends she had have disappeared since the incident. I didn’t know what to do, so I talked with our rabbi. The people at our synagogue have provided the only emotional support we’ve gotten through all of this. I don’t know what I would have done without them. I went to the rabbi, but I wasn’t expecting much, mainly because I knew Allie resisted anything having to do with the synagogue. I can’t even blame her; I hated everything having to do with being Jewish until I went to college and found myself in the most goyish place you could imagine. The nearest Hillel was 120 miles away. One day I realized that my best friends were the few other Jews there. Subconsciously, I guess, we all tried to connect to Jewish things. So I understood Allie’s rejection of anything having to do with the synagogue. When she gets older she will change, at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

The rabbi actually came up with a suggestion. That very same weekend was Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of Trees. It began in Biblical times as a way of determining the age of a tree for the purposes of giving its first fruits as offerings to God and for knowing when you were entitled to harvest the fruits for yourself. The synagogue’s high school youth group was going away to a rustic camp for a weekend-long Sabbath encampment that coincided with the holiday. It would be a Shabbaton, a Shabbat celebration that included music and dancing and sports and games along with prayer and study. Part of the celebration would be a Tu B’Shevat Seder, a special meal featuring all kinds of exotic fruits from Israel. I asked the rabbi a few questions. Who would be attending? Who would be supervising? The usual things any parent wants to know. For myself, I would love something like this; at least I would now. But you couldn’t have paid me enough money as a high school student to attend something like that. I knew what Allie’s reaction would be without having to ask.

The blowup came a few days before we were to leave. “Have you figured out what you are packing for the conference this weekend?” I asked Allie.

“I’m not going,” she declared.

“What are you going to do instead?” I asked, forcing myself to be calm.

“I haven’t decided. I’m staying here,” she said, her voice quavering.

“That’s not acceptable. We don’t leave 16-year-olds home alone for a weekend,” I replied quietly.

She blew up: “Just because of some stupid thing. It wasn’t, like, even my fault! You trust me to take care of Nathan. Why can’t I stay alone? What do you think I’m going to do? Do you think hordes of sex-crazed boys are going to descend on this house? Do you think I’ll invite motorcycle gangs here for orgies? Do you think I’ll invite the hockey team over for a gang bang? Do you…”

She was screaming and shaking with rage. I grabbed her and tried to hug her tightly but she struggled and continued screaming. She is a pretty strong girl and an athlete so it took all the strength I had to hold her in a bear hug. “It’s OK, It’s OK. I love you. I love you,” I kept repeating to her as quietly and calmly as I could while we were flailing around on the sofa. Finally, she stopped struggling and fell into quiet sobbing against me. Only then did I relax my grip a bit.

In desperation I said, “The high school kids at synagogue are going away this weekend to a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton. If you want to go there instead, you can.”

I expected her to tell me to drop dead. There was a long silence. “What’s a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton?” she finally asked, almost in a whisper. I explained it to her.

“Will I know anybody there?”

“David, the youth director, will be leading it. You know him. Otherwise, it’s a lot of the same kids from the synagogue,” I said. She closed her eyes. She didn’t blow it off immediately anyway. At least she was thinking about it. I decided to just keep my mouth shut. God, I prayed silently, please help her.

I can’t believe I let my father talk me into going to this stupid Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton–the New Year for the Trees. Oh great, another New Year celebration. It must have been because I had such a great time celebrating the regular New Year. But faced with the alternative, what else could I do?

We all piled onto the bus–a real bus with a restroom and TV screens, not a crummy yellow school bus like at the high school. We threw our sleeping bags and backpacks underneath. I took a seat by the window. Some girl who I vaguely remembered from nursery school took the seat next to me. She said hi, and I smiled back. David had loaded the bus with a bunch of snacks for the trip–chips, soda, pretzels, candy. He started walking up and down the aisle of the bus tossing stuff to the kids. I don’t know why, but I said I didn’t want anything. The girl sitting next to me, Talia, took a bunch of things. Then she started trading stuff with the girls across the aisles and some boys sitting behind us who I vaguely knew from bar and bat mitzvah classes. Packages of snacks started flying all around the bus. I was sure one of the chaperones would yell at us to stop, but no one did. “Are you sure you don’t want something?” Talia asked, holding out chips and a package of peanut butter crackers. What the heck, I took the chips and thanked her. A moment later one of the guys behind us leaned over the seat and passed me a can of soda.

Then they started, like, showing a movie. It was a pretty lame story about some really popular girl who actually is a real bitch. She had a spell put on her that turned her into a middle age guy. As a guy, she acted like a real obnoxious asshole. In the end, the girl learns what kind of bitch she really had been. Anyway, I’m always happy to see some popular bitchy girl get what’s coming to her but overall the movie sucked. It showed a lot of pushy, obnoxious behavior. Maybe it just reminded me too much of the jerks I knew from school.

And maybe that’s what inspired one asshole who started walking down the aisle shouting hey, who wants to play a dare game like the soccer team at Washington. That’s the name for my school, George Washington High. I was tempted to shout whip it out you asshole and let everybody see how little you got. At that moment, Talia turned to me. “Ignore him. He’s an asshole.” She must have, like, read my mind. A chaperone stood up and told him to shut up and get back in his seat. Well, I guess everyone knew about me. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Anyway, we arrived at the Shabbaton, which was, like, being held at a summer camp that had a couple of cabins and some other buildings you could use in the winter. All the girls went to one big cabin along with the women chaperones and all the boys went to another with their chaperones. I felt like everybody was looking at me. I just wanted to go home. Instead, I took the bed next to Talia. Then we were told to get ready for Shabbat. Suddenly all these girls were running around getting into their best clothes and doing up their hair. My mom had me pack one synagogue dress. It was a little shorter than what most of the other girls were wearing and had short sleeves. Everyone else wore long sleeves. I felt a little funny and besides, it was cold. So, I put on a long-sleeved sweater too. My hair is always an incredible hassle, and they didn’t give us near enough time. One of the girls had an extra scarf that was pretty nice. She loaned it to me and showed me how to tie up my hair so it actually looked almost decent.

Boy, I was really out of it at the Shabbat services and the singing they did for the evening activity. I mean, like, I had my bat mitzvah, but I don’t really know the prayers. And since I stopped going to Jewish summer camp when I started going to soccer camp I don’t know the songs and dances. So I was kind of out of it during the Friday night activities. A couple of girls pulled me into a big circle dance. The boys had their own circle going, sometimes they would circle the girls and sometimes they’d be off on their own and sometimes we would all mix it up in one big mess. The loudmouth asshole from the bus was there but I avoided him. Mostly I stood on the side. Just keep telling yourself: this has to be better than being at that social worker conference. But I wasn’t convinced.

Services on Saturday were not nearly as bad as I expected. Since kids were leading it and doing everything, there was a lot more fooling around, but it was still pretty respectful. I refused to lead any prayers. I’m just not familiar enough with that stuff. But they kept offering me honors. Finally, one boy said, “You have shishi.” At first I couldn’t figure out what he meant or if I even heard him right. I almost thought he was saying something dirty to me, you know some sexual thing. I must have looked confused. “The sixth aliyah. You have the sixth aliyah, shishi.”

What does he expect from me? I can’t count in Hebrew. “I can’t. I haven’t done that since my bat mitzvah. I’ll make a fool of myself,” I protested.

“No you won’t. Anyway, nobody’s judging style points or keeping score. The only important thing is to try. You’ll be great,” he said, and turned away before I could say no.

So I managed to get up to the bimah at the right time and clunk my way through the prayers before and after the aliyah making only a couple of mistakes. Nobody seemed to care. When I left the bimah people gave me high fives. Of course they gave anyone who did anything high fives, even idiot-proof things like just opening the Ark, but who cares. It kinda felt good.

They had a bunch of Torah discussions planned for Saturday afternoon, stuff my father would have liked. I didn’t want to go. Some guys put together pickup basketball in the rec hall. Talia and a bunch of other girls, like, decided to skip the discussions and go for a walk since it wasn’t very cold. They have a bunch of walking trails around here. Talia invited me to join them. We ended up not walking very far. Mainly they just talked about stuff–clothes, parents, their school. I didn’t have much to say. Then they started talking about boys. I especially didn’t have much to say. Really, what the hell do I know? Then one of them turned to me and asked: “What is it like to touch a boy’s thing?

I was shocked. I should have guessed this was coming, but I had kind of forgotten about it. Like, I was about to tell her to fuck off. Then I thought I’d give her a smart-ass answer, like it’s not as much fun as handling a cucumber. But all of them seemed so sincere and interested and nice, and there was no hint they were judging me or pulling any of that catty girl shit you see so much at school. So, I told them the real story of the incident, more actually than I ever told anyone, including the lawyer, the stupid investigators, and even my father. When I was finished, Talia hugged me. Then the others hugged me too. Real hugs. We walked back with our arms linked. The loudmouth asshole from the bus was coming out of one of the Torah discussions and saw us. He made some stupid comment about our skipping the discussion. I turned around and gave him the finger. Then we laughed and kept going.

Saturday night was the Tu B’Shevat Seder, which turns out to be just a meal with a lot of weird fruits and nuts and berries that you eat in a specific order. It’s all supposed to be stuff they have in Israel. You’re supposed to have different wines too, red and white, but because we’re just in high school, they served white and purple grape juice. I’m not surprised they wouldn’t serve us real wine, not that I even like wine. Anyway, you sit in a circle and someone explains each thing and throws in stuff about symbolic this and symbolic that. Then someone else talks about Israel. Then you recite a bunch of blessings thanking God for the different foods we have been given. The whole thing is supposed to be about new beginnings because it’s the New Year for the trees. The new blossoms are first appearing on the plants in Israel at this time of year although there is snow on the ground here. The natural cycle is starting fresh again. OK, new beginnings, I get it. Enough already.

Anyway, you are supposed to try all the different foods. I’m, like, your classic picky eater. My parents keep trying to push weird food on me at home, stuff like tofu, but I like normal food. Well, at a Tu B’Shevat Seder you have to at least try everything. You’re supposed to give new beginnings a chance. So I tried pomegranates, dates, figs, and a bunch of other stuff, even tropical stuff like mangos and papayas that had nothing to do with Israel. The pomegranates had all these seeds and were hard to eat. The dates were sticky, but the figs weren’t too bad.

Something, however, didn’t sit in my stomach too well. After sampling a bunch of things I suddenly felt very hot and my throat and chest felt real tight. One kid was talking to me and stopped in mid-sentence. Then he asked if something was wrong. I couldn’t speak. Everyone else sitting around in our circle looked at me too. I didn’t know if I was choking or what. Then, I jumped up and dashed for the door, not taking a coat or anything. I barely got outside when everything I had eaten in my whole life shot right out of my mouth. It hit the snow immediately outside the door–green, orange, yellow, pinkish, reddish, brown, the whole stupid rainbow–it really looked gross. But I immediately felt better, except my mouth tasted like shit. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Talia.

“Are you OK?” she asked. Then she noticed, “Yuck,” she said, but I already knew that.

“I’m OK now, but I feel really stupid. I have to go back to the room and brush my teeth or wash my mouth out or something. I’m sorry,” I said. Talia grabbed our jackets and went back with me.

After the Tu B’Shevat Seder, there was a regular dance. Everybody was being especially nice to me, but I felt really stupid and had to keep telling people I was all right. Anyway, this time they had a bunch of decent CDs and it was just like any high school dance except smaller. A couple of guys came up to me and started talking about soccer. It turns out they knew the boys involved in the incident from soccer camp and always considered them to be obnoxious assholes. I wasn’t sure what that meant they thought of me, but I just went along. Then one of the boys asked me to dance a slow dance if I promised not to throw up on him. I promised; what the hell.

When I picked Allie up at the bus, I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst, that the Shabbaton had been a disaster. She didn’t say much, which I decided to take as a positive sign. She seemed to be thinking as we drove home. Finally, she said, “Most of those kids are OK.”

Back home I noticed the phone started ringing again. Most dads complain that their teenagers spend inordinate amounts of time on the phone. Allie never spent very much time on the phone, and since the incident almost nobody has called for her, except prank calls. Now the phone was ringing repeatedly. I made a point to answer the phone a few times. When the caller asked for Allie, I innocuously replied, “May I tell her who’s calling?” I recognized the names. It turned out they were girls from the synagogue. One time it was a boy, also from the synagogue.

Tu B’Shevat signals new beginnings. It is a time to start fresh. Here in America, even though we are still in the deepest, darkest part of winter, Tu B’Shevat reminds us that the long, cold winter is coming to an end and a fresh start soon awaits us. You can’t imagine how hard I prayed that Tu B’Shevat would signal a new beginning for all of us but mostly for Allie. One evening, after a couple of phone calls, Allie came downstairs and asked if we were going to services this Shabbat. “Of course,” I said, “want to come with us?” I don’t know how many times I’ve asked her to join us in the three years since her bat mitzvah. She always says no. This time she said yes and turned back to her room. I returned to what I was doing and prayed silently: thank you God for a new beginning.

It’s a good thing that God grants us new beginnings because we all make mistakes. We might be able to patch some things up but we can’t really go back and undo what we’ve done, much as we’d often like to. But God gives us lots of opportunities to start fresh and move forward from there.

For Allie that Tu B’Shevat was indeed a new beginning. She never went back to the high school soccer team. Instead she threw herself into a whole new set of activities involving the kids at the synagogue. Later she went on to an excellent college, spent a year studying in Israel, and now works as a Jewish youth education director, even organizing events like a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton. And, as I mentioned earlier, she has grown to be a confident, attractive young woman with a bright future. She is even seeing a very nice young man. They are bubbling over with plans–marriage, travel, adventure, living in Israel, children.

I want to believe that God cares about each of us and steers our lives in ways we may never recognize or understand. I like to think God is with us, at least when we most need it. Allie was very unhappy before the scandal. I could see that but was powerless to help her. What does a father of a teenager know anyway? The scandal changed everything. It forced Allie to start fresh. And what a difference it made.