An Etrog Tree Grows in Lower Merion

— by Hannah Lee

It’s hard to grow fruit organically in Pennsylvania, because we’re fortunate to get plenty of rain.  So, farmers have to resort to using pesticides at less-sensitive times (such as before the flowers bloom) or Integrated Pest Management (IPM, which involves the judicious application of cooperative bugs). The beautiful etrogim (citron fruit) that Jews buy for the celebration of Sukkot are often laced with pesticides, so caveat emptor! You should not use them blithely in food preparation afterwards. Therefore, I was delighted to learn of a local man who’s been dedicated to growing etrog trees, and, after about seven years of experimentation, he’s succeeded in nurturing trees that bear fruit.

More after the jump.
Last year, Tablet published an article about a Presbyterian man, John Kirkpatrick, in California who is the only large-scale farmer of etrogim in the United States. Last month, the Jewish Telegraph Agency published an article on Matt Bycer, a Jew in Arizona who now raises about 200 trees. Working independently, Stephen Asbel of Lower Merion has been raising etrog trees for his own pleasure.

Stephen Asbel works as a lawyer (and has written for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice), but he has a passion and a green thumb for the etrog. After much experimentation, he now germinates them on the radiator in the dining room. Once the sprouts poke through the soil, he moves them to the sunny windowsill in the kitchen. He used to use grow lights in the basement — so many, says his wife, Lenore, that she worried that the police would raid them on suspicion of illegal horticulture!

During the warm months, he transplants them to moveable pots and brings them outdoors. However, the Pennsylvania winters are too harsh for the plant that hails from the Mediterranean (Greece, Israel, Italy, Morocco, and Yemen), so he brings them indoors. It’s important to not over-water the trees, so he lets the soil dry out between waterings. A successful strategy is the application of Dr. Earth’s Fruit Tree Fertilizer, about every three months.

A challenge for these trees growing indoors is the dryness of our homes, especially during the winter months when we use central heating.  The dry air renders the trees susceptible to spider mites. Stephen hoses down the plants when they’re outdoors and he routinely mists them when they’re indoors.

The Asbel home — perfect for their family — is not large enough to house all the healthy trees he’s been able to bring to maturity. To my delight, when I called them to ask about getting a tree for my family, he was agreeable. After all, just as the proud guardian of new puppies from a beloved family pet, he wanted just the right kind of caretaker for his arboreal babies. Lenore delivered my tree yesterday and I’m super excited about making etrog jam, if not etrog vodka, in the future.

I now want to name my tree, but I am stumped for a suitable name, as the species is botanically both male and female, which means it can pollinate itself. Stephen pointed out that the etrog is not mentioned as such in Tanach, only pri etz hadar (fruit of the majestic tree), so he suggests that I name my tree Hadar. I love it, but my husband says not to name it until the tree survives a month in our home.

The Power of Pacemaker Donations

The good news for developing nations is that many are beginning to get some of the infectious diseases that have long plagued their populations under control.  Unfortunately, the burden of disease is shifting to chronic diseases.  Of particular concern is cardiovascular disease.  From 1990 to 2020, it is expected to increase by 137%.  It is impacting people in developing countries at younger ages than here which affects their economic productivity and therefore the well being of their families.  

In the United States, when someone develops a heart condition, pacemakers and defibrillators (ICDs) provide fairly easy remedies.  In developing nations these devices are not an option when they cost upwards of $8,000 and the average wage is between $50 and $100 a month.  It is estimated that 1 to 2 million lives could be saved or enhanced with a pacemaker or defibrillator.  

“How can we get these people pacemakers?”  you may be asking yourself.  Well, there is something we can do to help.  People may opt to donate their pacemakers.  A study conducted by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that 90% of their participants would be willing to donate their device to be sent overseas, but few knew that the option existed or how to go about doing so.  If a person is receiving a device upgrade (i.e. from a pacemaker to a defibrillator) and the device has enough battery life left, a patient can request to have the device and donate it to charity.

More after the jump.
Just as people having wills and advanced directives, they can have living wills for pacemakers with directions on how to handle the device post-mortem.  These living wills are unofficial documents through which a person can designate what she wants done with her device after death, including donating it to charity.  Furthermore, it is not infrequent for funeral homes to have devices sitting around which they have removed prior to cremation since the device will explode when heated to high degrees and damage the crematorium.  Funeral home directors may also ask families if they would be willing to donate the pacemaker of a loved one to send overseas.  

There are a few options for people wishing to contribute to the cause.  Currently the Penn Bioethics Society is collaborating with Dr. James Kirkpatrick in collecting devices, analyzing their battery life and handing them to doctors who go overseas and will implant the devices directly.  Project My Heart Your Heart of the University of Michigan is also collecting devices in a project for the study of these devices overseas.

If you are individual who wishes to donate your pacemaker, be sure to include it in your living will and tell your family members your wishes.  If you are a Funeral Home interested in participating in the collection, we would be happy to send a representative to pick up the devices.  Please contact Chelsea Ott with any questions.