Joel Gasman has been running the Ben & Jerry’s store on 104th and Broadway in Manhattan since 2003 and were we in different times, he said, he might put an Israeli flag by his window to let people know he is pro-Israel. In a phone interview with The Jewish Press, he said he’s lost some business due to the recent announcement by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice cream in parts of Israel, which has angered Jews around the world.
“I definitely had some people cancel orders and I had people complain,” said Gasman, 69. “We were very unhappy when we heard what happened with Ben & Jerry’s, no doubt. We wanted to express how we feel about this. I wanted people to know we are not in accord with what Ben & Jerry’s has done. A few people walked in the store and they came in all prepared to really give it to me…. I put my hand out and I said ‘If I didn’t own the store I’d be right outside with you right now. Basically, I agree with you 100 percent.'”
The Long Island resident said the corporate statement “had no affiliation with what local owners might be thinking or feeling” and he wished in its statement that it would have mentioned that the corporate office did not consult with franchise owners and the statement didn’t represent their view.
He said several Jewish lawyers who came in to lambaste him wound up leaving their cards with him and asking if there was anything they could do to help him after he explained where he stood.
Upon hearing of the store’s losses, a Jewish woman who used to live near the store, spoke kindly of Gasman and said she will never forget what he did. The woman, in her late 30s, who worked for a Jewish non-profit on the Upper West Side, said she organized a blood drive and asked Gasman if he would help a few years ago.
“He was amazing,” she said. “He agreed to donate a pint of ice cream for each pint of blood so we had coupons. I think he probably donated like 60 pints of ice cream. It was incredible. I didn’t expect him to be so generous, but he was.”
The Long Island store owner said that he and his son Evan had the idea of making a Facebook post Monday night to let people know they would be donating 10% of proceeds to Israel education. He added that they are looking into what organization to give the proceeds to.
Many who were interviewed by this reporter days earlier stated that they did not believe in a boycott of Israeli Ben & Jerry’s owners because the situation was more complex and Jewish owners could lose their livelihood. Former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has called for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s in America as well as some products of the parent company Unilever, was reached by phone at the airport.
Asked if Jews should still boycott a Ben & Jerry’s location owned by a Jewish man who said he didn’t agree with the corporate statement and would donate some proceeds to Israel education, Hikind responded: “People have to make their own decisions.”
Hikind added that Greek billionaire John Catsimatidis, who owns many supermarkets, said he would take 1/3 of the Ben & Jerry’s supply off the shelf.
“He is a great guy and a great friend of Israel, but to me this is neither here nor there,” Hikind said of only taking a third off the shelf. “I don’t get it.”
Below is the statement Gasman made on Facebook Monday night along with a picture of him standing with his son, Evan. (Evan is not an owner in the store; he works in medical real estate.)
“As independent franchise owners with Ben & Jerry’s, we feel the recent actions by its corporate office do not reflect our personal views and we’re saddened by the impact that this has had on our business and the Jewish community. We are proud Jews, Americans and active supporters of the New York Jewish community and State of Israel. We think the only concern you should have when coming into our store is deciding if you want rainbow or chocolate sprinkles. Starting today we will be donating 10% of our profits to State of Israel educational causes. At this time, we ask for your support so that we can continue to operate and in turn, support our community.”
Besides a large Jewish population on the Upper West Side, the location is near several synagogues, including Anshe Chesed on 100th and Broadway, Romemu on West 105th Street, and Congregation Ramath Orah on 110th Street and Broadway.
“We have a great Jewish community here,” he said.
Gasman said he knew he had to do something honest and tasteful so he made the post about his personal feeling.
“If I could give back to an organization that could help educate about Israel, it would be great,” he said. “If people are going to cancel their orders, they’re going to cancel, but I want them to know where I stand. I think people will support us in general and by them seeing that we’re looking to give back to Israel, people will realize these people are caught and what has taken place is not something we wanted to happen.”