The Miracle Seed – Martin Lemelman

The Miracle Seed by Martin Lemelman
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on March 28, 2023
Genres: Children's, Children's Educational
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The thrilling true story of an ancient plant, wonderfully reborn in the modern era through the hard work of two female scientists.

Thousands of years ago, in a time of rebellion, the Jewish people fought against their Roman rulers. The brutal Emperor Titus ordered the destruction of everything precious to the Jews: towns, villages, even their beloved Judean date palm trees. Centuries passed. The Jewish people were scattered, and the Judean date palm faded into extinction. Then, in 1963, a team of archaeologists uncovered two-thousand-year-old date palm seeds at the ruined fortress of Masada. For another forty years the seeds waited—until 2004, when Israeli scientist Dr. Sarah Sallon had a big, courageous idea. What if those ancient seeds could bring the Judean date palm back to life? Dr. Sallon recruited her friend Dr. Elaine Solowey, and their amazing experiment began…

Intertwining world history, the scientific process, and colorfully detailed artwork, The Miracle Seed follows the Judean date palm’s journey from tragic extinction to incredible rebirth. Captivating and hopeful, this graphic novel is an unforgettable look at perseverance and survival in the face of impossible odds.

The Miracle Seed is an incredible story. In 1963, archaeologist Yigael Yagin and his crew excavated Masada, where they found—among other things—a clay pot containing seeds of the extinct Judean date palm. The clay pot went on display. The seeds went in a drawer in university storage. Forty years later, in 2004, Sarah Sallon learns about the ancient health properties of the date palm. Was it myth or something more? The only way to know was to try breathe life into these ancient seeds. Working with Dr. Elaine Solowey and under the approval of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Sallon decides to try. On January 25, 2005—Tu B’Shavat, the Jewish New Year of Trees—Dr. Solowey plants three Judean date palm seeds. One sprouts. In June 2020, for the first time ever, naturally-created Judean date palms flower, bringing the palm out of extinction.

Martin Lemelman tells the story in a graphic novel format, beginning 2,000 years ago when Masada fell and the Roman Empire crushed the Maccabees and ended Israelite independence. He moves forward to the excavation of Masada, then finally to Sallon and Solowey’s effort to revive what had been a culturally important plant for Israel. It’s a gripping story told in an accessible and clear way. Lemelman includes photographs of the actual trees that have grown and talks about, in an afterword, of how learning this story made him want to use his skills as a graphic novelist to share it and make it known.

It’s not just the story about two scientists sciencing a plant back to life, it’s a story of overcoming oppression. It’s women scientists seeing value in something nobody else value in. It’s the defeat of 2,000-year-old violence that sought to destroy everything of Jewish origin and identity. It’s the resilience of a Jewish cultural treasure that analogizes the resilience and revival of the Jewish people.

The Miracle Seed is mind-blowing. I can’t wrap my mind around how it’s real. And I don’t know, if I had read only a news article about it, that I would have understood the significance of it quite like I do having read this book. I googled “Judean date palm.” I read the Wikipedia article. I read a couple of news articles and press releases. They just don’t capture how history is literally brought to life. They tell the facts, but Martin Lemelman and The Miracle Seed tells the story with all of its thematic depth and glory. This is the perfect book for schools—Arbor Day read, anyone?—or for anyone with kids interested in archaeology, science, or plants.