Frito-Lay president Irene Rosenfeld and
Cornell president Jeffrey Lehman

It’s The Best Of Times For
Women In Corporate America

Story and Photos by Tim Boxer

ORNELL UNIVERSITY’S celebration of 350 years of Jewish life in America, and Jewish presence on its campus since its founding 140 years ago, brought some two dozen rabbis, scholars and diplomats to its Ithaca, N.Y., campus in May for an enlightening weekend of seminars and discussions.

Rabbi Albert Gabbai said his Mikveh Israel was the first synagogue to be established in Philadelphia in 1782. When the congregation was in dire need of funds, Christ Church donated a check for $1,000, and when Christ Church needed funds, Mikveh Israel wrote a check for $1,000. "That check has been going back and forth to this day," he said.

The intense learning event, organized by alumnus Dr. Norman Turkish of Ithaca, culminated in a black-tie dinner that called attention to the thriving Jewish spirit at Cornell.

In accepting the 2005 Masters of Excellence Award from the Center for Jewish Living at the dinner, Dr. Irene B. Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Frito-Lay since September 2004, recalled the challenges of keeping kosher as a Cornell student in the ‘70s.

She would eat at the Kosher Dining Hall (since renamed 104 West) because that’s where the fellow she was dating took his meals. Although that relationship lasted only one year, her culinary experience was "a logical step along the path of my lifelong love of Judaism and played a key role in my decision to set up a kosher home."

Norman Turkish escorts
Israel Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger
around campus.

For Rosenfeld there is no better time to be Jewish in corporate America. She recalled the first time she lit Chanukah candles next to the Christmas tree in the lobby of the General Foods head offices.

The retirement dinner for her predecessor was held on the first seder night, so she had the PepsiCo chairman deliver her congratulations and explain that she was observing the Passover holiday with her family.

After years of scheduling the Frito-Lay annual plan to PepsiCo management on Yom Kippur – which created a problem for the two Jewish members of the senior team – this year she managed to have the date changed.

Previously she spent 22 years with Kraft Foods, most recently as president of Kraft Foods North America. At her request Kraft Kitchens now provides Passover recipes on its website.

Mark Moller and
Yeshiva University chancellor
Norman Lamm.

What all this means, she said, is that "it is an especially good time to be a Jew in the food industry." She noted that there are more than 10 million consumers – Jews, Muslims, vegetarians, lactose intolerant – who keep kosher.

A quarter of Frito-Lay products carry the Orthodox Union certification. To convert the balance of its line is Rosenfeld’s next challenge.

It is also a good time to be Jewish at Cornell. When Rosenfeld accompanied her daughter Allison at freshman orientation last fall, she was thrilled how far Jewish life has evolved since her college days.

She learned that Friday night services are held for all three denominations, a Hillel-sponsored barbeque attracts more than 1,000 students, seders are held every year, Shabbat dinners are a staple on campus, among other Jewish activities.

Among the dinner guests were Cornell president Jeffrey Lehman, Yeshiva University chancellor Norman Lamm, Rabbi Marc Angel of New York’s Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Edward Walker, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Rabbi Avrohom Goldstein of the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem, ROTC officers, law school professors, and visiting rabbis from Newport, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah and Houston.

This being Rabbi Lamm’s first visit to Cornell’s ivy league campus, he said he was almost in violation of the commandment "Thou shalt not covet."

Irene Rosenfeld and daughter,
Cornell freshman Allison.

Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, head of Cornell Hillel, related how Lehman, the university’s first Jewish president, attends Jewish functions. At the recent campus-wide Shabbat dinner, Rosenthal put Lehman on the spot. He told the president to just hold the cup of wine while everyone joins in Kiddush.

That was not enough for the president, who asked, "Should I start with Yom Hashishi?"

"Yes," Rosenthal said, "Do you want a siddur?"

"No," Lehman said and proceeded to recite Kiddush by heart.

"At our seder," Rosenthal added, "we concluded with President Lehman singing Chad Gadya in Ladino."

What other president of a secular university can do that?

PS: A month later, in June, Lehman resigned as president, but continues as professor of law.

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