I’ll be honest. Growing up, connecting to Tu BiSh’vat was challenging for me. I think it was the bokser (carob sticks). I mean I loved making those trees in school. There were the ones made out of cotton balls and the ones made out of newspaper that you could actually pull up so they would grow while we sang “Hashkeydia Porachat.” I even enjoyed some of the fruit that filled the brown paper bags given out on Tu BiSh’vat. But bokser? Really now! In all my years at school, I don’t think I recall anyone actually eating the bokser. And if they did, it was just a response to a dare. But year after year, that same bokser would show up in the bag. And it really may have been the same bokser every time; nobody would have noticed if it was one week old or ten years old. Either way, it held the same appeal.
My husband likes to stock up on all different kinds of fruit to celebrate Tu BiSh’vat on the day itself and on the Shabbos before. This year he made the mistake of sending me to make this purchase. The supermarket had aisles upon aisles of every Tu BiSh’vat type fruit you could possibly imagine. And then some. I found loose fruit and packaged fruit. Bags with one type of fruit and sectional platters with a variety of fruit. Sugar-coated and natural. Everything from fruit to nuts. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough but I can’t say I noticed any bokser. When my husband does the Tu BiSh’vat shop, he comes home with a large assortment of fruit, most of which I find transformed into rock form when I clean for Pesach. So, in order to prevent the annual “Find the Fruit and Give it the Boot” game, I came home with a measly sampling of a few dates, banana chips, walnuts, and those irresistible candied kiwis. This was deemed grossly inadequate, and several other family members went out in order to stockpile more goods destined for the garbage.
I neglected to mention the difficulty I have shopping in the Tu BiSh’vat fruit section. The issue is coconut. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have a deep aversion to coconut. But here I am, being honest again. I’ve never outgrown the queasiness I felt as a child just from hearing the word coconut. And when I see a coconut, a very unpleasant sensation begins to circulate around my teeth. And don’t even ask what happens if I accidentally taste coconut. I’m not going to be that honest. The expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” does not apply to coconut. The shell, which looks like an oversized rat, is much more revealing than the beautiful contrast of brown and white on the inside, which is much more pleasing to the eye than it is to the palate. Yes, judge it by its cover. Just seeing coconut in the supermarket makes me want to run. Fast.
When I was engaged, my parents and I sat with the wedding caterer to decide on a menu. Truth be told, the menu was not of much interest to me. My only request was that there be no coconut whatsoever served at my wedding. No shredded coconut sprinkled on fruit salad. Not a speck. Nothing! We were all in agreement. You can imagine my surprise when as dessert was being served at my wedding, a waitress walked right past me carrying a huge white coconut cake to present to my aunt and uncle who celebrated their anniversary that same night. I wanted a total refund.
My husband and I attended our nephew’s Bar Mitzvah when I was pregnant with our first baby. It was early on in my pregnancy and it didn’t take much to get me green and nauseous. When I returned to the dining area feeling much better after I had thrown up all I had just eaten, I found our nephew formally making the brachah of “shehechyanu” on a big, round coconut. The relief I had felt was short-lived. I always tell our nephew that he need not worry - one day I will forgive him. I know I will.
Pesach is a scary holiday for people like me. (I’ve been told that coconut aversion is not an uncommon phenomenon.) Pesach recipes are rife with coconut, and you just never know where it will show up. For many years, my home was a coconut-free zone, and I viewed it as an act of betrayal if anyone in the family ate coconut “out.” My poor children were deprived of macaroons. But after many requests, I caved, and allowed my husband to buy macaroons for the sake of our children. (What a mother won’t do for her child.) But years before I surrendered, a nephew of ours joined us for Pesach. He went shopping with my husband and asked to buy macaroons. My husband wanted to please our nephew, but he knew that by doing so, he would be putting himself in great danger. He bought the macaroons and asked my nephew to hide them in his suitcase. This sneaky, undercover, behind-my-back operation was declassified and revealed to me only about two months ago. I’m not so sure I can forgive this one.
My family members understand my situation and have taken it upon themselves to protect me as much as they can from coconut exposure. They warn me about foods even when they have the most remote suspicion of coconut content. But as hard as they try, sometimes the warning comes too late. My husband and I once attended a sheva brachos. The coconut they served for dessert was disguised as a chocolate cream pie. My husband ran across the room O.J. Simpson style, hoping he would not knock over any other guests in his path, as he tried to take hold of my fork before it entered my mouth. He really gave it his all, but by the time he got to me, I was red in the face and coughing uncontrollably. People thought I was having an allergic reaction. So embarrassing.
This past Shabbos, my husband put out a full tray of fruit and nuts. I stuck with the real desserts: cake, brownies, and butterscotch pie. But to my utter surprise, all the fruit got eaten this year. What a well-deserved “I told you so.” We’ll have to replenish our supply for Tu BiSh’vat. Maybe I’ll do the shop and buy all sorts of new items. After all, it’s Tu BiSh’vat. New beginnings. Maybe I’ll even look for bokser. Maybe I’ll even buy coconut. No. No. Not coconut. Anything but coconut.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.