When Ice Cream Was Forbidden in the Land of Israel

Why were the residents of Mandatory Palestine banned from eating ice cream for three whole years?


Yardena Herzberger enjoys some ice cream. Photo by Hanan Herzberger, the Bitmuna Collection, the National Library of Israel

In the spring of 1942, headlines in all the English, Hebrew and Arabic daily newspapers in Mandatory Palestine announced the local banning of all production, sale and distribution of ice cream beginning on May 1. Residents would no longer be able to enjoy an ice cream cone by the beach or a scoop next to a warm piece of chocolate cake in the local café. They would have to make do with the various “inferior” products – fruit popsicles and sorbets. No more chocolate, vanilla and pistachio. From now on there was to be only lemon, grape and pineapple.

The reasons for this harsh decree were related to World War II, then at its height, with the fighting fast approaching the borders of the Land of Israel. German forces under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox,” were rushing across the sands of North Africa, threatening to occupy Egypt, where British forces were stationed. In Mandatory Palestine, preparations were underway for the possibility of a Nazi invasion. In the event of such a disaster, the Jewish community even planned to hold a last stand defense on Mount Carmel.

But what does all of this have to do with a frozen dessert? Hadn’t the Jewish people suffered enough? Why did the Nazi threat prevent people in the Land of Israel from enjoying a bit of ice cream? The answer lies in the global shortage of raw materials. In fact, behind the ban was the British Mandate supply department. The large quantities of milk and sugar needed to make ice cream had more basic and pressing uses—at least in the eyes of the authorities. The ban on ice cream production was to remain in place until the end of the war. Bear in mind, in mid-1942 no one knew how long the war would last.

The Palestine Post, April 22nd, 1942

What about the public? It did not take easily to this ban. Despite the media’s attempts to convince citizens that non-dairy substitutes were just as tasty, not everyone agreed. It is true that other food products were also rationed, their production restricted and supervised during the war years, but the ban on ice cream may have just been the final straw. The restriction even caused a stir among the country’s foreign correspondents and journalists who reported on it to their readers back home. One of the reporters wrote of the disaster: “This is one of the worst adversities that the Holy Land has yet to experience.”

An ad for Nifla [“Wonderful”] ice mix. The Hebrew text describes the product as “ice cream powder”, available in vanilla, lemon, pineapple, mocha, chocolate and strawberry flavors. The Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

Others understood the need for belt-tightening in such difficult times. The Yiddish writer Zusman Segalowitch published a column in the newspaper Haboker the morning the ban went into effect. He wrote: “As of today it is forbidden to produce and eat ice cream.  This is an order. A law that we must obey, and especially at a time when such a struggle is being waged in the world. This is not a disaster, one can make do temporarily without ice cream . . . I am personally not a big fan even though I do not shy away from a sweet treat now and then. But in theory I think that ice cream is a very necessary thing, a good, sweet and useful thing, it is also an international thing, the only internationale [a play on The Internationale, the left wing anthem, as the ban took effect on May 1, International Worker’s Day], that has sweetness and peace.” Zusman continued with reminiscences about a café he had known in Poland that served fine ice cream, and about how people happily gather around a serving of ice cream. He tried to end his column on a hopeful note:

It is not a disaster that ice cream has been banned for now. It is just temporary. It is only because of the war, and the war is being waged precisely so that people can eat ice cream peacefully. The war will end and then people will once again find for themselves things that are comfortable and useful, and isn’t that the logic of life? People will have to find the true path of life, each person for himself, the way to beauty and the way to even tastier ice cream.

The earth’s bounty is full of goodness, fruits good to eat and beautiful to behold. Apples, pears, cherries, plums, bananas, grapes, almonds, apricots, and oranges. After all, the best and finest ice cream can be made from all these. And chocolate and cocoa, milk and cream—plenty of delicious ingredients for ice cream. And the wise will finally have to acknowledge, that the good things in the world belong to all, and with good will everything can be shared honestly. Everything for everyone!

The miser will wither like a dry stalk atop the pile of gold he has accumulated. But trees will bloom and blossom, the earth will provide food, the sun warmth. And people will once more taste ice cream… all will be good again.

Contemporary caricature: A family on its way to a café must bring its own sugar. Haaretz, July 24th, 1942

The ice cream shortage evoked not only philosophical reflections but also more practical matters. April 30th, 1942, the last day before the ice cream ban went into effect was a very busy one in cafés and ice cream parlors. “Unusual traffic in cafés,” the newspaper Hamashkif reported, referring to the “lickers” who took advantage of the last chance to bid farewell to ice cream.

“Last Day for Eating Ice Cream” the headlines shouted. Haaretz, April 30th, 1942

Naturally, a measure such as this required a period of adjustment. Various merchants attempted to continue producing ice cream with the meager means at their disposal, in addition to the fruit sorbets, whose production continued as usual. Others apparently engaged in unlawfully profiting from the raw materials used to make ice cream, and some were tried for it in court. Added to these complexities was the fact that the British Army and the other armies that fought alongside were still allowed a constant supply of all types of ice cream.

The Palestine Post, May 6th, 1942

It is worth noting that the prohibition justified itself. According to reports, the authorities predicted that already in the first week of the ban, 400 tons of sugar and about 600 tons of milk would be saved. The amount of sugar was approximately equal to the amount supplied to all of Tel Aviv for five full months.

A woman licking an ice cream cone on Allenby Street, 1950. Photo: Boris Carmi, from the Meitar Collection, the National Library of Israel

Eventually, as everyone knows, World War II came to an end with the Allied victory over the Nazis and their accomplices. The final stages of the war saw the lifting of the draconian ban on the production and sale of ice cream in Mandatory Palestine. Contrary to what one might expect, the return of ice cream was not met with spontaneous dancing in the streets. As early as February 1945, newspaper editors made do with brief reports, consisting of 2 or 3 lines of text, to notify their readers that ice cream could again be consumed in the Land of Israel. A few months later, when Nazi Germany was finally defeated, the Kfar Saba municipal council decided on a fitting celebration, distributing 1,000 free ice creams to local schoolchildren. With peace restored, people could enjoy the taste of real ice cream once more.

Nati Gabbay took part in the preparation of this article.

Ilan Ramon, Israel’s 1st Astronaut, and the Meaning of Life

Long before he became the first Israeli to be launched into space, Ilan Ramon, as a 23-year-old fighter pilot, asked Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz: “What is man’s purpose in this world?” Leibowitz did his best to answer

Distinguished Professor!

I have long struggled with many strange questions that can perhaps be gathered under the heading: What is man’s purpose in this world? And the more questions that are asked, the greater the contradictions and ambiguities.

I am a young man—23 years old. I turn to you—an older person with such rich knowledge and experience, whose opinion is so important to me—I turn to you and ask:

How do you see the world we live in?

How do you explain the essence of life?

How do you view man’s purpose and goal in life?

And how is a man to achieve this purpose?

And you, honorable Professor, looking back, do you think that you have achieved the goals or purpose placed before you?

Dear Professor, I know how limited your time is and [that it is] devoted to important matters, and yet I would be very grateful if you could address my questions and perhaps enlighten me on life’s dark path.

With respect,

Ilan Ramon

Ilan Ramon’s Hebrew letter to Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the Yeshayahu Leibowitz Archive, the National Library of Israel


The young Israeli Air Force pilot Ilan Ramon sent the above letter to Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz in 1977.

Five days later, Leibowitz sent his reply:

Dear Ilan Ramon,

Your question “How do you see the world we live in?” is not clear to me.  What does “see the world” mean? Do you mean cosmologically, physically, metaphysically or…?

In your question, “How do you explain the essence of life?”—I do not know what you mean by the words “essence of life.” Do you mean biological, psychological, historical or…?

Regarding your question about “man’s purpose and goal in life”—there is no objective answer. In Pirkei Avot the sages say: “Against your will you were created, and against your will you were born, and against your will you live, and against your will you die”—and to these words, there is nothing more to add.

Man exists without having decided to be created or to be born or to live—he has no choice but to make a subjective decision about his goal and purpose in life—and there are countless possible decisions:

There are those who will find their own life to have no value, nor will they find any value in anything within that life—and they will commit suicide.

There are those who will see value and purpose in maximizing pleasure for themselves (material or sexual, or aesthetic, and so forth) all the days of their life.

There are those who will see value and purpose in acquiring knowledge—and will dedicate their lives to this.

There are those who will see value and purpose in helping their fellow man—and will dedicate their lives to this.

There are those who will see value and purpose in the service of their people and country—and will dedicate their lives to this.

There are those who will see value and purpose in serving God—and will dedicate their lives to this.

None of these decisions can be objectively justified, and every person—you and I included—must make their own decision.

Very truly yours,

Yeshayahu Leibowitz

ליבוביץ משיב לאילן רמון. ארכיון ישעיהו ליבוביץ בספרייה הלאומית
Leibowitz responds to Ilan Ramon. The Yeshayahu Leibowitz Archive, the National Library of Israel

On January 16th, 2003, more than 25 years after writing the letter above, Colonel Ilan Ramon became the first Israeli to enter space, aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon and the rest of the seven-person crew perished only a few days later, on February 1st of that year, when the Columbia disintegrated upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The Bizarre True Story of Israel’s First Government

It met in a movie theater, had a really weird assassination attempt, was led by a shockingly diverse coalition, and ended in resignation...

David Ben-Gurion chatting in the Knesset cafeteria, 1949 (Photo: Beno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection, National Library of Israel Digital Collection

About an hour before the first meeting of Israel’s inaugural government on February 14, 1949, David Ben-Gurion entered the Yeshurun Synagogue in Jerusalem. He went after promising a prominent religious Zionist rabbi that he would do so.

It was the first time the Jewish state’s secular founding father had been in a synagogue in the Land of Israel during prayers. He’d already lived in the Land for some forty years.

This uncharacteristic and incongruous event was perhaps a portent of things to come in Israel’s strange, and – in some ways – trendsetting first national government.


Voting for something else

The elections for Israel’s First Knesset in 1949 boasted the country’s highest ever voter turnout (some 87% of eligible voters).

Yet the roughly 440,000 people who voted were not voting for the Knesset at all!

They were voting for the “Constituent Assembly”, a body intended to create a constitution for the young Jewish state, not necessarily govern it.

Polling station in Abu Gosh during the Constituent Assembly elections, 1949 (Photo: Keren Hayesod). From the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Two days after their first meeting, a proposal led by David Ben-Gurion was passed and the “Constituent Assembly” became known as the “Knesset”.

To this day, Israel does not have a constitution.


The secular, socialist, ultra-Orthodox, religious Zionist, Sephardic-Oriental, liberal, Arab coalition

The two biggest winners in the election, Ben-Gurion’s Mapai Party and Meir Yaari’s Mapam Party, were both left-wing and secular, yet Ben-Gurion refused to include Mapam in his coalition, preferring the inclusion of four smaller parties presenting a rather diverse and seemingly bizarre group of Haredim, Religious Zionists, Sephardic Jews, liberal secularists and Arabs…

Ben-Gurion, though, of course had his reasons for choosing these partners. It was important to him that parties representing divergent constituencies – especially more established and traditional communities – also be part of the country’s first government, in order to provide it with broader legitimacy and support, rather than simply rely upon mainstream secular Zionists.

The largest party in the coalition besides Mapai was the United Religious Front, comprised of four religious parties spanning the gamut from the historically anti-Zionist (and later non-Zionist) Haredi Agudat Yisrael and Poalei Agudat Yisrael parties to the fervently religious Zionist Mizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi parties.

The United Religious Front won 16 seats and to this day is the broadest religious party to run in a Knesset (or in this case, Constituent Assembly) election.

First vote of the Constituent Assembly, 14 February 1949 (Photo: Marlin Levin). From the Meitar Collection, National Library of Israel Digital Collection

The party known as “Sephardim and Oriental Communities” also joined Ben-Gurion, with the goal of promoting the interests of its eponymous constituency in the new state. The Progressive Party joined, as well. Though not socialist like Mapai, it was also largely representative of secular Ashkenazic Jews.

The smallest party in the coalition, with two seats, was the Democratic List of Nazareth, led by two Arabs from the Galilean city: Seif el-Din el-Zoubi, who had fought in the Haganah, and Amin-Salim Jarjora, a respected educator and jurist. The Democratic List of Nazareth was aligned with Mapai, part of Ben-Gurion’s efforts to show that Jews and Arabs could coexist in the new State of Israel.


“Living in a movie”

A popular Hebrew expression meaning “to live in a movie” is often used to describe an improbable, unrealistic or unbelievable person, event or situation.

If the circumstances around the establishment of the “First Knesset” or its composition were not enough to employ this expression, then the setting of its meetings certainly could be, because the first Israeli government met in a movie theater.

Yes, a movie theater…. and one named the “Magic Cinema” no less.

When it opened in 1945, the Kesem (“Magic” in Hebrew) Cinema in Tel Aviv was the city’s most luxurious, boasting more than 1,100 upholstered seats and screening the international blockbusters of its day.

The Knesset building, formerly the Kesem Cinema in Tel Aviv, 1949 (Photo: Beno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection, National Library of Israel Digital Collection
Interior of the Knesset building, formerly the Kesem Cinema in Tel Aviv, 1949 (Photo: Beno Rothenberg). From the Meitar Collection, National Library of Israel Digital Collection

The structure’s life as a cinema, however, was short-lived.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Kesem was repurposed to serve as headquarters for the Israeli Navy.

In 1949, it became the Parliament building, as the Knesset met there for most of its inaugural year. While it may seem strange for a national legislative body to meet in a movie theater, given the dearth of large assembly halls and the fact that Kesem was relatively new, spacious and centrally located, it actually made a lot of sense for the “Magic Cinema” to host the First Knesset.

In addition to on-going Knesset meetings, Kesem was also the site of a bizarre, nearly successful attempt to assassinate David Ben-Gurion by a deranged kibbutznik shepherd who simply walked into the cinema building with an automatic weapon and a suitcase of pamphlets he had printed outlining his plans to bring world peace.

A policeman with the failed assassin’s suitcase and gun, published in Maariv, 13 September 1949. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Though he claimed that he wanted to commit suicide in the Knesset in order to bring attention to his plan, some contemporary reports recounted that the would-be assassin yelled, “I will kill Ben-Gurion!”, after being tackled to the ground.


The end

Israel’s first government didn’t last much longer after that – ending rather abruptly (and absurdly) when Ben-Gurion resigned on October 15, 1950.

The reason?

He wanted to name a new Minister of Commerce and Industry, and according to the rules at the time, appointment of a new minister required that the entire government resign…

That rule was soon fixed, but the next few governments led by Ben-Gurion didn’t last long either. He resigned again in early 1951, yet again in 1952 and once more the following year.

David Ben-Gurion on the first day of the Constituent Assembly, 14 February 1949 (Photo: Marlin Levin). From the Meitar Collection, National Library of Israel Digital Collection

The importance of establishing an initial functional government – no matter how short-lived – cannot be understated. Ben-Gurion and his diverse political allies deserve significant credit for that.

In many respects, that rather strange first government also set the stage for the country’s political landscape to “live in a movie” ever since.

Israel’s Astounding (and Imprecise) World Record

The unbelievable story of how 1,088 (or was it 1,122?) people flew aboard a single airplane as part of 1991's Operation Solomon

New immigrants from Ethiopian shortly after disembarking from the plane as part of Operation Solomon, 25 May 1991 (Photo: Gadi Cavallo). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Over a 36-hour period in the last week of May 1991, more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews flew to Israel, with some 1,100 of them arriving on a single airplane!

That flight, in fact, still holds the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of passengers ever carried by a commercial airliner, though the exact number remains disputed three decades after the daring mission known as “Operation Solomon”.

As the immigrants boarded the plane they were counted. Official paperwork went to the relevant authorities and served as the basis for the official record of 1,088 passengers.

At a conference hosted by the Ben Zvi Institute commemorating 30 years since Operation Solomon, the plane’s pilot, Captain Arieh Oz, recalled the historic day (Hebrew).

After landing in Israel, Rafi Har-Lev, the CEO of El Al, asked Captain Oz, “How many passengers did you bring?” Upon hearing the tally, Har-Lev exclaimed, “That’s a world record,” and asked for a re-count just to make sure.

The new tally? 1,122.

A woman is assisted off the plane after landing in Israel, 25 May 1991 (Photo: Gadi Cavallo). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Captain Oz soon realized the reason for the rather significant discrepancy.

A number of mothers had hidden their children under their dresses as they boarded the plane, not fully certain where they were going, nor who exactly was taking them.

Many of the passengers, refugees from the war-torn Gondar region, had never seen an airplane before, let alone many of the other reflections of modern society to which they were suddenly exposed.

Their concern was more than justified given the circumstances.

A mother with her children shortly after disembarking from the plane in Israel, 25 May 1991 (Photo: Gadi Cavallo). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Captain Oz could certainly relate. Decades earlier, a Dutch family had hidden him for three years in their attic, saving him and his sister from being murdered during the Holocaust.

As he prepared to go to the Land of Israel after the war, the child was asked what he would do there:

“Will you be a shepherd? A camel herder?”

Arieh (born Harry Klausner) responded, “I will be a pilot!”

For decades Arieh Oz did just that, serving Israel and the Jewish people in ways his childhood self could not have even imagined, including taking part in the famous mission to free the hostages at Entebbe.

Arieh Oz as a young pilot (Source: Tkuma Leshchakim)

Long retired from active service in the Israeli Air Force, Oz was already senior staff at El Al when he was called to take part in Operation Solomon, flying the first Jumbo 747 ever to land at Addis Ababa airport. According to Oz, who had also spent time in Ethiopia training pilots in the 1960s, three Jumbos were set to land in Ethiopia’s capital as part of the operation. After two came in, local authorities complained that the weight of the massive aircraft had damaged the runway and the third Jumbo was forbidden from touching down.

This setback, as well as a technical issue with another plane, meant that the plan had to be changed. More passengers needed to join Captain Oz’s flight.

Captain Oz of course welcomed them aboard, later honoring the passengers’ request to inform them when the plane flew over Jerusalem.

At some point during the flight, after realizing that the Israeli team was kind and caring, the mothers who had concealed their children on the way onto the plane let them out of hiding.

Uncounted passengers? Mothers with their babies shortly after disembarking in Israel, 25 May 1991 (Photo: Gadi Cavallo). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

When the flight finally landed in Israel – after flying over Jerusalem – there were some three dozen “new passengers”, Captain Oz recalled.

Though the higher number of 1,122 is noted by Guinness World Records, the lower number remains the official figure, as it is what appeared on the flight documents.

Kept secret for months, Operation Solomon would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the global Jewish community and supporters worldwide; the countless Israelis who took part in all aspects of the mission, from planning through implementation; and, of course, the immigrants themselves, who longed for Zion and left all they knew to realize their dreams.

Regardless of whether the true number of passengers on that 747 was 1,088 or 1,122 (or something in between), Operation Solomon remains a rousing example of what can be accomplished when solidarity meets determination and sacrifice.

An Ethiopian Israeli at the Jewish Agency Office in Tel Aviv celebrates after hearing that his parents have just arrived as part of Operation Solomon, 26 May 1991 (Photo: Vered Peer). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.