Houseplant of the week: Seeds of faith for an entire congregation

A ceremonial etrog fruit has been propagated and shared.

Hello, green friends.

Hello, green friends.

KEVIN-lighter

Chaim Urbach was still in the hospital when Ellen Ritt Johnson’s etrog seeds finally popped saplings from the dirt.

Urbach is the senior rabbi at Yeshuat Tsion, a Messianic Jewish congregation that meets in the basement of a church in Greenwood Village. He was in a serious car accident last October that resulted in a stroke. It wasn’t until January — a day or so after Ritt Johnson’s seeds showed life — that his flock heard he would pull through.

“It was kind of a spiritual moment,” Ritt Johnson recalled.

The saplings she fostered came from a single etrog, a ceremonial citron fruit used during the Sukkot holiday. Ritt Johnson said the synagogue paid almost $100 for the item when they celebrated, just days before Urbach’s accident.

When she heard the price, she thought to herself: “Wow! That’s crazy! Can’t we just grow one?”

So she asked for the fruit once the annual rites were complete and googled how to propagate them. Easily enough, she stuck the seeds in water overnight, drawing out tiny roots, and then planted them in soil. She waited a month to finally see some promise. Sure enough, they came through.

Twelve saplings survived. Once they strengthened, Ritt Johnson began to hand them out to her fellow congregants. Together, they named each after a tribe of Israel, which each in turn were named for the sons of Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin.

Reuben went home with Joy Urbach, who is married to Chaim. It’s in her charge now.

Joy Urbach and Ellen Ritt Johnson. (Courtesy)

Joy Urbach and Ellen Ritt Johnson. (Courtesy)

Etrog plants Judah (left to right, from top), Simeon, Joseph, Napthali, Levi and Asher, Reuben, Benjamin and Zebulon. (Courtesy: Joy Urbach and all of the plant parents)

Etrog plants Judah (left to right, from top), Simeon, Joseph, Napthali, Levi and Asher, Reuben, Benjamin and Zebulon. (Courtesy: Joy Urbach and all of the plant parents)

Joy said she’s never named a plant before, though she does speak to it sometimes.

“He didn’t look like a Reuben or anything,” she said, but she appreciated that the names joined each of the plants and her with friends from synagogue.

First, she said, it was kind of a “cute” thing they were doing. But, “especially now,” she said: “It’s a nice way to connect.”

Ritt Johnson agreed. As the congregation has fractured into social isolation, meeting only via video chat, she appreciates that these plants bind them together. They’ll be holding virtual Seder this week for Passover.

Now, all they need to do is wait for fruit.

“In four to seven years, we can have our own etrog,” Ritt Johnson said. “It is an act of faith. We’re hoping it’s sooner rather than later.”

Thanks for reading another Denverite story

Looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the ends of articles! Well, true believer, you might really like our morning newsletter. It’s quick, free and gets you up to speed on the important and delightful things happening right here in Denver. Does Denverite help you feel more connected to what’s up in your area? Do you want to be a part of it?

Member donations are critical to our continued existence and growth.

Weird times

Denverite is powered by you. In these weird times, the local vigilance, the local context, the local flavor — it’s powered through your donations. If you’d miss Denverite if it disappeared tomorrow, donate today.

You’re our superpower

Denverite supporters have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.

You’re our superpower

Denverite members have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.