The following description of the Baltimore City Lulav was written by Hinenu member Vanessa Lubiner about their creation of a locally sourced lulav. All are welcome to shake the Baltimore lulav or a traditional lulav in the Hinenu sukkah all week, at 802 Gorsuch Avenue.
A lulav is a physical metaphor for the body. Each component represents different aspects of the body--the heart, the spine, the eyes, and the lips--which also represents the four letters that comprise the unpronounceable name of creation (yud hay vav hay). The lulav is shaken to the four corners (north, south, east, and west), up and down, and made with the four species (arba minim). This puts our bodies in relationship with place, earth, and in orientation to each other. How do we want be in our environments this year? What moments/actions bring us into a state of unity?
Consider this lulav your plant ally this season. There is great power in reconnecting ourselves to the animal and spiritual body through the plant-life that surrounds us. As we say, hinenu--we are here. These are the plants of Baltimore, the place we make our home. With a lulav of local plants, we honor the Piscataway, the Susquehannock, the spirits of other indigenous peoples and enslaved peoples of this place. We honor the people and architecture of Baltimore City.
This holiday of Sukkot celebrates the wild, the harvest, and the shelter.
THE ETROG = THE APPLE
Of the body: The Heart
Of the senses: Smell and Taste
Of the name: 2nd Hay
Apple and honey for a sweet new year. Apple of the hearty root cellar. These apples are Roxbury Russet and Maiden’s Blush--two heirloom species (over two hundred years old) that are grown in Carroll Park in Pigtown. I help to steward this space as part of my work. This orchard is complicated and important because it is a historical replica of the Mount Claire orchard which stood there over a hundred years ago, which was cared for by enslaved people. I chose to pick apples from this orchard in order to acknowledge the struggles for justice and equity in Baltimore City. These apples represent resilience. These apples were also harvested with volunteers from Pigtown and shared with food pantries around the city.
THE DATE PALM = THE CAT TAIL
Of the body: The Spine
Of the senses: Taste and No Smell
Of the name: Vav
Although it was difficult to choose species for every component of the lulav, I had a particular challenge in finding a branch that followed all the rules and offered a similar feeling to shaking a date palm, which is a particular experience. Though a cat tail is technically not a tree, I thought it was more important to create the whoosing, sturdy, shaking sensation. At first, I considered choosing mulberry, gingko biloba, or fig because all of these trees fruit (which is a rule), and because I wanted to represent the spine as something curvy and malleable, slithering and movable. I ultimately chose the cat tail because it is edible and strong. It is a mighty wetland creature--filterer of rainwater and companion to pollinators. This cat tail was harvested from a farm in Clifton Park that I have worked with for years.
THE MYRTLE = THE JUNIPER
Of the body: The Eyes
Of the senses: Smell and No Taste
Of the name: Yud
I remember pulling juniper berries from a tree outside my grandmother’s house and rolling them in between my fingers. The smell lingered long after I left, and the smell reminded me that it had not been so long since I was there. With the passing of the equinox, I find myself bracing for the days getting shorter. The evergreen of juniper reminds me of the life happening underneath the surface of winter. Though juniper has taste, it was more important for me to create a distinctly fragrant experience that invokes the aliveness of the calm yet teeming cold. Juniper is also a wakening scent, encouraging us to open our eyes and our senses. There are three branches with three clusters of leaves, perhaps to acknowledge our two seeing eyes and the other ways we can see. This juniper was also harvested from the farm in Clifton Park.
THE WILLOW = THE WILLOW
Of the body: The Lips
Of the senses: No Taste and No Smell
Of the name: 1st Hay
This willow was harvested on 33rd Street in front of Punjab Market and Papa Johns--my favorite place to slow pace on my walk to the Wyman Park Dell. I chose to keep the traditional weeping willow as part of the lulav because it honors grief and death while also supporting healing and growth. If you steep willow in water, the tea can be used to encourage the roots of other plants to strengthen and deepen. That same enzyme has been used to relieve pain for thousands of years! This is the salicin of aspirin that we still use today. Willow is also used to make drawing charcoal and its flowers are nectary edible. This magical tree, as well as all four species, have a relationship with wetlands and streams. If you have ever wondered what brought willow to the juncture of Barclay and 33rd, willow protects the bay from stormwater runoff with their super powerful filtration roots. It also felt important to honor willow as a Jewish tradition--where the present and the past find each other and make sense together.
Also, the yarn that binds the lulav was dyed with merigold from Sarah Magida’s Garden.
I hope this lulav feels like a magic wand, even if just for a few short minutes.