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Unlikely Etrog Grower Helps American City Dwellers Connect with Sukkot Ritual

Etrog_at_the_Market_of_the_4_Species_at_Bnei_Brak – There is something special and ironic about seeing the iconic and illustrious yellow etrog (citron) growing in the frozen tundra of America’s Mid-Atlantic region during the winter. It seems an impossibility, but Darrell Zaslow of Upper Park Heights, Md., has made it reality.

Nestled in greenhouses throughout the greater Baltimore region are hundreds of etrog trees with kosher etrogim. The project, which began 20 years ago as an experiment, has blossomed into a hands-on lesson in Jewish law for thousands of visitors each year.

Zaslow laughs as he recounts that first Sukkot 20 years ago, when he decided to harvest the seeds of his holiday etrog. He opened his etrog and extracted the seeds, putting them between two wet paper towels. Next thing he knew, they sprouted.

“I sprouted about 10 little plants and of the 10 little plants, a couple of then survived the long, cold, lonely winter,” Zaslow tells

The following year, Zaslow (a lawyer by trade) rounded up his friends’ etrogim and purchased about 500 others that would otherwise have been discarded after Sukkot. He spent more than two months harvesting all of the seeds, and from those he produced another set of 1,000 two-inch by three-inch etrog plants. Those plants became 100 trees.

The first trees flowered into greenhouse orchards—and an educational tool Zaslow could have never have dreamed up.

“I’ll never forget that first morning I crawled through the greenhouse and saw a flower on one of the trees,” he recalls.

As his plants grew, Zaslow started borrowing space from farmers, placing the trees outside his own backyard. He says it is a “massively expensive” endeavor to make this work in an area like Baltimore, where temperatures hit below freezing.

“Citron trees are very tender trees. Thirty, 28 degrees and the fruit will die and the tree will die after that,” he says, explaining that farmers use propane to keep their greenhouses an optimal temperature to keep produce alive through the winter. “It could easily be hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month if I were to try to do this alone. The beauty of it is that there have been many bitter, cold winter snowstorm nights where it has been 10 degrees outside with wind at 30 miles an hour, and the only thing separating the weather and the trees from that air is a little bit of plastic, 6 millimeters thick. And they survive. Wow!”


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