Past Honorees

At Central Synagogue

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
1998 Ice Cream Entrepreneurs, Philanthropists and Activists

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – better known as Ben & Jerry – are the businessmen and philanthropists behind the popular ice cream brand that is now distributed worldwide. Both born in March of 1951, they bonded over their mutual hatred of gym class at Merrick Avenue Junior High School on Long Island in 1963, and have been friends ever since. In 1978, they opened their first ice cream shop in an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Their ice cream was a hit, and slowly, over the years, their business grew. (Their creative flavors, particularly known for their many chunks and mix-ins, were influenced by Ben’s anosmia, or loss of smell and almost loss of taste, which led him to more texture differences in his food.)  In 2000, they sold Ben & Jerry’s to the multinational corporation Unilever, giving up management but remaining the influential faces of the company.

The business the pair built was not only successful, but socially conscious; in 1985 the two established the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation to fund community oriented projects. In 1988 President Reagan honored the team with the U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year Award. In 1992 they joined in the Children Defense Fund’s campaign to bring the basic needs of children to national attention and priority on the United States’ agenda.

Cohen is also well known for his social activism outside of his role in the ice cream company. He founded Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a non-profit organization composed of business leaders trying to shift federal spending money from military programs to social programs like education, healthcare, and green technologies. He also founded True Majority, a liberal advocacy group, one of the largest of such groups in the United States. He was honored in 2000 by the New York Open Center for his socially conscious business model.

Greenfield is also active in Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, and originated the idea for Ben & Jerry’s Joy Gang, which promotes happiness in the workplace. He has a wife, Elizabeth, and a son, Tyrone, born in 1988. He lives in Williston, Vermont, a small town not too far from the now multimillion dollar company first began.