PHOTOS: The Etrogim of the Maghreb

Aviram Valdman

Aviram Valdman

Photographer at The Tower Magazine

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~ Also in this issue ~

~ Also by Aviram Valdman ~

From the Blog

The Tower’s photographer journeyed to Morocco to find the world’s finest Citrus medica specimens.

The etrog is the jewel of Sukkot. One of the “Four Species” of plants once brought to the Temple in Jerusalem to mark the holiday, it is now a highly prized religious possession, and observant Jews will spend considerable time and expense in search of the “perfect etrog.” A type of citron, the etrog is yellow, bumpy, and substantially larger than the lemon, which it superficially resembles. Its growth and preparation are regulated by exacting religious laws, and it has been grown for centuries according to these precise specifications.

Tower photographer Aviram Valdman traveled to a most unusual place in order to see this process in action—Morocco. The North African nation was once home to an ancient and proud Jewish community. But after the founding of Israel and the political upheavals in the 1950s, most Moroccan Jews left for Israel and France. They now constitute one of the largest minorities in the Jewish state, and have retained an attachment to their traditions, which include unique prayers, rituals, and even holidays.

Valdman journeyed through the city of Marrakesh to the Atlas Mountains and then to the Sahara Desert. Along the way, he visited the spot where some of the world’s most precious etrogs are grown. The plant is cultivated by Moroccan Arab workers for a company owned by a Moroccan-Israeli family that has grown etrogs for over a hundred years. As the fruit comes into season, the family returns to Morocco, where they oversee the process. The etrog is carefully picked, as those in pristine condition are the most prized. It is then wrapped just as carefully for shipping and sold for substantial sums to buyers in New York.

The journey took Valdman deep into the Atlas Mountains, a 1,000-mile range that reaches heights of over 13,000 feet. Finally, he arrived at the arid sands of the Sahara. There he saw the stark beauty of the natural world, with waterfalls cascading down from the mountain peaks and small communities living much as they have for centuries.

In their depiction of ancient traditions surviving against the background of an unforgiving but beautiful landscape, Valdman’s images seem to capture the essence of Morocco and its people.

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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower