The Etrog Adventure

1 Oct

Do I have a story for YOU!

As you know I have been on a bit of a scavenger hunt for an etrog.  Somewhat misguided some might say, but I enjoy these little challenges.  Call me crazy.

My very proper waspy mother, when she first sat at the table with my in-laws, whispered to me:  “This is like a Woody Allen movie!!” 

Well mom, you should have seen me today.

First I made a lame attempt and went to the city’s largest fruit market.  In a city such as mine, where there is a large Jewish population, I would have thought that I might find my etrog at one of the specialty fruit vendors.  Not so much.

So I drove to the Jewish neighborhood and parked my car.  All around me were stores that I had never had any reason to go into.  Except of course to get a dozen of the best bagels on earth! 

Now this neighborhood is a blend of the ‘Ultra’ Orthadox, Orthadox, and Conservative Jewish population.  Walking around, not really knowing what I was looking for, I saw a sign!!

sukkahdepot

Now this was promising!  I walked into this Judaica shop and was welcomed by the young lady behind the counter.  Hello!  She said.  The owner of the shop echoed her welcome but the other customers kept their distance.  I could almost hear them thinking:  “What is this person doing here??”

I felt like I needed a story.  Not the true one about my Cook like a Yenta project, but one that made my etrog quest one worthy of their time.  With the whole store staring at me, I panicked.   Forgot about the story.  Blurted out:   “I am looking for an etrog!” 

Silence.

“You see, I am invited to a friend’s Sukkah this weekend and I thought I might bring them something nice.  And I heard about this fruit, so I thought maybe I could give them one as a gift!” 

The owner of the shop smiled in a most understanding way and said:  “I see.  They are upstairs.” 

Up I went.  At the top, there was a small room with many beautifully bound texts and a very studious gentleman with two young men with him, standing around a table of boxes.  Uh oh.  No other customers.  No other non-Jewish people looking for etrogs.  I was completely out of my depth. 

“How can I help you?”  The gentleman asked.  I repeated my story with a bit more flourish and he looked concerned. 

“It is strange to bring an etrog – most homes have one already before they invite people over.  But here, have a look.”

Look at what?  I am thinking.  All I see are boxes with hebrew writing and pictures on them.  He opened one.  “How about this?”

Success!!  I found an etrog.  I was so proud of myself.  “That will be perfect, thank you.”  He turned the box over to show the price.  ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS. 

FOR A FRUIT.

Where am I?  Japan?

I apologized, said I didn’t know they were so expensive.  He took this opportunity to facilitate a learning moment as much for the young boys as for me.  I learned many things about the significance of this etrog.  That the Tree of Knowledge was an etrog tree.  That God intended for all trees to be etrog trees.  I joked that with our winters they might not survive here.  I don’t think he found that funny.

Down the stairs I went and the owner asked me if I had found my etrog.  I explained my predicament, that I could not afford an etrog, and he suggested I visit the ‘cheaper’ Judaica store down the street.  What a guy.

So off to the less expensive store I go.  No big Sukkah Depot signs here.  Nope.  Just a lot of texts and menorahs and, well, Judaica. 

“Can I help you?”  asks the man behind the counter.  This time I had a better story. 

“I am a freelance journalist (sort of true) doing a piece on this fruit….”

“Aha!!  The ETROG!!”  he exclaimed.  Seriously.  I am not overstating his reaction.

He led me to the back room where there were three ladies assembling Sukkah kits that included palm fronds, etrogs, and some branches I couldn’t identify.  And look… right there on the counter… the fruit of knowledge.  A whole bunch of them. 

etrogbasket

He picked one up.  “Would you like to hold it?”  he asked.  Clearly, he shared my enthusiasm. 

As lovely as his etrogs were, I still could not afford the $60 price tag.  I noticed a box by his feet of some etrogs that for whatever reason were not good enough to sell.  Perhaps he would let me buy one for a lower price?

He said no.  That he had to return them to ‘his guy’.  The etrog broker, I assume.   I thanked him for his time.

Just as I was about to leave, he changed his mind.   “Pick one.” 

I did.  And for the low, low, price of $10 is was mine to take home.  It had lost the little knobby bit at the top but was otherwise perfect.

Success!

Now, what am I going to do with this thing?

etrogs

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