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Bob Freedman with his wife, Shirley Freedman

Bob Freedman on Federation Mission to Israel



by Rhonda Spivak, October 4, 2014











I met Bob Freedman for coffee just after he had recently retired as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg for 28 years at Timothy’s on Corydon.








Timothy's is where Bob would go every morning by about 7:30 a.m. to start his day with a coffee and read the morning paper. He’d be in the Federation office generally about 8:30 every morning.








After 28 years at the helm of the community as CEO of the Jewish Federation, Freedman said that “it’s an adjustment” to have retired. During CJA campaign time, Bob said he would take “about 100 cards,” of donors to canvass for the campaign. This year, as a volunteer, he has “7-8 cards.”











At a farewell gathering on August 27, 2014 at the Asper Campus, Bob had reminisced about how his father suggested that he “was crazy” on learning he had been hired to be Federation CEO, and he noted that what the late Gerry Kaufman z"l taught him was at the end of the day in all of one’s dealings one had to remember to be “a mensch”.









On a lighter note at the farewell event Freedman joked about a retirement card sent to him that he could now say to his wife Shirley “Honey, I’m Home… FOREVER.”








But that is already not really the case since Bob has a new gig (and he even has a new email address to go with it in addition to his wife's email address).









On September 1, Bob began acting as a consultant for both the Shaarey Zedek and Etz Chayim congregations to work on a proposal to the Asper Campus Corporation for a new synagogue building on the campus site. Freedman’s been retained for a “two month assignment” until October 31.









“The two synagogues have been in discussion for two years regarding a potential partnership. Part of that discussion has involved the feasibility of a new building. No final decisions have been made. The two synagogues have retained me to work on a proposal to the Asper Campus Corporation for a building on the campus site," Freedman said [see related story in the Winnipeg Jewish Review with more details on synagogue merger].








We spoke of Freedman's achievements and of course the vision for and building of the Asper Campus came up. Bob's spouse, Shirley Freedman, who the Winnipeg Jewish Review interviewed by telephone  recalls how "for eleven years Bob ploughed away" to make sure that the Asper Campus became a reality.







There were many periods "when he was away every evening for supper," Shirley noted, and she remembers how there were at the time many who told her "We're never going to come South. No one is going to walk through those doors." But in the end the reality, of course, turned out to be very different.






When he retired recently Freedman recalls that a family who came here from Argentina in 2003, who initially wasn't eligible to move here, told him that what he had done had changed their lives and they were grateful for it.  "In that way we made a difference as a Federation in bringing Jewish families to move here and be part of our community."






In the course of raising money in the community, Freedman spoke of encountering people who would say that "they aren't members of the Rady JCC and don't have kids in school" so the campaign doesn't benefit them. "At the end of the day I ask them to think about whether they would feel as secure and good about themselves if they were living in a weak and not well regarded Jewish community?"





When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review whether he thinks it’s possible for a Jewish community such as ours to exist based on cultural Judaism alone, Freedman responded "What does that mean? Cultural Judaism. Does it mean having a dill pickle with your sandwich? Does it mean occasionally going to a play with a Jewish theme? It's great to go to a Jewish film festival, for example, and that's fine for people who may say they are 'cultural' Jews but that can't be the foundation for maintaining a Jewish community."








Freedman added with candour, "We can't claim to have a vibrant Jewish community without synagogues or with a few left but barely surviving."







When asked, after 28 years at the helm of the community, to identify the most significant challenge facing the Winnipeg Jewish Community, Freedman answered that in an age when Canadian Jews are part of the mainstream" of society, "the issue of assimilation is a serious issue" as is "the growing number of kids who have no exposure whatsoever to Jewish education" (i.e. through school, camp, synagogue, etc.).






He is of the view that this is why having shuls "playing a greater role in the community and having more influence over the community's character and development is a positive thing."






Freedman also spoke of the fact that he estimates that somewhere between 10-15% of the Jews here in the community "are not connected in any way, or don't participate at some level (i.e. through the JCC, camps, schoo

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.