White House helps save Sukkot holiday, ensuring supply of ritual citrus fruit

With pandemic closures in Italy threatening the supply, White House officials stepped in to help get 100,000 ritual etrogs to America.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Jewish community leaders praised the Trump administration for stepping in to help get a huge supply of ritual etrogs imported to America in time for the Sukkot holiday, Fox News reported Wednesday.

The etrog, the Hebrew word for the citron, a type of citrus fruit that is not grown in America, is one of four plants required for use during the week-long Sukkot festival that began last weekend. The holiday commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jews lived in temporary shelters known as sukkot. It is also an agricultural holiday, celebrating the fall harvest.

Jewish people around the world purchase the etrogs for Sukkot from suppliers overseas, mostly in the Mediterranean area, but the harvesting has to be done under strict rabbinical supervision to ensure quality and proper handling.

Several rabbis who would normally have traveled to Italy to supervise the large crop of etrogs there were worried that due to coronavirus travel restrictions in that country they might not be able to get to Italy to guarantee the shipment.

Jewish leaders contacted President Donald Trump’s Middle East advisor Avi Berkowitz to see if he could help, and Berkowitz contacted the American embassies in Italy and Israel to see what could be done, the report said.

“We are extremely grateful to the Trump administration for immediately responding to our request for assistance after we learned that etrog importers would not be able to enter Italy due to reciprocal COVID Travel restrictions,” Rabbi David Niederman, president of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, told Fox News.

“The Trump administration acted at once when learning of the issue and reached out to the Italian Embassy to ensure that etrogs for the Sukkot holiday can be secured this year, as in years past,” Niederman explained.

“These efforts directly enabled American Jews to utilize the famed and beautiful Italian esrogim that have been used by Jews for centuries,” he said, using the Yiddish pronunciation for the etrogs.

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Israel said Jewish and evangelical leaders called him to thank the Trump administration “for saving their Sukkot.”

“This summer many of them called with grave concerns that Sukkot would be another casualty of COVID-19 as they wouldn’t be able to access the famed Italian citrons this year,” said Aryeh Lightstone, a senior advisor to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. “I knew if anyone could accomplish this it would be Avi Berkowitz at the White House.”