This year, the world is marking a major anniversary. And no, not the one you might think I’m referring to as Executive Director of Zionism Victoria.
As if you need reminding, I am of course talking about the 115th anniversary of the creation of Toblerone.
Yes, back in 1908, while our Zionist forefathers were echoing the recently deceased Theodor Herzl’s calls for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, his namesake Theodor Tobler was whisking up cocoa, nougat, honey and almonds to establish the chocolate treat we know and love today.
And while a young David Ben-Gurion was dreaming of making the desert bloom, a slightly older Theodor Tobler was dreaming of making the bar triangular.
What made me think of Toblerone though, as I set out to pen this piece, was not its anniversary – rather a news item I read about the iconic Matterhorn logo being dropped from its packaging. It’s something to do with some Toblerone production being shifted out of Switzerland and Swiss law prohibiting the use of Swiss imagery on non-Swiss products, but that’s by the by.
The important element for my thesis is the changing design. Some may be perturbed, some may be upset, some may lament the passing of an era. But, and this is a big but (not the kind Sir Mix-a-Lot sang about, but a big but nonetheless), as long as the chocolate inside stays the same and we’re simply talking about superficial tinkering with the cover, then there’s no real harm done.
Contrast my laissez fair attitude about losing the logo to the outcry that erupted back in 2016 when Toblerone made the triangular chunks in their bars narrower and increased the space between them in a bid to cut costs.
Such was the public ire and outrage that two years later the company backed down and the traditional Toblerone bar was revived.
In short, you can mess with the wrapping all you want but touch what’s inside and the people won’t wear it.
All of which brings us, not so much full circle as full triangle, to Israel.
The Jewish State has changed a lot over the years. From kibbutz communes to the start-up nation; from those fleeing European persecution to those fleeing Arab persecution; from those fleeing Africa to those fleeing Russia and Ukraine; from a Labour Government to a Likud Government to a new Government every five minutes; from an underdog on the brink of extinction to a regional power; and from neighbours from hell to BFFs.
Yes, Israel today looks a little different to the Israel that was established 75 years ago. But fundamentally, like Toblerone, it still has the same ingredients. A nation founded on equality and democracy, respectful of all faiths, a homeland for Jews in good times and bad, and a state sadly threatened both physically and ideologically by antisemites on its borders and overseas.
The PM, President and political hue may change, but, at the end of the day, it’s still Israel.
However, if you try to mess with certain structures, which is what many people fear the current government is doing, then – as was the case when Toblerone’s triangles were being reshaped – they won’t take it lying down.
Anyway, all that said and for all the current furore, there is still so much to celebrate as Israel turns 75. Putting politics to the side, the Jewish State’s achievements have been phenomenal, not only in terms of what it’s accomplished within its own borders but in terms of what it’s given the world as a whole.
A global pioneer in science, tech, medicine and agriculture, an international hub of culture and creativity, first on foreign shores with aid and relief when disaster strikes, a haven for millions of our brothers and sisters fleeing persecution, at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQI+ rights and now, after years of rejection, breaking bread and building bridges with erstwhile enemies.
Yes, there is much to celebrate. So, while there’s also a lot to discuss, in all the talking let us not lose sight of why we care so much. Because Israel is our homeland and its citizens are our family. And when family has a big birthday, in spite of the broigeses we all turn up to the party.
And what do you get when you put one Toblerone piece upside down on top of another Toblerone piece? The Israeli flag. Happy 115th Toblerone … and Happy 75th Israel.
Zeddy Lawrence has been Executive Director of Zionism Victoria since March 2022. He previously served as National Editor of The Australian Jewish News for 12 years. Prior to that he was Editor In Chief of the UK Jewish News. A graduate of Oxford University, he worked for a number of years as a TV scriptwriter and radio journalist.