Häagen-Dazs Creator Ruth Mattus, 90

By Dan Levin

Published December 08, 2006, issue of December 08, 2006.
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Rose Mattus, a longtime Jewish philanthropist and one of the creators of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, died November 28 in Westwood, N.J., at the age of 90.

Mattus grew up in Poland and moved to Brooklyn with her family in 1921. She married a distant cousin, Reuben, in 1936, and together they started making ice cream, which they sold first in the Bronx and later throughout New York City. In the early 1960s, the couple created the foreign-sounding name Häagen-Dazs, and Mattus took to offering free samples to grocery stores to boost sales. She also served as comptroller for two decades until 1983, when they sold the company — by then an internationally known brand — to Pillsbury for $70 million. The Mattuses went on to create a new brand: Mattus, which specialized in low-fat ice cream.

An ardent Zionist, Mattus spent the last 23 years of her life active in Jewish philanthropy, often for right-wing causes. She and her husband funded yeshivas, hospitals and religious organizations in Israel and in the West Bank, including the Chai Lifeline, a not-for-profit organization that assists children living with serious illnesses; the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, a right-wing Orthodox initiative to bring tens of millions of so-called “lost Jews” from Asia and Europe to the West Bank, and the Hebron Fund. She also sat on the national board of the Zionist Organization of America for the past 12 years.

“Her two great loves both began with the letter ‘I’: ice cream and Israel,” said Morton Klein, president of the ZOA. “She was a very generous contributor to Jews living in Judea and Samaria. No one surpassed her commitment to the holy Jewish land of Israel.”

Mattus is survived by two brothers, two daughters, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1994.

“My mother was very passionately involved with the State of Israel,” her daughter Doris Hurley told the Forward. “She spent so much of her time committed to philanthropic efforts there and visited Israel many times. In fact, she could get any of the prime ministers on the phone when she needed to. She was afraid of nothing. On one of her visits a few years ago, a bus blew up 200 yards from where she was standing, but she went back. She told us, ‘Israel is the place I feel safest.’”

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