Farewell to Mahaneh Yehuda’s ‘Etrog Man’ Uzi-Eli Hezi

Hezi was the third generation in his family practicing Torah-based spiritual medicine. His mother was an herbalist; his father was a spiritual healer

 UZI-ELI HEZI prepares an etrog-based drink at his store in the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
UZI-ELI HEZI prepares an etrog-based drink at his store in the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Just as the etrog (citron) is a holy citrus fruit, Uzi-Eli Hezi – the ebullient medicine man and owner of the popular Etrog Man juice bar in the Mahaneh Yehuda market – was a tzaddik (righteous man) whose tonics, food products, soap, shampoo and sprays for the skin, teeth and tongue were acclaimed by his many thousands of loyal customers. Hezi passed away June 14. He was 80.

Hezi was the third generation in his family practicing Torah-based spiritual medicine. His mother was an herbalist; his father was a spiritual healer

Hezi traced his genealogy back to the 12th-century Sephardi sage, Maimonides, known by his Hebrew acronym Rambam. The etrog, the health guru used to say, has 70 healing properties according to Maimonides, and is efficacious for its antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Among Hezi’s popular drinks were “etrogat” – a blend of etrog and leaves of the mild stimulant khat, and “Rambam’s drink” – a mixture of dates and bitter and sweet almonds. Other ingredients commonly used included ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, pomegranates, figs, passion fruit and wheat sprouts. His food products included his popular etrog infused helbeh (fenugreek) – a Yemenite dip.

The traditional medicine man managed a four-hectare grove of etrogim in Eshtaol 25 km. west of Jerusalem that was planted by his mother after the family was airlifted from Yemen in 1949 as part of the clandestine Operation “On the Wings of Eagles.” Hezi preferred the green, grapefruit-sized Yemenite citron over the smaller yellow variety that is popular as one of the four species during the seven-day Sukkot festival.

 Etrog Man stand in the Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem.  (credit: ALDEN TABAC) Etrog Man stand in the Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem. (credit: ALDEN TABAC)

In recent years, Hezi and his three children opened Etrog Man branches on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and in Tel Aviv at the corner of Allenby and King George streets near the Carmel market.

“The etrogim keep me healthy and happy. I haven’t seen a doctor in 15 years. I pay for health insurance for nothing,” Hezi told The Jerusalem Post in 2010. He also helped hundreds of “patients” with health issues, sharing stories about aiding infertile women and those suffering from chronic depression.

“I deal with their problems immediately with the help of family knowledge from Yemen, according to Maimonides’ teachings. I enjoy seeing people feel better, hearing that their pain is passing and that they are waking up from fatigue,” he told Haaretz in an interview at the opening of his Tel Aviv stand seven years ago.

“As part of a long trip to Europe, I visited local farms and learned all about the local cuisine and organic farming,” he explained. “I have more than 500 books on the subject in the library. Before I opened the market stall, I went through health fairs and malls, and gained experience. I knew the Israeli taste, sweet-sour-peppery. Over the years I also learned what Israelis suffer from. These include migraines and anxiety, stress, fertility problems, sinuses, lower back and upper back pain.”

Apart from the medicinal and nutritional value of his potions, Hezi was beloved for the dollops of love and advice he doled out.

“When you enter the Etrog’s Man kiosk the staff are smiling, dancing and sending out amazing vibes. I started taking cold press ginger, turmeric and pepper shots two years ago. I have not had an asthma episode since. The Etrog Man is a real Jerusalem story. He will be dearly missed,” said Randi Zohar.

“Uzi-Eli was not only the Etrog Man but the khat guy,” said Jonathan Schussler, referring to the quasi-legal shrub the leaves of which are widely chewed in Yemen, Somalia and Arabia. “I loved the drinks he infused with khat.”

“It’s part of the Yemenite culture, an herb,” added Chaya Etta Gross.

“They had wonderful face cream,” said Joyce Raymond who would stock up on the product during her annual trip from Toronto, Canada. “It was yellow. It really smoothed out my wrinkles.” ❖