You’d think an etrog in Hasidic Brooklyn would be easy to find.

etrog esrog citron matthue

After all, when I lived in San Francisco (Jewish population: high; etrog population: maybe 2 dozen or so?), choosing an etrog was easy to select: your synagogue (Chabad, because nobody else wanted to bother with ordering them) would get a box of etrogim in the mail, and choosing an etrog would be pretty simple: the first person in line got the first etrog out of the box.

If you’ve ever seen the (best) film (ever) Ushpizin, you know that choosing an etrog can be involved, strenuous, even obsessive. Everything from the color to the texture to the bumps means something — a tiny horizontal indentation toward the bottom curve, for instance, is known as “Eve’s Bite,” since one school of thought says that the etrog was the fruit that caused Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. And let’s not underestimate the prime fact: Jews are obsessive-compulsive about, well, everything.

So here’s me on Sunday, going through every one of the dozen etrog shops that spring up in Crown Heights for exactly a week and a half, transformed bodegas and corner stores and even one barbershop. The only thing I really know is that I like to have a pitom, that tiny stem that looks like an outie, on top of mine. And it just so happens that, among Chabad, people try not to have a pitom.

I went into my friend Levi’s family’s store, set up in the neighborhood matzoh bakery. They always somehow forget they know me until I’ve caused them even more stress than the last time, upon which they’re like, “Oh. You..” and vanish to another room. But they’re actually really nice. In this instance, they were almost out of pitomified etrogim, except for….

“These are Moroccan, but you probably don’t want them.”

“Moroccan?” My synagogue is Moroccan. My eighth-grade term paper was on Morocco. I love Morocco.

“Moroccan. They’re not like Israeli or Italian etrogim; they’re kind of, how do you say, shvach. Lazy etrogs.”

“They are lazy etrogs,” I repeat, understanding not at all.

Posted on October 16, 2008

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