|Sukkot Memories of my Father|
I always think of my father at Sukkot because in his last years he became an Etrog farmer. One year after Sukkot, he cut open an etrog and planted the seeds in two egg cartons with soil and covered by Saran Wrap. The seeds sprouted and eventually grew into a grove of 40 Etrog trees that he planted in the yard behind my parents’ home on Marco Island, Florida. The trees flourished. My Dad installed a drip irrigation system that watered and fertilized each tree.
Over the years he learned some tricks to get the best fruit. For example, wrapping the individual etrogim in burlap protects the fruit’s skin from getting scratched and scarred by the sharp thorns on the tree’s branches. Another trick is to pick off about half of the etrog flowers shortly after they blossom. This causes the tree to grow fewer but much larger fruits. If a tree normally would produce 60 small fruits, by plucking off half the blossoms it would yield 30 very large etrogs. Sometimes they would grow as big as footballs. One year when I was a Rabbinical Student at Hebrew Union College, my dad gave me four crates of giant etrogim to give to the students and rabbis at the seminary. This caused a big stir as few people had ever seen such large etrogim before.
My Dad became an expert on all things Etrog, like what to do with an etrog after sukkot. He made Etrog Schnapps for Hanukah. He made Etrog jam to put in Humantaschen at Purim. He stuck them with cloves to create Havdalah Besamim (spices). The idea was to get the etrogim to become a part of Jewish life beyond Sukkot. It was almost like giving the etrog an after-life beyond sukkot.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 super storm descended on Marco Island. My parents survived the storm, but the Etrog Grove was destroyed. Only a few badly battered trees remained. Not long after this my father died. I miss him, especially on Sukkot.
Sukkot concludes with Yizkor, our service for remembering loved ones who live in our hearts. This year we will observe Yizkor on September 28th at 10am via Zoom.
Rabbi David Wilfond