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When my kids planted etrog trees, we didn’t know we’d discover the miracle – and precariousness – of life.


A few days after Sukkot four of our children decided they wanted to cut open their etrogs and plant the seeds. My daughter explained that if she planted 20 seeds and all 20 would grow into trees she would own an etrog orchard by the time she was 30.

Naftali, her older brother, explained that if she planted 20 seeds maybe three or four would grow and then only one or two would survive to treehood.

Little did they know that growing etrog trees is not only difficult, it’s nearly impossible. Less than 5% of the seeds get germinated and less than 10% of those grow into trees.

We spent that afternoon carefully cutting through the thick etrog skin to find a multitude of seeds and placed them equally into four soil-filled cups – one for each child involved in this science experiment.

"What do these seeds need to grow?" I asked.

"Sun, rain and soil," my oldest son replied.

My 5-year-old, Efraim, added, "God," explaining that without asking Him to help us, the seeds would never grow.

Devorah answered as only I would have expected her, "They need love. We need to tell them how wonderful they are and how excited we are for them to grow."

The boys scoffed at her answer until she ran over to me crying. But the next morning, I walked into the kitchen to see all four children speaking words of endearment to the cups of soil with the implanted seeds.

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The days turned into weeks and months, and nothing grew. Efraim continued to pray, Naftali asked me daily if I was remembering to water them, and every once in a while Devorah would tell her seeds that she was counting on them to grow into beautiful plants.

During this time I found out I was pregnant.

Whether it’s the first pregnancy or the tenth, the minute the test is positive you’re in love. In love with the potential of what will be in nine months, looking forward with great anticipation when you’ll finally meet your offspring.

After five beautiful children, I felt pretty confident that this pregnancy would be like all of the others. True, I was a bit older, but I was confident that experience would win out over age.

I made my first appointment at around seven weeks of pregnancy and was pleased that all of my blood work indicated that things were progressing beautifully.

Then I went for my ultrasound. The technician didn’t have to tell me that something was wrong. I knew. The embryo was formed however there was no heartbeat. An ominous sign at seven weeks of pregnancy.

She recommended returning in a week for a repeat ultrasound and if a heartbeat was not identified, to schedule a D&C.

That week I followed Efraim's advice about the etrog seeds. I prayed to God. I didn't necessarily pray that the embryo should develop a heartbeat. I prayed that whatever God had in store for us, I would trust Him and love Him nonetheless.

We often think we know what is for the best when in reality we have no idea. An early miscarriage at week seven is much easier to handle compared to having a stillborn after nine months of pregnancy.

During that long week of waiting I tried to remain calm – with myself, my children and my husband. I continuously reassured myself that God loves me and that He only does what is best. He is All-knowing and All-powerful. If we would just trust him like a small child trusts his parents, our lives would be much easier.

As the week of waiting for my next ultrasound ended, I went to water the etrog cups before leaving for the appointment. I couldn't believe my eyes. Three of the cups looked as they had for the past three months – full of soil and not much more. But the fourth cup, Efraim's, had four little sprouts emerging from the soil, full of life and potential.

The week of waiting had brought me closer to God through coming to the realization that whatever the outcome would be, it would be for the best. The ultrasound revealed a beautiful, strong heartbeat. It appeared that the etrog tree was not the only form of life that was going to come to fruition this year.

June 16, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Rafi Schutzer, June 19, 2012 5:26 AM

Great Story! I also have an etrog orchard now

Seven years ago I spent over $150 dollars on my etrog/lulav set imported from Israel. It was the most beautiful etrog I had ever seen. On the first day of Succot, after I had blessed it only once, the 3 year old son of our guests found my etrog and broke off the pitom, the etrog blossom stigma which remains on this type of etrog, rendering it unusable for ritual purposes. I had never cut open my annual etrog before but because I felt I wanted to get something out of the money I had spent, I took out the seeds and pulp and just put them in an unused flower pot outside (I live in San Diego). I actually forgot about them but sometime before Tu B'shvat discovered one morning that I had nine small sprouts coming up. I transplanted them each into its own gallon pot and placed them on my daughters outdoor upstairs terrace to protect them from the rabbits that roam around my backyard. I watered them every week or so for about half a year, but at some point, and I don't know why, I forgot about them. When I did remembered them one mid-summer night, I ran upstairs and out onto the terrace to find six of them dried out and dead and the three which had been in only partial sun, barely clinging to life. I was very disappointed in myself for getting so bogged down by "life" that their care had slipped my mind. I felt as if I had been a bad father. So I gave them all water even though I held out little hope for them. To my surprise and relief, after about a month of watering and checking them every day, not only had the three that had survived in the shade recovered, the other six which I thought were dead started displaying little sprouts coming up in their pots growing up from the roots! These guys were fighters, they wanted to live! I continued to nurture them and with scissors I separated their connected roots and gave each its own pot. I now have (after giving some away) 23 trees. Last Succot, the etrog I blessed and used was one I grew myself. I translpanted

(9) Charlott, June 18, 2012 6:01 PM

Such a touching story.

Thank you for sharing such a touching, profound and personal story with us all. Your timing and message was amazing!!

(8) sam, June 18, 2012 3:19 PM


Great story! NEVER give up hope.

(7) judy, June 18, 2012 2:26 PM

I was thinking of you on Shabbos

and telling my daughter that, of course she can be a doctor and have a family, look at Dr, Gros. My husband sucessfully grew esrog trees from seed in Atlanta, and they actually produced fruit. Nothing is impossible! Warning: big thorns! Love hearing your and Michael's stories from Israel.

(6) marcia, June 18, 2012 12:41 PM


a beautiful story from a beautiful friend. Give my babies a hug!!

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