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A Tree Is Uprooted in Brooklyn

A tree grows in Brooklyn. And that’s the last thing you need

AH,Brooklyn. I could write a book about this place. (And I did.)

Were a foreigner to step foot into a chassan-kallah apartment in Brooklyn, he’d do a double take. Is he seeing extreme opulence or dire poverty? How can the two possibly coexist?

They could. In Brooklyn, a couple could live in a mouse-infested mousehole on the sixth floor of an apartment building with an elevator that occasionally works, while displaying their Italian silver in Italian furniture in what they call their “dining room.” The hinges on their pantries and closets could be rusty and jammed, but still be filled with every size and shape OXO container and organization bin on the market. Their radiators could hiss out century-old dust along with too much heat while the young lady (or her cleaning lady) fits exquisite linens over down quilts.

The sweet young couple could squeeze around a table that barely has room for their plates while the diamonds on the girl’s throat, ears, finger, and wrist glint. The building’s lobby could be dingy, its walls sporting 85 layers of brown and pink paint, while the UPS guy litters the space with YOOX packages.

Because while Brooklynites were blessed with Immense Feinschmeckerkeit (if not Immense Wealth), inherited from their Hungarian ancestors, they were stricken by the closest of confines.

Really though, we don’t even need that much space. Give us a few square feet, we’ll fill it up with porcelain and quartz and go on to produce elaborate meals.

Give us a few more, we’ll cram the space with Italian furniture (and parshah sheets).

Give us a musty cellar, we’ll fix it into a delightful playroom, laundry room, Pesach kitchen, and guest room.

Give us a tiny patch of outdoor space — bless you — we’ll line it up (okay, strew it about) with bikes, trikes, scooters, and helmets.

We’ll take whatever you give us and make the most out of it.

But one thing you should never, ever give us.


(There. Bold, caps, and italics. I should be a step closer to forgiving our broker for sneaking that in when we weren’t looking.)

Don’t get me wrong. A tree is a lovely thing. It has so many advantages. It’s pretty. It provides shade. It offers privacy. It lends natural beauty to a space.

But in Brooklyn, where space is such a commodity, the last thing you need in your backyard (uh, maybe right after bumble bees and raccoons) is a tree.

You definitely, definitely don’t need the kind of monster of a tree that has a sub-tree growing out of its trunk and through the fence between your and your neighbor’s backyards. You don’t need its giant roots that protrude like bad knuckles all over your sacred back property. Although the truth is, you wouldn’t even know they’re there, because the yard is so overgrown with random bushes and weeds.

Considering this is Brooklyn and you can’t let a kid play in front of the house for 15 seconds without supervision, and considering you need a space to build a succah, and considering you’re lucky enough to have a backyard; sad as it may sound, for all its loveliness (and after you received a heter to do so from a posek), you’re going to want to get rid of that tree.

Where do you start?

A Step-by-Step Guide to Removing a Tree in Brooklyn

  1. Rob a bank.
  2. Ask every single person you know who has a backyard what kind of flooring they put down and how it’s serving them. Then ask them again, just to drive them and yourself crazy, and if possible, pay them a visit and ask all your questions again.
  3. Inquire about a gardener who’s a tree-removal expert. (There are so many in Brooklyn. As long as there’s a tree left in Brooklyn, tree-removal experts will remain in high demand.)
  4. Invite a tree-removal expert to come down to see your tree and write up an estimate for the job.
  5. Invite 30 other tree-removal experts down to prove that the first one’s price was reasonable and move right along to #6.
  6. Rob another bank.
  7. Discover that in addition to removing that lovely tree, in order to put down any flooring, you’re going to have to level the ground. Yes, the weeds were there for a purpose, to fool you. No, the work is not included in the tree-removal price.
  8. Discover that in order to build a kosher succah, you’re going to have to trim trees from neighboring backyards as well. Acquire necessary permission.
  9. Discover that those weird twigs growing around the electricity wires and tightly entwined in the branches of your unwanted tree are a vineyard. Call down a fruit tree halachah expert, and try to confer between him, your rav, and the tree-removal gardener. Try again. And again.
  10. Get quotes on paver stones, concrete, turf, fresh grass and maintenance — material as well as installation. Compare, contrast, drive yourself and the whole world crazy all over again, making everyone second-guess their own outdoor flooring decisions and add you to their Blocked Caller list.
  11. Sadly realize that the summer season is over and since the tree still stands stubbornly erect in Brooklyn, you’re going to have to reconfigure your Succos plans.

But the next summer — at the tail end of the next summer, when there’s hardly any time left to enjoy it — it actually happens. The tree comes down, limb by chunky limb, to the fascination of all your city-slicker children. The stump gets grinded, the ground gets leveled, a square ton of both sand and gravel is laid down and the elected turf is spread over the area and nailed down.

At last, you have a backyard.

You bring out some chairs, you even hang a hammock in the corner where the fences of three neighbors’ yards meet.

Then you sit down with a coffee and a book. You take a sip, you turn a page. This is a dream.

You read a few lines, squinting, trying to make out the letters. The sun’s rays beam down, all but blinding you. You put the book down.

Well, you can just relax now. This is your backyard.

But then the neighbor’s kids line up near the fence and stare at you.

Suddenly, you crave a little shade, you’re desperate for some privacy, and you can’t help thinking:

What would it take to plant a tree in Brooklyn?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 826)

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