Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, the holiday that launched a thousand cases of lactose intolerance is almost upon us.
This spring harvest holiday was traditionally celebrated with bikkurim, the first fruits of the season — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates — that were offered up at the Temple in Jerusalem.
In modern-day Israel, where food consumption has historically been dominated by an evil milk monolith that will remain nameless (Tnuva) the Ashkenazi tradition of eating dairy products during Shavuot has been turned a two week-long cheesecake orgy. This is generally followed by two weeks of cleansing and remorse.
Despite the high rate of lactose intolerance among the Jewish population, our national fixation on dairy shows no sign of abating. There historical reason for this obsession: milk meant health and therefore, to keep the new generation healthy, force feeding milk in any form – from chocolate to cheese — was the national responsibility of every child care-giver.
Milk production and the man who brings milk forth from the cow is celebrated in Health Is The Most Important Thing, a comedy short from 1958 produced for the Milk Production & Marketing Council. Most of the film was shot at the Tnuva dairies by director Nathan Gross and starred comedians Yankele Ben Sira (“playing 6 different roles”) and Gideon Singer.
Our hero, Nakche, attributes his prowess at arm wrestling to a daily dose of the white stuff.
He then dreams that milk has been discovered to prevent aging by Dr. Shaul Shor (Ben Sira in the second of his six roles), who runs the quality control lab.
As an intrepid reporter, he covers the breaking story of the milk shortage, brought about by the amazing anti-aging discovery in a scene that includes a Chaplinesque chase through the production plant.
As a milk delivery man, he is set upon by frantic housewives, desperate for milk.
And there’s a kind of wild impersonation of a Golda-like dietary counselor.
Nakche plays music for the herd to encourage their yield. “They enjoy Beethoven,” he says, “Wagner they can’t stand”. In the end, it’s that crazy rockin’ Be-Bop beat that gets the milk flowing.
The movie is filled with popular culture references and offers a glimpse into a more innocent, less commercialized Israel of days gone by. Check out the full version on YouTube.