Photo Credit: courtesy, Rabbi Mendy Lipsker, NYC
Etrogim ripening in Calabria

A New York businessman and former Etrog vendor has become one of the few voices of optimism this month, as those who involved in distributing and selling the prized citron express fears there won’t be enough to meet the demand this year.

The Etrog is one of the “four species” specified by the Torah – along with the Hadas (myrtle), the Arava (red willow branch) and Lulav (palm frond) – to be used during special prayers and rituals in the synagogue (or for women, in the Sukkah) on each day of the week-long holiday, except on Sabbath.

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But a difficult winter in Italy this past January destroyed much of the Etrog crop, creating havoc in the market for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when Jews use the fruit for ritual purposes. Some maintain a tradition to use an Etrog (or “Esrog” as Ashkenazi Jews call it) only from the Calabria region of Italy, one of the areas that was hardest-hit by winter storms.

Enter real estate business owner Rabbi Mendy Lipsker, who worked as an etrog distributor and vendor for more than 25 years, and who told JewishPress.com on Thursday that he believes “all will be well.”

It’s not that the crop wasn’t damaged: Lipsker confirms that a conversation with his “Esrog farmer” in Calabria, validated all the reports. “At least 70 percent of this year’s crop was indeed destroyed this past winter,” he says. “But in my experience, even the non-Jewish farmers admit it’s all in God’s hands. They may have a surprise, and a new crop may soon have beautiful, clean Esrogim,” Lipsker points out.

However, Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim are still facing a difficult season, he acknowledges. “The bigger Esrogim that Chabadnikim are accustomed to. . . there definitely will be a problem because there is not enough time for those to grow big,” he admits.

“My prediction is that the smaller Esrogim will at the end work out. . . But no one knows for sure,” he adds.

“Many people may use Esrogim this year from Eretz Yisroel. Many take from Eretz Yisroel anyway, because of the kedusha (ed.- sanctity).”

Regardless of whether new citrons grow to a reasonable size in time or not, vendors will still face a challenge when the crop reaches the market and buyers are trying to make a decision, he says.

“The problem is for the Esrogim sellers in New York. It will be hard to charge $100 for an Esrog that looks like a $25.90 Esrog.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.