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Ben Cohen

Lawrence Bush
March 18, 2018

Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, was born on this date in 1951. He and his lifelong friend Jerry Greenfield invested $6,000 to renovate a gas station in Burlington, Vermont and open their first ice cream shop in 1977. From the inception of their multi-million-dollar business, Ben & Jerry’s sought to have a “double bottom line” of success — to make a profit while also pursuing progressive employment and business practices. Until 1995, the highest-paid officer was permitted to make no more than seven times the lowest-paid worker. Employees rotated on a “joy gang” charged with making the workplace more fun. Ben & Jerry’s contributed heavily to social justice causes and established a “1% for Peace, Inc.” national non-profit to promote peace work. Stock shares were kept affordable, and one out of every 100 Vermonters became shareholders. “I always felt we were holding the business in trust for the community,” Cohen has written. “The community allows you to exist.” When the U.S. Senate proposed opening the Arctic National Refuge to oil drilling in 2005, Ben & Jerry’s created the world’s largest Baked Alaska (over 1,000 pounds) and placed it in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. When Vermont legalized gay marriage in 2009, the company changed their brand “Chubby Hubby” to “Hubby Hubby” for a month to celebrate. Cohen was the founder of the online activist group, True, which has focused on cutting the U.S. military budget to free money for social needs, and on clean elections. By 2008, True Majority had 700,000 members.

“Governments need to measure strength not in terms of how many people they can kill, but how many people they can feed, clothe, house and care for.” —Ben Cohen

From the Jewish Currents Historical Archive: Ben Cohen, Costs of War

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.