The History of the Citron, and Its Many Boxes

Oct. 12 2022

One of the key practices of the holiday of Sukkot—the week-long festival that began last Sunday night—is the waving of a palm frond and myrtle and willow branches (collectively known as the lulav) together with the citron (in Hebrew, etrog). Reviewing a recent book about the history of the etrog, a fruit that resembles a large lemon, Jenna Weissman Joselit writes:

Readers will learn that the etrog was used as a weapon with which to pelt one’s enemies, as an amulet to soften the pains of childbirth, and as the source of political clout and economic mobility. The stuff of artistic and visual expression—all those etrog boxes!—as well as scientific exchange, the fruit appears on the face of coins in the ancient Near East; on the walls of a 1st-century BCE catacomb in Rome; on carvings of Byzantine-era synagogues throughout the diaspora; and in 15th-century Italian manuscripts where tiny figures hold an etrog in their left hand and a lulav in their right.

Joselit finds the containers for the etrog of particular interest:

Some were made of olive wood, others of silver, and still others were fashioned out of sturdy paper stock. They might echo the shape of the etrog, or assume a rectangular form, be sleek and modern in appearance, or hark back to an imagined biblical model. Some receptacles hailed from Jerusalem, where craftsmen associated with the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts left their mark, while others were the handiwork of skilled German Jewish silversmiths. And some, like the paper containers with which American Jews are most familiar—the ones with muddy-colored illustrations of an etrog and a lulav or of Jerusalem on each of their four sides—represented a canny mixture of consumerism and constancy, a stand-in for the real thing.

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More about: Jewish art, Sukkot

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy