A fair shake: Lulav and etrog sets gaining popularity among locals

When Chabad’s Rabbi Yosef Levin first came to the South Bay in 1980, he ordered 25 lulav and etrog sets to satisfy the requests of those observing the festival of Sukkot, a seven-day holiday that, this year, begins Oct. 2 at sundown.

Nearly 30 years later, Levin’s order has more than quadrupled. Experience has taught him to order twice as many sets as he has advance orders for; this year, that means he ordered 150 sets.

But don’t be fooled. For Levin, selling lulav and etrog sets is more than just business. It’s an opportunity for outreach.

“The most beautiful part is meeting all the people in my office and helping them put the lulav and etrog together,” he said. “It becomes a beautiful ritual.”    

Taking the lulav and etrog in hand is considered to be a mitzvah and a way to connect with God during Sukkot. The lulav consists of a palm frond, myrtle branch and willow branch. An etrog, the fruit of a citron tree, completes the four components, which are held together and shaken as a special blessing is recited.

Most lulav and etrog sets originate in Israel, though some are grown in Italy. According to Jewish text, angels carried Moses to southern Italy, one of the lushest places for fruit, where he plucked an etrog.

The prices for lulav and etrog sets that Levin sells range from $40 to $350, depending on the quality. Symmetry, vibrant color and a large pitom, the stick at the top of the etrog, are features that can increase the price tag.

Levin said he’s pleased to see the requests rise year after the year, regardless of how much money the South Bay Jewish population spends on the lulav and etrog sets.

The orders “are a mark of growth for the community,” he said. “To think when I got here there were five or six people building sukkot, and now there are many. I’m amazed at all the people who observe Jewish holidays.”

A number of other local Chabads are also selling lulav and etrog sets, including Chabad of the East Bay and Richmond Torah Center.

Also, close to 200 orders for lulav and etrog sets have been placed at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto through Shirley Bob. 

Bob, whose South Bay Judaica store shut its doors permanently this year, made the decision to help the community for fear that “they wouldn’t know where to turn.”

“Bob and Bob was always reliable, dependable and got our deliveries on time,” said Bob, who co-owned the shop with her daughter, Ellen Bob. “I want to be helpful.”

For those who simply forgot to order their lulav and etrog sets, Bob said she would have extras, though there is a waiting list. Sets range from $40 for the “standard” to $55 for “prima.”

On pickup day, which is slated for Thursday, Oct. 1, people can pick out their own etrog and lulav, and take as much time as they need. “It’s a wonderful time of year,” Bob said. 

At Chabad of the East Bay, office manager Sharalyn Stebben ordered 75 lulav and etrog sets. She said demand isn’t up from last year, though she plans on selling every set. Each costs around $50, but there are a few exceptions for those who want to spend a little more. 

“I’ve had people spend an hour here just looking through all of them to find the perfect one,” Stebben said. “It’s fun for me to see how they take such pride in selecting what they want. It’s really a big deal.”

To place an order at Chabad of Greater South Bay, call (650) 424-9800; for Chabad of the East Bay, call (510) 540-5824; and for Congregation Kol Emeth, call (650) 964-4568.