An esrog crisis was averted over the last few days, thanks to co-ordination between the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Board of Deputies and leading esrog-importer Mr Stephen Colman.
The first batch of esrogim, some 600 fruits, was seized at Manchester Airport by Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) officials, as there are now new stricter regulations about importing citrus fruits with stalks on them. The residual stalk (the uketz, called a peduncle in English) must not be more than 2mm long, which is much shorter than is usually the case.
The Board of Deputies, working with the importer, DEFRA and APHA, suggested that the seized esrogim could be retained at the airport and then taken to a Manchester shul, where they could be trimmed to meet the new requirements before being distributed further. It has been arranged that other importers, who were similarly unaware of the new regulations, will be able to have their esrogim sent to a specified location, such as a shul, on the condition that the fruits are destroyed after Yom Tov.
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, esrog importers and our partners at the Board of Deputies of British Jews for coming to this pragmatic arrangement which will ensure that the U.K. Jewish community can fully celebrate Sukkos 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 as 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, commented, “The Board of Deputies has made a timely intervention which has potentially saved Sukkos. 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 esrogim after the festival.”
Leading esrog importer, Stephen Colman, said, “You can imagine my shock and concern when I was told that my first consignment of esrogim had been held at Manchester Airport with a view to their destruction or deportation; and my fear when I realized that this could have implications for all 10,000 esrogim due for import to the U.K. this year. This would have had a serious impact on the ability of Jews to observe Sukkos.
“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 Sukkos’. We hope that most or all of the esrogim 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 them after Yom Tov to ensure compliance. I will be advising my customers to return their esrogim to me for disposal according to DEFRA’s instructions. I will also be working with our suppliers in Eretz Yisrael and elsewhere to ensure we have no repeat of this in future years.”
Mr Colman told Hamodia that it is extremely difficult to cut the stalk to the required 2mm length when taking it off the tree, and that by trimming it further there is a risk of making the esrog passul. The current arrangement to import esrogim under license is only for this year, so new arrangements will have to be made in time for next Sukkos.