Board of Deputies, DEFRA and leading etrog importer strike deal to ‘save Sukkot’

The UK’s Jewish community will not suffer a Etrog-free Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles) this year, thanks to coordination between the Board of Deputies, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and leading etrog-importer Stephen Colman.

The first batch of etrogs for this year’s festival was seized by Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) officials at Manchester Airport several days ago due to new, stricter requirements around the importing of citrus fruits – like the Etrog – with stalks on them.

Many Jews use the Etrog (citron), which is waved with palm branches, willow and myrtle leaves, to fulfil the religious requirements of the festival – and any shortage of the fruit would make it very difficult to do so.

Working with DEFRA, APHA and the affected importer, the Board of Deputies proposed that the first batch of 600 etrogs be held at Manchester Airport and taken to a Manchester synagogue, where the fruits’ stalks could be trimmed to meet the stricter rules.

Exporters who are not yet aware of the new regulations will be able to send their fruit to a location – usually a synagogue – provided the fruit is destroyed after the festival.

“Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “I would like to thank DEFRA and APHA officials, etrog importers and our partners at the Board of Deputies of British Jews for coming to this pragmatic arrangement which will ensure that the UK Jewish community can fully celebrate Sukkot while ensuring that our precious plant health is protected. We plan to stay in touch with the Board of Deputies and importers as the season progresses to ensure this runs and smoothly as possible and work together to prevent any similar issues in future years.”

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “The Board of Deputies has again made a timely intervention which has potentially saved Sukkot. The waving of the lulav (palm branch) and etrog with hadas (myrtle) and arava (willow) is an essential and iconic part of the festival and it was vital to ensure the supply of etrogs for this year. I want to praise our staff team, Stephen Colman and officials at DEFRA and the APHA for their work on this.

“I would also call on the community to ensure that they follow instructions about how they need to dispose of etrogs after the festival and on suppliers to ensure that etrogs are imported in full compliance with regulations in the years ahead.”

Leading etrog importer Stephen Colman, said: “You can imagine my shock and concern when I was told that my first consignment of etrogs had been held at Manchester Airport with a view to their destruction or deportation. Or my fear when I realised that this could have implications for all 10,000 etrogs due for import to the UK this year. This would have had a serious impact on the ability of Jews to observe Sukkot.

“I cannot thank the Board of Deputies enough for their swift and effective intervention with Government, and DEFRA and the APHA for their support and help in making this possible. I think it is no exaggeration to say that we may just have ‘saved Sukkot’. We hope that most or all of the etrogs will now meet the import regulations, but I will be working with my fellow importers to ensure our customers understand what they need to do with the etrogs after the festival to ensure compliance, and working with our suppliers in Israel and elsewhere to ensure we have no repeat of this in future years.”

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