For all the publicity and Twinkie nostalgia surrounding the closing of Hostess Brands, the repercussions for the kosher among us is that the end of Hostess means the end of Drake’s, the famously kosher company that became a subsidiary of Hostess in 1987.
Drake’s was the modern fulfillment of the ancient Talmudic promise that just about every pleasure in the realm of the forbidden has an equivalent in the realm of the permissible, though surely the sages were thinking of temptations more sophisticated than Ring Dings versus Ding Dongs.
Aside from Ring Dings, Drake’s, of course, with its goofy goose wearing a chef’s hat on the cellophane wrapper, was the maker of Yankee Doodles, Sunny Doodles, Yodels and Drake’s Coffee Cake. In the 1950s and ‘60s, when non-kosher Hostess was among the heaviest advertisers on children’s TV shows, Drake’s was that great arsenal against assimilation, the singular kosher option to rival Hostess. It was more “Jewish” (in the Lenny Bruce sense) as well, being a regional New York-New Jersey brand (unlike national Hostess), with Drake’s getting shout-outs on shows such as “Seinfeld.” Thanks to Drake’s, even Twinkies, thoroughly and elusively treif since 1930, became edible when Hostess, at one point, farmed out the making of Twinkies to Drake’s, with the Twinkies processing having to convert to Drake’s kosher utensils and kosher ingredients, a conversion rivaling Marilyn Monroe’s or Elizabeth Taylor’s, signifying nothing, really, but delicious in its way.
George Will recently noted historian Daniel Boorstin’s observation that Americans belong to “consumption communities.” Most of us instinctively understand the real inner question being asked when questioned if we are a Ford or a Cadillac person, Mountain Dew or Tab, Newport or Camels (non-filter, of course). Yeshiva kids were Drake’s. We were sure that Hostess was “the other.” In fact, we were one and the same. As Yiddish and Latin speakers know too well, sic transit gloria mundi.
For all the accusations that Chabad-Lubavitch is overly rebbe-messianic, the recent international convention of over 5,000 Chabad shluchim (emissaries) and their supporters in New York offered a chance to ascertain just how strong or weak the messianists are, 18 years after the rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died in 1994.
On Saturday night, Nov. 10, the messianists (known as “meshichistim”) held a banquet in the shul at 770 Eastern Parkway, on the ground floor below the headquarters of non-messianic International Chabad.
Anyone could have attended this banquet, shluchim or non-shluchim, and around 400 shluchim and their supporters did. Other than The Jewish Week, there was no one from the American media there, there was no publicity, and any Chabadnik could have attended without fear of controversy or unwanted attention. If more than these 350 to 400 chasidim wanted to come, there were larger ballrooms in Crown Heights that could have easily accommodated them, but that shul room in 770 was sufficient.
The next day, there was a distinctly non-messianist Chabad banquet at the New York Hilton. Here, by contrast, the rebbe was spoken of in the past tense, as deceased, not as the messiah. This dinner attracted 4,622 shluchim, along with several hundred non-shluchim supporters. While, of course, this is not scientific, the weekend was a revealing snapshot. Assuming 400 for the messianist dinner, of the 5,000 or so that went to the competing banquets that weekend, we can roughly say that 8 to 10 percent of the shluchim community is openly messianic.
If 8 to10 percent is disturbing or simply interesting, then what are we to make of some other percentages, this time regarding Israel, that recently came to light? CNN released a survey of American attitudes (taken Nov. 16-18), asking if Israel was “justified or unjustified in taking military action against Hamas and the Palestinians in the area known as Gaza?” Aside from the undecided, only 41 percent of Democrats said Israel was justified, 39 percent said unjustified. The percentage breakdown for independents was 59-23, and Republicans supported Israel 74-12.
Who won or lost the Gaza war? It may take years to know, but after the third Israel-Gaza war there’s some feeling that maybe Israel miscalculated its disengagement from Gaza in 2005. As Winston Churchill put it, “wars are not won by evacuations.” Since Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, more than 10,000 rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel. According to the Israeli government, more Hamas rockets landed in Israel in November alone (1,400) than German V-2 rockets landed in London during World War II (1,358).
In 2005, every Jewish settlement in Gaza was uprooted. Then, as now, settlements were seen as the heart of the problem. After all, “I feel that we have done the most terrible things [by building settlements],” said author A. B. Yehoshua at the time. Asked by Newsweek if he felt any sense of regret, even a twinge, over the end of a Jewish presence in Gaza, Yehoshua said, “On the contrary. I feel relief.”
If the Palestinians in Gaza would take advantage of the removal of Israeli soldiers to attack Israel from over the new border, well, the thinking went, Israel could just go back into Gaza, and “the world” would understand. “We are reducing the daily friction,” said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. According to Haaretz’s report at the time, Sharon said the disengagement would enable Israel “to turn its attention away from security matters…”
In 2004, the editor of the Jerusalem Post supported the disengagement, but Bret Stephens, now writing for The Wall Street Journal, is one of the few to admit, “I was wrong.”
Stephens explained that back in 2005, “My error was to confuse a good argument with good policy; to suppose that mere self-justification is a form of strategic prudence. It isn’t … [If Israel] had maintained a military presence in the Strip, it would not now be living under this massive barrage.”
Stephens writes that leaving Gaza seemed smart because withdrawal meant “putting the notion of land-for-peace to a real-world test.” If Israel could shut down the Gaza settlements and withdraw, and that worked out, “then Israel could withdraw from the West Bank with some confidence.”
Stephens writes in 2012, “Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.”
Back in 2005, on the eve of the disengagement, one of Sharon’s allies, Benjamin Netanyahu, felt he had to resign from the cabinet over Gaza.
His resignation letter said, “There is a way to achieve peace and security, but a unilateral withdrawal under fire and with nothing in return is certainly not the way.” Netanyahu added, at a news conference, that there was evidence that a “terror base” was being established in Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But Sharon had made up his mind, and “I can do nothing about this,” said Netanyahu, “so I’ll leave.”