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My Ben & Jerry’s belly ache

Vermont performers targeted the ice-cream makers for selling to Israel, and things went downhill from there

In the Sixties, Peter Schumann, a Jewish bread baker from the Lower East Side started the Bread and Puppet theatre to accompany his confectionary pursuits. Here’s his mission statement that appears on the theatre’s website:

We believe in puppet theater as a wholesome and powerful language that can touch men and women and children alike, and we hope that our plays are true and are saying what has to be said, and that they add to your enjoyment and enlightenment.”

During the Vietnam war the plays and puppets became bigger and bigger. Perhaps alienated from all the college graduates who cheered the theatre’s anti-war, anti-establishment, social justice oriented productions and who later became brokers on Wall St, Schumann and his theatre fled to Glover Vermont. Today, the theatre performs regular shows for anyone, especially latter day hippies and wanna be Weathermen that populate the area around Glover.

Last month, at the end of an intensely enjoyed weekend with friends in their off the grid cabin near a pristine lake in nearby Cabot, we had the mishap of stopping with them, on our way back to Montreal to catch our flight back home to Israel, to attend the Bread and Puppet Circus in Glover. My friend assured me that it was worth the experience and that Israel never merited more than a couple of snide remarks. But, it being the week of gay pride stabbings and Molotov cocktail attacks on Arab dwellings, I offered him a wager that Israel would be featured. Little did we know that BPC (Bread and Puppet Circus) would so closely resemble BDS.

Situating ourselves under a tree for shade, distant from the main staging area, we realized that the BPC had some pre-show warm-ups circulating around the site. One of these groups, all dressed in white, touting accordions and snare drums, planted themselves, as if guided by my premonition, right next to us. Before we knew it, they had unfurled flip pages, the first of which displayed a caricature of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the ice cream moguls. The players proceeded to chide, or more accurately castigate, Ben & Jerry for abandoning their stated mission of “making the world a better place,” by supplying ice cream in “Jewish trucks, travelling on Jewish only roads, to Jewish only settlements, all the while exploiting cheap Palestinian farmers for almonds used to make “strawberry shortcake ice cream.”

Ben & Jerry, by doing business in the “shrinking State of Palestine, where Israeli soldiers armed with American tanks and rifles, cage Palestinians behind a wall that prevents them from reaching their homes,” were clearly not what they claimed to be. The troupe ended with a rousing “no justice, no sweets,” to a large round of applause. We had experienced the ice cream Nazis. Thankfully, my wife had the wherewithal to film this august performance on her phone.

My friend’s jaw dropped as I jested to him that I had paid the puppeteers to win my wager with him. You couldn’t make this up, I laughed. But he was visibly shaken. His wife tried to suggest that these young performers in white were of course taking things out of context. We retorted that, given the repeated use of the word “Jewish,” and the constant bit of “is this one Ben, or is that one Ben,” (i.e., hard to tell  those Jews apart), one had to wonder whether the white shirts were taking things out of context the same way that the brown shirts did in another place and time. Our friends seemed to admit we had a point, or at least open to seeing the event differently than they might have if we Israelis weren’t there.

I wondered out loud if Ben & Jerry’s would be sold in the local general store. Of course, said my friend, most people around here aren’t like this. After an emotional, and now somewhat bewildered, farewell, we headed into Glover to look for Ben & Jerry’s. Indeed, they were in the freezer, (as they are, according to a quick internet check, at Max Mar’s supermarket in Ramallah) and I chose a stick of “Half Baked,” which seemed most appropriate. Texting this to my friend, he wrote back “my faith in Vermont is restored.”

Vermont has been a special vacation destination for us for decades, but this time the splendid memories of loons on the lake and dining on fresh bass caught right off the dock were stained. My wife said it was the most anti-Semitic behavior she, who grew up in Catholic Montreal, had ever experienced.

Well, at least there was still Ben & Jerry’s. Or was there? Just a few days ago it was reported that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who sold out to Unilever a few years ago but remain on the company’s board, encouraged their loyal consumers not to support or contribute to any Democratic member of Congress who opposes Obama’s half baked Iran deal. Anything that prevents war should be supported, they say, following their mission to “make the world a better place.” Too bad Neville Chamberlain never got to try Chunky Monkey, though Hermann Goering would not have joined him in eating something with that name, even to celebrate the Munich travesty.

What a conundrum. What do I do now? Do I gorge myself on Greek Froyo (fooling myself into believing that it’s less caloric than Cherry Garcia), knowing that the idiots in Glover Vermont suffer torment with each of my mouthfuls, or do I now join them in boycotting Ben & Jerry? One solution would be to continue to eat Ben & Jerry’s, but feel the same new bitter aftertaste that now adheres to our beloved Vermont.

But I think I’ll save the calories for a less out of context, less historically naive and less anti-Israel brand. Please don’t tell me that Haagen Dazs is in favor of the Iran deal. But if they are, Strauss ice cream makes great low fat ice cream treats, that, while lacking the rich taste of Ben & Jerry’s, also lack the aftertaste of ignorance that tends to become a massive stomachache.

About the Author
David Chinitz is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Braun School of Public Health, Hebrew University-Hadassah