“People here really do care about others and, when you pull together as a community, you can do amazing things,” said ice cream icon Jerry Greenfield as he mingled with the large crowd sampling three of Ben & Jerry’s popular flavours in the lobby of Centrepointe Theatre.
“People are incredibly warm, welcoming, hospitable, gracious, and I was overwhelmed with the reception I got,” he said after his entertaining and inspiring address at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s 2015 Annual Campaign Kickoff event, September 14.
Discussing how charitable giving can be integrated into all aspects of life, Greenfield had the crowd laughing along as he told stories about how he and his childhood best friend Ben Cohen, co-founded the Vermont-based ice cream company that incorporated their “hippie” values into the business world, making philanthropy a high priority.
The ice cream team started giving back early, after founding the company in 1978 and working through the inevitable growing pains of small business entrepreneurship. Their increasing popularity made them realize they were “bursting at the seams” and needed a new manufacturing plant where all supplies and ingredients could be stored.
Instead of pursuing venture capital funding, as most small-businesses do, Greenfield and Cohen instead established a precedent-setting public stock offering in Vermont, allowing their customers to “get a scoop of the action.”
“We were looking for our neighbours: people who had been supporting us.”
As the business began to grow, Greenfield said he and Cohen were concerned their company was becoming “just another cog in the economic machine” and took steps to redirect that path. Ben & Jerry’s earmarks 7.5 per cent of its pre-tax profits to support a variety of charitable causes – the average among American corporations being 1.5 per cent. The company also has 14 partnership shops that work with at-risk youth and supports Fair Trade-certified vanilla, cocoa, and coffee beans.
“As you give, you receive,” he said, explaining that the principles they established have been maintained in the years since Ben & Jerry’s was bought by Unilever, the multinational food company. Cohen and Greenfield have stayed on at Ben & Jerry’s as brand ambassadors.
Kickoff Co-chairs Gillie Vered and Susan Viner Vered, hosted the event and expressed their deep thanks to Ottawa’s Jewish community for its continued support of the Annual Campaign and for special appeals such as the Israel Crisis Fund which raised $200,000 during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge this past summer.
“The Jewish community of Ottawa needs your support,” Viner Vered said. “We need your participation, your spirit and your talent, your creativity, and, for those who can, your financial contribution. Participation is ageless and gender neutral.”
Annual Campaign Co-chairs Leiba Krantzberg and Jeffrey Miller echoed that sentiment: “Community is real in the Jewish people… a community committed to enriching lives,” Krantzberg said.
There were several testimonials from people whose lives have been greatly impacted by programs and agencies funded by the Annual Campaign.
John Molot spoke about his daughter Samantha (Sam), a Tamir client, with both developmental and physical disabilities.
Molot described Tamir as a “well-organized, vibrant community” and considers it to be “one of the community’s most valued agencies because of the organization’s dedication to assisting people with developmental disabilities.
“Tamir helps their clients realize their full potential,” he said.
Sam is now heavily involved with Tamir programming, but Molot said he truly saw the powerful impact the organization had on her life when her mother passed away. Sam refused to move from the couch when it came time to move to a respite housing and daily care program. A Tamir staff member arrived and chatted with her.
“It was like watching an ice cube melt suddenly away,” Molot said.
“For Sam and our entire family, Tamir has been a lifeline and a true blessing,” he added.
Shelby Levine spoke of the impact the Social Action Mission to Israel had on her life when she was part of a group of young adults from Ottawa who travelled to Metula in Northern Israel last winter to help repair a youth centre.
“The space was originally dirty, dark and honestly completely unpleasant. With a lot of elbow grease, we made into a bright, clean and interactive space for the teenagers of Metula,” Levine said.
“It has definitely been one of the most meaningful trips I have ever been on,” she said of the trip that combined regional development and creating a living bridge, Gesher Chai, further connecting the emerging generation to Israel and its people.
Jared Greenberg, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, brought home the idea of creating a lasting connection to Judaism for the future, when he spoke of their decision to enrol their three young children at the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS).
Despite “two very good public schools” close to their home in Barrhaven, the Greenbergs wanted their kids to be able to thrive in a safe environment both academically and socially, and also to be able to “develop a strong sense of Jewish identity.”
Greenberg said they decided on OJCS after doing their “due diligence” and visiting some schools.
The Greenberg children have also attended summer day camp and participated in the After Care program at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
“That turned out to be a few of the best decisions we ever made in terms of programming, excellent staff, and the friendships that were started,” he said.
Sophie Kohn Kaminsky of AJA (Active Jewish Adults) 50+ capped off the testimonials about programs subsidized or funded by the Annual Campaign as she spoke of the social networking and programming offered by AJA 50+.
“Simply put, AJA 50+ provides many opportunities to develop new friendships, social connections and ways to keep healthy and active in mind, body and spirit,” she said of the impact AJA 50+ has on its 400 members.
Other participants in the kickoff event included the OJCS Choir, which led the singing of “O Canada” and “Hatikvah,” and violinists Dahlia Bercovitch and Shelly Cao who played a selection of three peace songs.
As well, the 2015 Annual Campaign video highlighting several Federation-funded programs was shown.
Attendees got to meet Greenfield and sample scoops of Phish Food, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Salted Caramel at an ice cream party in the Centrepointe lobby after the evening’s presentations, speeches and entertainment. Many stopped to take photos with Greenfield, who would not shake people’s hands.
“I’m a hugger,” he boomed as each person waiting to chat was enveloped in a bear hug.
Donations to the Annual Campaign can be made online at www.jewishottawa.com, or by calling 613-798-4696, ext. 242.