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Ceremony for Tree of 40 Fruit symbolizes hope, renewal

In remembrance of Sept. 11, a crowd of people stood quietly around a tree, waiting for its buds to blossom. The group came to bless the tree and to bless the community.

An interfaith service of blessing was hosted on the Quad at Syracuse University at noon on Tuesday afternoon. A symbolic Tree of 40 Fruit stood as a symbol for SU’s remembrance of 9/11, planted to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy last year.

Six members of Chaplains’ Council gave brief speeches and led the service. The service was set up near the mural on Huntington Beard Crouse Hall, where the tree was planted. After the speeches, everyone attending the service was encouraged to fill a cup and water the tree. Some passers-by stopped and joined.

The Tree of 40 Fruit is a work of art created by Sam Van Aken, an associate professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, as part of his living garden. Van Aken said the tree is a metaphor for acceptance, globalism and multiculturalism, presenting both hope and renewal.

He tried to create one tree that can produce 40 types of fruits. He began with a root stock and had buds from different fruits, including peach, nectarine, plum and cherry, grafted on it. He went to local orchards in Central New York to collect varieties of fruit buds.

“If you look at the history, 40 is a number that is beyond counting,” Van Aken said. “It does occur in the Bible, but even in the U.S. government, it symbolizes a lot.”

Van Aken has worked on the tree for five years and needs another two years to finish budding and grafting all 40 kinds of fruits on it. There are 18 varieties of fruits on the tree now, still moving toward reaching its goal of 40.

People of diverse faiths were welcome to participate. Ministers and chaplains from various spiritual affiliations came to give speeches. The whole service lasted around 25 minutes.

Van Aken said the main difference from last year’s service is that the tree was presented on the stage in Hendricks Chapel in 2011, whereas this year, it was placed outside.

Tiffany Steinwert, dean of Hendricks Chapel, chose the tree as the symbol for the event. She liked the idea that SU is a community that has been grafted by hope through the tragedy. She said the tree is what students will pass by, reminding them of Sept. 11 and encouraging them to look forward to the future every day.

“The goal of this year is really to help us not simply remember this day as a past event, but see it as a call in the future so that we might live in the future with hope,” Steinwert said. “The tree itself symbolized the hope of unity and diversity for us.”

Steinwert also said the interfaith blessing is a continuation of last year’s 10th anniversary, when the tree was also used.

Ginny Yerdon, administrative specialist of Hendricks Chapel, set up the tree’s stand and prepared the blessing. She thought the tree was a good way to memorialize 9/11.

“Even for people without faith, they can understand the symbol,” Yerdon said. “That tree is a symbol of growth.”

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