Since their movement’s founding in the late 18th century, Chabad-Lubavitch Ḥasidim have insisted that citrons—used ritually during the fall holiday of Sukkot—from the Italian region of Calabria are superior to all others. The first Lubavitcher rebbe even claimed that this area, located in the toe of Italy’s boot, was divinely ordained by God in Moses’ day for the production of these fruit, known in Hebrew at etrogim. But an unusual four-day frost in January severely damaged this year’s crop, and threatens the end of this tradition, as Dovid Margolin writes:
Partially damaged trees have been trimmed down to their stumps, while other trees have been destroyed completely and must be replaced. It takes about three years for a newly-planted citron root branch to grow into a tree and yield its first etrogim. Merchants and kosher supervisors say that consequently, this year a far smaller number of Calabria citrons will be available for Sukkot, . . . and even those harvested will be of a poorer quality.
Among the hardest-hit are local farmers, including families who have been growing the . . . fruits for generations. “Many of the farmers live solely on the citron. There are whole families who work on [its] production,” says Luigi Salsini, editor of the Italian-language CalNews and a longtime observer of the citron industry, which plays an important historic and economic role in Calabria. “Citrons harvested for Sukkot are the primary [source of] income for many families.” . . .
Until World War II, the vast amounts of Calabria etrogim were shipped throughout Europe via merchants in [the port city of] Genoa. . . . The market became far more lucrative for the farmers [after World War II] when Jewish merchants began paying per Etrog [rather than per kilogram]. Over the years, small farms have mostly disappeared, making way for larger industrial operations of a few hundred trees [each].