Shabbat shalom! Shout out today to all the riders and volunteers saddling up for this year’s Pan Mass Challenge today and tomorrow to raise money for Dana Farber Cancer research! The target this year is $60 Million! Go PMCers and enjoy the ride!
The dog days of August are upon us. With the Red Sox stumbling hard in July, and this oppressive heat stifling outdoor activities, staying cool and hydrated and in good spirits can be a challenge. However, there is no greater antidote to this summer malaise than a vanilla frappe from Crescent Ridge Dairy. Max and I have been splitting one of these heavenly creamy concoctions each Friday as a way to usher in the weekend. There is no describing the comfort that comes with those first sips: I can actually feel the neurotransmitters snapping to attention in my brain and the waves of dopamine pulsating through my body. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. There is no question that ice cream ignites the pleasure centers in our brain with far fewer downsides than illicit drugs and researchers have also found that the fat in it reduces the intensity of sad emotions by almost 50%. Hence, I have dedicated this issue of the JNR to celebrate and honor the great antidote to the dog days of August – ice cream, and the incredible influence Jews have had on the development of this wonder drug. More on that later.
First, another shout out, this one to the Women of the Wall, a group agitating for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall), for over a decade. The story feels hopelessly Groundhog Day-ish: activists show up every Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new Hebrew month; try to smuggle a Torah into the women’s side of the Western Wall; Orthodox men and boys harass them. It happened again a week ago last Friday, when the bat mitzvah of an American girl was disrupted by an angry mob. But their voices grow stronger and louder, and I am hopeful that sooner rather than later, the powers that be will change the rules and finally allow women to pray at the Kotel just as men have been doing for centuries. Come on guys, this is a no brainer! Watch this clip and you get a sense of the raw spiritual strength of the group and the genuine anger of the orthodox men who are obviously not supportive of the idea because they believe the Kotel is a “mens only” synagogue for the Orthodox. The rules were changed back in 2016 to allow women and other non-orthodox an area on the southern part of the wall to pray, but kept most of the Kotel restricted. Women of the Wall Video.
But back to ice cream.
While its origins are decidedly non-Jewish, (China’s ancient King Tang of Shang recorded employing 94 “ice men” who prepared a recipe made of buffalo milk, flour and camphor which was eaten chilled) Jews have had a significant impact on the modern world’s appetite and popularity for this amazing treat. Think Baskin Robbins, Häagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s, Steve Herrell’s and you begin to get the picture, as all of these ice cream entrepreneurs are Jewish! Ice cream is so ubiquitous in Israel that a common Hebrew saying when people bump into each other is pa’am shlishit glida – the third time we meet, we’ll go out for ice cream together. It’s an apt expression, conveying the deliciousness and popularity of ice cream in Israel.
So, without any further delay, here is the scoop on ice cream and Jews, or at least a few anecdotes I hope you enjoy as much as a vanilla frappe from The Ridge!
- Baskin Robbins – Irv Robbins, born in 1917 in Winnipeg, used his bar mitzvah money to launch the Snowbird Ice Cream parlor in 1945 in Glendale, California. Irv was a master ice cream maker, having learned the trade as a kid in his father’s ice cream store. When he served as a lieutenant in the US Navy during World War II, he’d spent his spare time making ice cream for his fellow soldiers. Snowbird Ice Cream featured a new innovation: 21 different flavors, a dazzlingly large selection at the time. A year later, Irv’s brother-in-law Bert Baskin opened his own cafe, Burton’s Ice Cream Shop in Pasadena, California. The two joined forces in 1948, combining their know-how and their stores, and introducing the high quality ice cream that made Baskin-Robbins ice cream a beloved brand for generations. One favorite of mine: Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream.
- Häagen-Dazs – In 1961, Häagen-Dazs came on the scene, offering American consumers a delicious new, high-quality ice cream. It was the invention of Jewish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus. Reuben moved from Poland to the US with his mother when he was a young child, and the pair immediately started working for a relative in the Italian ice trade. Reuben learned the ropes of ice and ice-cream making, but he realized something was missing. Rose Mattus Mattus experimented with making heavier ice cream that was richer and used natural ingredients. Soon, they had a delicious product on their hand. The only problem was what to call it. The couple wanted an upscale-sounding name, so they invented the vaguely Danish-sounding name Häagen-Dazs. “The only country which saved the Jews during World War II was Denmark. So I put together a fictitious Danish name and had it registered,” recalled Reuben Mattus.
- Ben and Jerry’s – The ground-breaking ice cream company was founded in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont, by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. The pair tried to establish a socially conscious firm, using recycled materials to build their first cafe and using hormone-free milk in their products. They also delighted consumers with their amusing names for ice cream flavors, such as Chunky Monkey and Chubby Hubby. Though Ben and Jerry’s has been owned by the multinational corporation Unilever since 2000, it still produces amusing new flavors and names for its ice cream. In 2017, the company even distributed a special kosher for Passover flavor in Israel: charoset!Ben and Jerry
Boycott nonsense update: Its misguided anti-Israel boycott is finally melting away, thanks to a new arrangement by B&J’s parent company Unilever.The brand will now be sold throughout Israel and the West Bank under its Hebrew and Arabic names — effectively ending the boycott the company imposed on Israeli towns in the West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem in July 2021. That move prompted heavy criticism from American consumers and led several states to implement sanctions — with one stockholder even suing Unilever. Now, after consultations with the Israeli government, Unilever has sold its Israeli rights to the ice-cream label to local franchisee Avi Zinger, which will allow for the sale of its products without Unilever’s direct involvement.
- Steve Herrell – Some of the most innovative ideas in ice cream making have come from Jewish inventors and chefs. In 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s, a wildly popular ice cream parlor in Davis Square in Somerville. Herrell pioneered a new way of making rich, dense ice cream – and served his delicious ice cream with a new twist. Rolling out slabs of ice cream, he’d mix in treats like crushed candy bars and cookies. Ice cream “mix ins” soon became a national trend.
- Shiva call: The Choco Taco – As reported (eulogized?) by The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and NPR, the beloved ice cream novelty the Choco Taco is being discontinued, effective immediately. On social media, the outpouring of love and sadness was overwhelming. Horror author Stephen King, soccer star Alex Morgan, Star Trek legend George Takei, all expressed their condolences. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut even suggested invoking the Defense Production Act to stave off the beloved treat’s demise. But what interested me more was the deep Jewish connection. Good Humor truck drive Alan Drazen invented the choco taco to compete with popsicles. In his own words, “I was on an expedition in Mexico and got separated from my party. It was hot. I hadn’t had anything to drink. And then I saw a mirage. An ice cream taco, rising out of the distance. That’s how I got the idea.” This was the midrash that Drazen humorously shared in Jason Cohen’s authoritative 2016 history of the Choco Taco for Eater.
- What’s next? Beyond a weekly vanilla frappe, what do we have to look forward to in the way of new ice cream concoctions? Well, the Israeli entrepreneurs are cooking up some new delicacies, and one of them, from a new Israeli company, Solo Gelato, is set to shake up the ice cream world even more: they have invented a machine that uses containers that are the same size and look similar to coffee pods to make individual servings of rich ice cream right in people’s kitchens. Their 24 options include no-sugar ice cream pods, organic, alcoholic and other ice cream variations. I may give it a try, but for now, I will stick to the vanilla frappe.
This heat continues to confine me to air conditioning, so I may need a double dose of the Ridge very soon. Hence, time for me to sign off and head to the freezer section. But, hey, let’s not forget to be careful out there!