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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What worked for you?

I love the holiday of Sukkot.  I especially love the rituals in synagogue involving the Arbat HaMinim (four species... see definitions below) where everywhere you look you see bright green and flashes of yellow amongst the worshipers.

But one of the things I always mean to do at the end of the Sukkot Holiday is ask friends about their successes and failures in keeping their Arbat Haminim fresh and usable.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, the Arbat HaMinim consist of:

Lulav (לולב) – a single ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree
Hadass (הדס) – three branches with leaves from the myrtle tree
Aravah (ערבה) – two branches with leaves from the willow tree
Etrog (אתרוג) – the fruit of a citron tree

Some assign physical symbolism to each of the species, with the most common correlation being:

Lulav = the spine
Hadass = the eye
Aravah = the mouth
Etrog = the heart

Now, the Etrog and Lulav both have their small vulnerabilities. 

For instance, some Etrogim come with a 'pitom' (a little protrusion on the end opposite where it was attached to the tree) that can render the fruit problematic' (by many opinions) if it breaks off.  I always go with the 'Pitom-less' etrogim in order to avoid this issue. 

Moving on... by many opinions, the tip of the Lulav should not be split, and in fact just before the holiday you can see shoppers expending ridiculous amounts of time and energy using magnifying glasses to make sure that the tip is not broken or separated. 

But in truth, many, many respected Rabbinic authorities agree that you have to work pretty hard to make either the Lulav or Etrog truly unacceptable for use on the holiday.

Which brings us to the two problem children of the four species family:

Pretty much everyone I know has a method they rely upon for keeping the Hadassim and Aravot moist enough to retain their leaves (a requirement).  These methods range from putting the branches in vases of water between uses, to wrapping them in alternating layers of wet paper towels, plastic wrap and tin-foil.  I've even heard of putting one or both in the fridge!

The problem is that nothing seems to work.  By the first morning of Sukkot the synagogue smells slightly moldy from the dead, black leaves of the Aravot.  And by mid-week, the place smells like a poorly tended compost pile.

Now, I happen to live in a place where the myrtle leaves hold up pretty well, and the willow branches can be obtained fresh every day of Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days).  Not only that, but because we keep only one day where there is a prohibition of work (including obtaining new branches) the freshness issue isn't as critical as in the old country. 

But I can't even keep the willow semi fresh for just the first day of the holiday!

So I'm asking - while it's still fresh in your minds -  what method do you use to [try to] preserve your ritual greenery on Sukkot... and how reliable is it (really... be honest!)?

Posted by David Bogner on October 22, 2008 | Permalink


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We do the wet paper towel, wrapped in foil, in the fridge. It works reasonably well.

But what I find really interesting is the Rambam in More Nevuchim. He explains why God chose these specific species. One of the reasons he gives - "because they keep fresh for seven days"! I wonder how the Rambam did it.

The other interesting reason he gives is that "everyone could procure them". I wonder what he'd say about today's prices - particularly the etrog...

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Oct 22, 2008 2:44:36 PM

Dave -- The arba minim are not so expensive in Israel! A kosher set (not the "highest level" but kosher nonetheless) can be had for 80-85NIS and unless you're really strict, can get mehudar for under 100NIS. (let's say $20-$30, which is still a lot of money to spend for just one week)

Trep - The Aravot either need to be in the fridge or you need to buy new ones every day! I either wrapped the aravot in a moist towel and then put it in a fridge or put it in the plastic bag mine came with, sprinkled it with water, and put it in the fridge. The fridge is what preserves it. I don't have problems leaving everything else out, but the aravot definately need to be in the fridge.

Posted by: amechad | Oct 22, 2008 2:57:43 PM

I put the whole mess in the fridge every day after I come home from shul. So far, we've been able to avoid eating the etrog or squeezing it into our tea (the box helps). And while the aravot get a little sorry-looking toward the end, well, it is only one week. And the leaves come off more easily on Hoshana Rabah when we whomp 'em.

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 22, 2008 3:11:48 PM

My husband lays a damp towel in the bath, lays the whole lulav set on it, and gently folds the towel over it. He unwraps it every day for shul. Of course life gets a bit complicated if someone actually wants to use the bath. Then the whole caboodle is lifted out for those minutes and put back again afterwards. The aravot usually need replacing anyway halfway through Sukkot.

My father used to take out the aravot every day and keep them in a baby bath in the garden. The Hadassim were kept in a vase of water.

And the etrog? Well, it's wrapped up like, um, an etrog!

Posted by: annie | Oct 22, 2008 4:02:36 PM

I've never tried it with branches, but flowers stay fresh much longer if you cut the stem diagonally while it's in water, because the sap seals the cut end very quickly in the open air, making it unreceptive to any further water. Putting aspirin in the water seems to help too, but that might be an old wives' tale / coincidence.

Of course, I have no idea if either of these are allowed, so probably ignore me...

Posted by: Tanya | Oct 22, 2008 4:17:59 PM

I trained as a florist, so here are some tips which may work. For a woody type stem (this includes roses etc), you need to put in quite warm water first for 10 minutes, followed by cold water, as it forces the water up the stem. Cutting a stem on a 45 degree angle is a must for any flower or foliage put in a jar of water. If the cut is flat, the stem rests on the bottom of the jar and water is harder to absorb.

Posted by: Noa | Oct 22, 2008 7:45:26 PM

Isaac does the wet paper towel-foil-fridge method. It usually works pretty well, but this year he forgot one day and had to find new aravot.

Posted by: Baila | Oct 22, 2008 8:22:23 PM

So this year I succeeded better than ever before in keeping my willows fresh: straight after shul, I put 'em back into their plastic sleeve and splashed a drop of water (a second or two of lightly running water!) into the sheath. Then it was left in the fridge until the morning.

The problem that I did have was losing leaves as I pulled them out of the little pocket on the lulav (know what I mean?!), so I went through three sets.But not due to dryness, which is a victory in itself!

Posted by: DS, UK | Oct 22, 2008 9:51:30 PM

I wrapped the bundle in a slightly damp paper towel, and then in tin foil around that. I then put the whole thing in the plastic carrying case, and put it in a shady room when I wasn't using it. Actually, this is the first year when the aravos lasted the whole way through!
It's a little after the fact, but here is a beautiful article about some of the deeper meaning of the 4 minim, and a meditation/cavana one can have when shaking them: http://nachalnovea.com/breslovcenter/articles/article_lulav.html
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, and that it will be a year of blessing for all of us.

Posted by: Yosef | Oct 22, 2008 10:11:14 PM

we used to float the lulav etc in the bath, but now we keep the hadassim and aravos in the fridge before yom tov and on erev yom tov, my husband binds the sets together and wraps them in a damp teatowel. We keep them in the plastic conatainer in which they come and they seem to be fine. we kept some spare aravos in the fridge in a bag with a small amount of water and substituted as necessary.

Posted by: mrs belogski | Oct 22, 2008 10:29:52 PM

First of all - forget about the date-frond basket thingy. Most people don't know how to use them correctly, and they wind up stripping leaves off the twigs.

Just make date-frond rings. Then attach myrtle and willow to lulav at 2 points - the base and towards the tip (you can add more rings higher up on lulav as per your custom). When you "take the lulav" in shul, you hold all 3 with your hand in the middle (midpoint of myrtle-n-willow).

1) Keep myrtles in fridge until Sukkot eve - most are now packaged in sealed plastic, which you should keep closed until the last minute (save long plastic bag that newspaper/bread comes in if you are buying or harvesting loose myrtles).

Cut fresh willows on Sukkot eve. Store in plastic in fridge if more than 1/2 hour will pass before you assemble the lulav.

Assemble lulav on Sukkot eve - I shower early and do this in the sukkah just before going out to shul. Ruler, clippers, and scissors.

2)Fully moisten flat-weave/waffle weave dish towel (not terry cloth). Wring it out. No, really - wrrrriiing it out. No water should be dripping.

Spread towel flat. Lay lulav on long edge of dishtowel, which should cover myrtles and willows. Gently roll up. Place in plastic lulav holder.

When not in use, keep this in a cool, shady place - if night is cool, I put it out in the sukkah. Otherwise I keep it under our stairs where the wine bottles are. I used to try to fit the whole lulav in the fridge, but this limits the lulav you can buy, and I found it not necessary.

Sprinkle with water as towel dries out. Just sprinkle - too much water will make leaf tips turn black. You want humidity - not drops of water. To avoid moldy smell, switch towels.

3) Count on replacing willows at least once - usually after Shabbat chol-hamoed, when the towel tends to dry out. It's pretty easy to loosen the date-frond rings and retighten them.

Posted by: Ben-David | Oct 22, 2008 10:37:54 PM

I buy the branches of myrtle and willow in long plastic bags. When I'm done with the lulav for the day, I put each of the branches back in their bags and store the bags in the refrigerator. I reassemble as needed.

Posted by: Rahel | Oct 22, 2008 11:43:16 PM

I had just asked the same question on my blog albeit less eloquently:

How to keep Aravos and Hadassim Fresh?

Posted by: Jacob da Jew | Oct 23, 2008 2:08:20 AM

I don't know if they have these in Israel but here we have Veggie bags...plastic bags with perforations in them you use in the fridge to keep your vegetables fresh. These work perfectly, just the way they do on parsley or peppers. Just make sure they don't end up in your salad!!

Posted by: Tovah | Oct 23, 2008 2:24:30 AM

This works pretty well, for a few days - keep your lulav/arava/hadas combo together in a plastic case with a zipper. Keep a damp towel in the bottom of the case. Store in a cool place.

Posted by: cyberdov | Oct 23, 2008 2:27:01 AM

Ummm...Last I checked, it was three hadassim and two aravos...I find that the only thing that works is prayer and dumb luck for the preservation of the above.

Posted by: babyrabbi | Oct 23, 2008 2:40:06 AM

For the past few years, storing the hadassim and aravot in their original plastic sleeves, inside the fridge, has worked pretty well. No need to add water. Of course, that's just this household.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Oct 23, 2008 3:26:08 AM

I can second "Putting aspirin in the water seems to help too"

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Oct 23, 2008 4:43:27 AM

Dave (Balashon)... I'm usually a big Rambam fan, but in this case I think he was the perplexed one. :-)

amechad... Actually, I get mine through the Va'ad Ovdim in my company for 34 shekels a set, so it really isn't about the money. It just irks me that I can't seem to keep my branches from either drying out or rotting.

Elisson... Um, not all of us have a walk-in fridge that can accommodate the Lulav! ;-)

annie... I tried something similar one year and ended up with a pile of mold. I must be doing something wrong.

Tanya ... I think flowers work on a different principle since they are cut much closer to the root and the willow and myrtle branches are, well, branches of a tree. I appreciate the advice, though. The aspirin worked like a charm... my headache is gone. :-)

Noa... Sadly, much of the problem stems (pun intended) from the fact that the aravot and haddasim are cut days well before I ever see them, so I can't control any of the important stuff.

Baila ... I think next year I'm just going to get new ones every day and just resign myself to dead/moldy ones for the first morning of yom tov. :-)

DS, UK ... Sounds like what I've tried several times. Maybe the cooler/damper climate there helps.

Yosef... Amen

mrs belogski... As in full bathtub full of water? And you didn't get a moldy swamp full of rotting vegetation???

Ben-David... Good advice. BTW< I usually don't use the woven holder thingy but this year for some reason I used it and ended up strippng a lot of leaves off the branches. Next year 'll go back to your method.

Rahel ... Me too, but the aravot turn black. Hmmm.

Jacob da Jew ... Great minds think alike... and fools never differ. :-)

Tovah ... They have them but I don't think they are long enough to accomodate the branches.

Tovah ... I'm sneezing just thinking about the mold spores that must produce. :-)

babyrabbi... Serves me right for trying to write a coherent post the morning after Hakafot Shniyot. Thanks.

tnspr569... Yup, tried that. Didn't work for me.

Wry Mouth ... I don't know about the vegetation, but the asperin worked like a charm on my headache. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 23, 2008 8:40:03 AM

not a full bathtub, but a couple of inches of cold water. No mouldy swamp... Apart from the obvious hassle when people wanted to bathe, there was also the (chutz l'aretz)issue of having to take the lulav out for a bit so it didn't get "pickled" when we had a 3 day yomtov. the tea towel option is much easier!

Posted by: mrs belogski | Oct 23, 2008 11:37:13 AM

My father uses the moist paper towel/alunimum foil/fridge method and that has generally worked well enough to last the entire week. The one note I would add is to place the whole 'Koishekle' (basket thingy) as one unit in the fridge without pulling out the individual hadasim and aravot

Posted by: Aharon | Oct 23, 2008 3:18:03 PM

Late joining the party, but maybe it'll help for next year.

Moist and cool is the way you want to go, but people tend to overdo both. Too much water, and your leaves will rot; too cold and they freeze and fall off.

Use the door of your fridge, NOT the back of the bottom shelf (or, in cool climates, keep outside). Prior to use, keep in the plastic sheaths as suggested. During chol hamo'ed, wrap in SLIGHTLY damp towel (paper or cloth), wrung out till no drops come out.

Posted by: efrex | Oct 24, 2008 6:08:04 PM

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