Roots and Fruits // A tale of esrog jelly on Tu B’Shvat

As told to Leah Gold

Ring, ring.
We’re sitting on the beach, my new husband of several months and I. It’s a glorious day, the sky a brilliant Mediterranean blue, the sea a dazzling shade of green. We’re the only ones around for miles on this stretch of beach, and we’ve made ourselves comfortable on the warm sand. We should be basking in our newlywed glow on this honeymoon of sorts. Instead, we’re arguing, tossing a ringing phone back and forth. Okay, it’s a shanah rishonah kind of arguing—we’re arguing politely—but neither one of us is pleased.

Me: You pick up the phone!

Hubby: But it’s your phone! She’s calling you!

Me: But it’s your mother.

Hubby: I can’t pick up your phone; my mother will think you’re avoiding her!

Me: Yeah, well, I am avoiding her!

Hubby: But she can’t know you’re avoiding her.

Me: (Long-suffering sigh) Technically, we’re both avoiding her.

Hubby: True, but she’s calling your phone.

Me: That’s because you by mistake on purpose left yours in the hotel room!

The call goes to voicemail. We stop playing Pass the Phone Around, and I sheepishly pocket it. An instant later…ring, ring…

Hubby: Fiiiiiiine, I’ll get it—hand it over.

Me: (Instantly contrite; it is shanah rishonah, after all.) Y’know what, I’ll pick up. (Pressing the talk button and putting on a super-sweet voice) Hello, Shvigger? How are you doing?

Mother-in-Law: (Tensely) Hi. Did you get it?

Me: Um, we’re still working on it. Don’t worry, we’ll get it. We’re combing the city to find it. Everything is under control.

Mother-in-Law: I hope so. Listen, I really think you should go home now. If you leave right away, you can get to Yerushalayim before nightfall.

Me: (Rolling my eyes) I hear you. It won’t be necessary. Like I said, don’t worry about a thing. We’re going to get it. Here, Dovid wants to talk to you. (Throwing the phone at Hubby, who frantically mouths, “No!”)

Hubby: Hello, Mommy? How are you? (Quickly) So how is Zeidy doing? Is his back still—(Alas, his attempt to switch topics is unsuccessful.) Yeah, like my wife said, we’re working on getting it. I’ll take a spoonful of it as soon as I have it. Relax. Everything is under control.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the “it” in question is a vital medication. But what actually had my normally calm mother-in-law in such a tizzy was…jelly. Yup, jelly as in fruit preserves. There were plenty of fruit preserves to be had in town, but unfortunately the particular preserve she had in mind was esrog jelly.

My husband and I are hardly a mixed marriage. We grew up several blocks away from each other; my brothers attended the same yeshivah he did, and we have several relatives in common. Despite this, I found myself learning new things every day. Besamim belonged on the Shabbos table. You didn’t travel anywhere without writing “Levi Yitzchak ben Sora Sosha” on little papers and stashing them in every piece of luggage. Before eating soup, you took some challah and a bean and said a special tefillah.

And now, when my new husband and I were away on vacation, it turned out I’d left behind a crucial item. Tu B’Shvat came out on the second day of our trip, but Tu B’Shvat didn’t need any prep, right? We’d go to a local greengrocer, get some fruits, and have a little seudah in our hotel room, I figured. Epic mistake. Ever since my mother-in-law had called and discovered we were sans esrog jelly, we were in crisis mode. My husband’s family’s minhag was to eat the jelly on Tu B’Shvat as a powerful segulah to live out the year. Segulos, minhagim—these things were incredibly important to my in-laws. My husband had never had a jellyless year, and not that long ago he had experienced a miraculous escape from death.

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