Friday, October 13, 2006


Today being Hoshana Rabah (“The Big Hosanna”), the final day of the Sukkot festival, it’s yet another in a long parade o’ Jewish holidays this time of year.

[Well, technically speaking, Hoshana Rabah is not a separate holiday in and of itself. It’s the last day of Sukkot (AKA Succoth), the “Feast of Tabernacles” to those familiar with the King James Bible. It’s Chol ha-Moed - a weekday that falls during a festival - so the holiday restrictions against certain kinds of work do not apply...but HB is treated a little differently, with the morning service taking on some holiday-like aspects.]

Oh, say, what fun to be a Jew!
Hoshana Rabah: what to do?

We’ve built our little Succah-huts -
Our Christian neighbors think we’re nuts.

We’ve eaten meals out there all week.
(But it’s no place to take a leak.)

We march around and chant Hosannas
Whilst holding citrons (not bananas).

The citron is not good to eat:
Think “big-ass lemon with cellulite.”

We wave our palm fronds in the air -
Willow and myrtle leaves get in our hair,
[Despite them little hats we wear.]

Whack willow-switches on the floor
And say “Go forth and sin no more.”

Oh, say, what fun to be a Jew!
If only all the goyim knew.

The citron pictured above (the “big-ass lemon with cellulite”) is a thick-skinned citrus fruit, a symbol of the harvest. It is known in Hebrew as an etrog (plural: etrogim) - in Ashkenazic Yiddish as an esrig. Hyper-observant Jews have been known to pay exorbitant amounts - hundreds of dollars - for the most beautiful specimens; you may see them in parts of New York examining the golden fruits with jeweler’s loupes. Nuts, I tells ya.

After the holiday is over this evening (tomorrow and Sunday are yet another couple of holidays, but that’s another story), the esrig goes back in its box to dry gradually. Owing to its thick skin, an esrig will dry out nicely without decomposing over a span of months. Studded with cloves, they make dandy pomanders; without cloves, a mummified esrig is perfect for hucking at the rabbi when his sermon runs overlong.

One thing you typically don’t do with an esrig is to eat it - although I’m sure my Israeli friends will tell me otherwise. Esrig marmalade, anyone?

Esrig tree very pretty
And the esrig flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor esrig
Is impossible to eat...

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