The summer of 1956 was a watershed summer in that I was presented with the first of my nisionot (nisionos for yeshivisha pronunciation) in how deep my commitment to Jewish observance ran. Not that I want to compare myself to Abraham’s 10 nisionos, which he passed with flying colors, nevertheless and unlike father Abraham I was truly challenged with this first one because of the sheer will power demanded of me. It was expected of me by generations of Jews who came before me who martyred their lives “leshem shamayim” (for the sake of heaven), to withstand the temptation to eat a Twinkie knowing that it was my god given right and that of every American kid to snack on them. Some other products at the time, which hadn’t had hechsherim, you could get away with, because everyone knew that the products were kosher, like Hershey’s Chocolate. Even the name sounded Jewish. Twinkies, on the other hand sounded American, looked treif and in fact was glatt treif. There was no away around this, no rationalization, no excuse. It was universally accepted that they were treif. There was no dissension on this, not even from the most modern of the rabbanim in Albany Park. Animal fat listed in the ingredients, which undoubtedly made them irresistible hardly came from a kosher slaughtered bovine creation.
I was only nine years old and like any other cosmopolitan kid living in Albany Park I had been to the local soda stores, news stands and groceries where Twinkies were readily available. They were always positioned next to the other iconic Hostess product: Hostess Cupcakes. But it was always the Twinkies that winked at me as I stood a foot away staring at the packaging, wondering what that first bite would taste like. To tell the truth, the Hostess Cupcakes never tempted me. They always looked plastic, too perfect, too smooth, evenly lined up with their paper lining, never, ever spilling over, like the sumptuous cupcakes that were home baked -- uneven, textured and too voluminous for the paper lining. Every time I saw a Twinkie, my mouth started watering, wondering why it had to be treif. As difficult as it was to turn away from the food stand where they were so prominently displayed, it wasn’t impossible. Avraham Avenu would have been proud – although I often wandered which of his ten tests would have been comparable. Perhaps it would have been number 5 according to Rashi or number 3 according to the Rambam. Either way I felt my commitment was up there.
To my horror the real test didn’t come till I went to the Eugene Field day camp the summer of 1956 with my secular Jewish neighbor Jerry, who lived a few doors down. We used to bike around the neighborhood, but this would be our first excursion across Lawrence Ave down Ridgeway in the direction of Foster where the field house was located. Lunchtime on that first day at camp was the nisayon of my life, which I would rank up there with Avraham’s number 10 according to both Rashi and Rambam. On a park bench, my friend scarfed down his salami sandwich with a carton of milk, which seemed infinitely more appealing than my tuna fish sandwich. The shock came however when Jerry pulled out from his brown bag a package of Twinkies. I looked down at my dessert, which was a measly couple of home made chocolate chip cookies wrapped in left over creased aluminum foil that looked like it had been recycled for the past month. Then I looked over to Jerry’s Twinkies and my mouth began to water. He offered me one of his Twinkies and for a moment that seemed like an eternity I was tempted to reach out as Adam reached out and bit into the forbidden fruit. It was a painful moment, but in my youthful naïveté I understood that if I wouldn’t be able to withstand this major test I’d never be able to withstand any future temptation.
The summer of 1956 was indeed a watershed, an apt introduction into the world where choices are presented and decisions made. I never ate a Twinkie, but the irony of it all is that I was disturbed by the news last week that Hostess Company has filed for bankruptcy and the future of the Twinkies product is uncertain. My entire conscious life has been hitherto accompanied by certain guideposts that have provided me with comfort zones as I move through life. These iconic images and products that have accompanied me through my journey are slowly disappearing which incidentally casts a shadow on my own mortality. From the time I was nine years old till today I could enter any super market anywhere in America and eyeball a package of Twinkies. It makes me feel good, comfortable and safe even though I never ate one. Its something like the Israeli meat product “loof” (equivalent to American spam), a staple of the army field rations that has been around since before the establishment of the State, giving it an iconic status. That, too, has disappeared to my great consternation. Perhaps it could be said what Israelis feel about the loss of loof I feel about the imminent disappearance of Twinkies from the American culinary landscape. America without Twinkies is like Israel without loof. It just can’t be!