A Calabrian etrog tragedy

A Calabrian etrog traged

This year Moshe, a resident of Kfar Chabad, wanted to play by the rules. Instead of smuggling as he had done in previous years he wanted to go legit. Moshe is an importer of the "Yanova etrog" an expensive variety of citron grown in Calabria, a region on the southwestern tip of Italy. This fruit is sought after by pious Jews, especially members of the Chabad-Lubavitch hassidic movement, for use in the religious festivities during the seven days of Succot that begin on Friday night. As commanded by the Torah, the citrus fruit is held together with a date palm frond, myrtle branches and willow branches and shaken up and down and back and forth during the morning prayer services over Succot. But according to Moshe, who used a fictitious name to protect his identity, his attempt to behave lawfully backfired. "My entire shipment of etrogim was ruined by Agriculture Ministry officials last Thursday," Moshe said this week. "The shipment arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport where it was inspected by officials from the Agriculture Ministry and then they sprayed it with some kind of pesticide. A few hours later the etrogim started rotting. "I lost everything, everything. "I think they did it on purpose to protect local growers from competition." The ministry said in response that "the State of Israel does not normally permit imports of citrus fruits due to various pests, insects and diseases that can be transmitted to humans, animals and plants... "In an unusual move, this year the Agriculture Ministry permitted the import of etrogim from Calabria out of consideration for the desires of the public. To allow this import, however, the Agriculture Ministry's plant protection agency must provide careful supervision aimed at preventing contamination. "The etrogim that are imported are inspected upon arrival and undergo a fumigation treatment. This treatment is administered carefully and has been proven to cause no damage to fruit. All the etrogs were treated in this way." The ministry spokeswoman said that she was not aware of any case in which a shipment of etrogim was destroyed. "Without receiving shipment details we have no way of providing more specific information. However, any shipment found to be contaminated is either returned to its source or destroyed immediately." The type of etrog grown in Calabria has a long history. Chabad hassidim in particular go to great lengths to obtain the expensive fruit, which is sold in the US for about $150 each and in Israel for slightly less. The founder of Chabad hassidism, Rabbi Schneer Zalman of Ladi (1745-1812), claimed that the etrog from Calabria was the one used by Moses the very first time the holiday was celebrated in the desert. The last rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was careful to use only etrogim from Calabria. Part of the reason for the fruit's popularity is the long tradition from generation to generation of supervision that has ensured that the fruit was never grafted with a lemon. This is a common practice that makes the delicate citron more robust but that also disqualifies the fruit for use in the religious ceremony during Succot. The etrog from Calabria is also known as the Yanova etrog, because it was commonly obtained by Jews in the Italian port city of Genoa as early as the Middle Ages. Every year in the summer a delegation of rabbis who provide supervision during the picking of the fruit arrive in Santa Maria Del Cedro, a town in Calabria. The name means "Saint Mary of the Citron." Moshe, meanwhile, has learned a lesson from his ordeal, which has caused him a financial loss of thousands of dollars. "Next year I am not going to be a good boy. Like everybody else, I will smuggle the etrogim into Israel in suitcases and sell them in the black market. This proves that when you try to play by the rules you get burned."