My lulav that I am shaking this year was grown in El-Arish, Egypt. I was a little taken aback when I saw the sign in the lulav and esrog shop that proudly announced that their lulavim this year were from Egypt; then again maybe they have always been but I just did not notice. Is anyone growing esrogim in Syria?
I know some people in the “business” and they travel to places like Italy, Greece, and some other European locales but I don’t know specifically about any esrog crops being cultivated anywhere in the Arab world. I’ve observed trees that produce esrogim in front of homes in Bnei Brak and I’ve seen many trees that proudly sprout aravos, including several in some of my neighbors’ backyards. I’m not sure where those pretty little hadassim grow but I do not believe I have seen them being grown domestically.
Then it occurred to me that after the revolution in Egypt a couple of years ago that eventually brought Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power, there was an urgent crisis dealing with the export of lulavim, not just to Israel but to just about all Jewish communities around the world.
So it seems that it is a good thing that those million or so people decided to gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square a few months ago in order to urge the military there to dispose of Mr. Morsi and once again mount an effort to bring “change we can believe in” to Egypt. So it is a politically fractured society with multiple political parties tugging and pulling in just as many varied directions seeking to promote their own interests. And as a result, if nothing else in this complicated unpredictable situation, I know this: my lulav managed to easily leave Egypt this year.
Now tourism to Egypt has plummeted more than 90% since it has become so plagued with violence protesting a wide variety of matters. It is just not a place that you want you be with your sunglasses on and a camera hanging from your neck. But despite all the difficulty, I was glad to see the sign in the store advertising that they were featuring Egyptian lulavim. Have you really ever thought about, or are you really concerned with, where your lulav was grown? Frankly, up until a few days ago, I cannot recall giving this matter much thought.
Apparently, in order to grow and sell lulavim, you need a consistently warm climate and a very cheap price, which I think more than anything is what Egypt offers. The word out there is that Egypt exports nearly one million lulavim each year to Israel and an assortment of other countries. That was until the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the Egyptian refusal to ship any lulavim that year, to indicate that they were rethinking the not-so-great but nevertheless peaceful relations Egypt had had with Israel since Anwar Sadat signed the original Camp David Accords in 1979.
The odd thing in this scenario was that for decades—and even when there were problems in Egypt-Israel relations—the lulav growers in Egypt kept doing their thing, because the Arab-Israel conflict was always one thing while business was and still is business. Why should a 3,000-year struggle over the land get in the way of religious observance? Arab countries and Muslim countries like Iran and Turkey always make it a point to say that they have no issues with Jews, it’s just Zionists and Israel that stick in their craw.
That was until the Muslim Brotherhood came into the governing picture two years ago. For them, the distinction between the two was a little bit more blurred. They were not going to facilitate Jewish religious observance, which would have meant allowing Jews in Israel—and maybe even here in New York—to obey G‑d’s commands by performing the mitzvah of lulav and esrog and thereby curry favor with the Master of the Universe. Oh no, not on the Muslim Brotherhood’s watch.
I know people who own fields in places like Greece, Italy, Morocco, and Israel that just grow lulavim—palm fronds—or hadassim and aravos, or esrogim. I can’t talk to them this week because they are so wildly and crazy busy. Suffice it to say that the dealers can afford to charge you $75 for an esrog and throw in a free lulav because the lulav from Egypt might cost them a dollar or even less. So now you can understand why there was a serious problem in 2011 when Egypt temporarily refused to export their palm plants.
So why not just use lulavim grown in Israel, where the climate is just about the same as it is in Egypt? Well, there certainly are lulavim that are grown in Israel, but they are more expensive than the Arab imports. In addition, there is an issue every seven years with Shemittah, which forbids Jews from benefiting from anything grown on Jewish-owned land during that period of time. There are popular formulas that are used by some to circumvent that cyclical restriction, but they are a point of contention and debate.
So, my esrog this year is a nice one from Israel. I inspected quite a few of them and this one caught my eye. I placed it back in its packaging once or twice but as I perused the stock I kept coming back to this one. It is sleek with a nice high point and a vibrant yellow with slight tinges of light green that make for a striking contrast. My esrog also features a pungent, almost sweet aroma that conjures up so many memories, and as the chag moves along that aroma always seems to intensify, making the whole event that much more enticing and exciting.
Though the esrog is the most costly of all these necessary components, the blessing that we make on the four items held together in our hands is al netilas lulav, that is, on the perhaps $1 in value imported Egyptian lulav. There are many esoteric and even Kabbalistic reasons as to why that is, and the Talmud in Tractate Sukkah explores the issue as well. From our mundane perspective, the lulav is the greatest in size, stands tallest, and dominates in a sense that entire horticultural arrangement. It represents our presence and domination in the material world.
This year, the likelihood that your lulav that you take for granted was grown somewhere in Egypt is greater than it has been over the last couple of years. And that may be because the Egyptian people are freer this year than over the last couple of years as well. So don’t forget that this is more of an economical statement than a political one. The lulavim from Mitzrayim aren’t free yet, just very inexpensive.
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Back To The Endo Future
So Dr. Michael Chesner calls a few weeks ago and suggests that I might want to try a new cutting-edge piece of medical equipment that his Long Beach, N.Y. cardiology practice recently purchased. Actually, he says, it is an Israeli invention that has recently been approved by the appropriate medical regulatory agencies here in the U.S. to essentially look into your body’s future.
Stating it as simply as possible for the layman, Dr. Chesner explains that a simple 15-minute test can determine whether you will develop a cardiac disease or be a candidate for a heart attack 7 to 10 years down the road. How can I say no or that I’m not interested in that? The Endo Pat test cuts off the blood flow in one of your arms with one of those commonly used blood pressure cuffs and then, after about 5 minutes, you feel the numbness in your lower arm that you sometimes develop when you sleep for an extended period with your arm in an awkward position. The tightness of the cuff is then released and the fashion in which the blood once again flows through your arm tests the integrity of the blood flow through your arteries.
Through the few minutes of the test, you just relax and let it all happen. The index finger on one of your hands is inserted into a probe which monitors the return of the blood through your arm. In a brief talk with Dr. Chesner this time, and in previous conversations about our cardiovascular system, I have learned that there are many less-publicized factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease or a heart attack at some point.
One of the chief factors that is often ignored by doctors is the healthy way, or lack thereof, in which your arteries conduct blood flow through your body. Needless to say, our bodies are extremely complex pieces of machinery that, while functioning quite miraculously, also function with a lot of scientific and medical sense.
My wife, Esta, accompanied me to Michael’s office and she was tested too. She scored high, with good and efficient blood flow, while mine was more on the borderline of the scoring system. It seems that our veins and arteries react to a number of situations in other areas of our lives. The objective here is to allow the blood to flow freely and unencumbered through our systems. As a result of diet, hereditary realities, and even environmental factors, our arteries react differently.
If your blood flow is determined to need improvement, there are various simple and manageable ways to address that situation. There are of course diet and exercise, which are always important and are the primary—though often neglected—aids to a healthy cardiac system. Dr. Chesner gave me a nitric oxide supplement that I have begun to take every day and I am also reading a book on the subject. It seems that nitric oxide is a natural agent that does nothing but signal the arteries not to constrict and relax, thereby facilitating healthy blood flow. It is a little powdery substance that I place in a small cup of water that goes down easy.
It is quite fascinating to sit with a medical professional and be told that you are fine right now but that there are indications that there can be some problems over the next decade if they are not addressed. Knowledge is power. I’m going back in about a month for another Endo Pat test. To reach Dr. Michael Chesner, call 516-432-2004. v
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