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Bob and his girl Shirl

Bob and Shirley Freedman

Bob, Shirley, and Pam


by Rhonda Spivak, March 9, 2012



Met his Wife of 42 years on a blind date. Married 10 months later. Just renewed his vows with the Jewish Federation

Bob Freedman hit his 25 year milestone anniversary this year as head of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, formerly known as the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council, and we figured our readers would be interested in knowing a few things about him that aren’t common knowledge.

I asked Bob's wife Shirley (they've been married for 42 years) to drop off a few old photos of Bob and the family and she brought a delightful book full of treasured photos put together by their children as an anniversary present that would make a good coffee table book; I might start taking orders. I have chosen a few of the best for this tribute but may publish more of them soon.

I interviewed Bob last year, but haven’t published an article, thinking that he’d probably forget and then would be very surprised to see this. My timing couldn’t have been better, since I can now “break the story” that Bob has signed a contract with the Jewish Federation for two more years, which should give me enough time to share a few more old photos of Bob in upcoming news stories.

Here is my Q and A with Bob; I hope you learn something about him that you didn’t know.

Q. How did you meet your wife Shirley?

A. Met my wife on a blind date. Married 10 months later.


Q. What kind of car do you drive? (This was my husband's question. I would have never thought of that one on my own.)

A. A Chevy.

Q. Favourite Song?

A. The Eagles’ Hotel California.

Q. Favourite Jewish Holiday?

A. Purim, when I can see the grandchildren dressed up.

Q. Favourite American President?

A. Bill Clinton.

Q. Favourite place in Israel?

A. Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee.

Q. Number of trips to Israel?

A. I haven’t kept count, (Editor’s note: But I bet Jack Ciplinski has!), but I have been to Israel over 20 times.

Q. Best thing about Winnipeg?

A. Other than Kelekis’ skinny fries? The people who live here.

Q. Favourite colour?

A. Blue. What else could it be, I’m Jewish!

Q. Favourite food?

A. Ice Cream. Any flavour.

Q. Favourite sport?

A. Baseball.

Q. Favourite food at Schmoozers?

A. Cheese and tomato on a toasted bagel. (Editor's note: which Shmoozers should rename as "The Bob")

Q. Favourite film?

A. Anything made by Mel Brooks, including the greatest movie ever made, Blazing Saddles.

Q. Favourite book?

A. I don’t have a lot of time to read books, though I will when I retire. I just read Start Up Nation.

Q. Hobbies?

A. Watching old movies from the 30’s 40’s and 50s.
(Editor's note: Bob wasn't sure this would qualify as a hobby but I think it does, sort-of)

Q. Highlights of the past 25 years at the helm of the Jewish community?

A. I have a lot, but to pick one, it would have to be the ceremonial opening of campus and the pride that was obvious on the faces of the several thousand people that showed up that day. My older daughter Pam, living in the U.S. surprised me by coming up for the event and she was there along with my other daughter Susie, Shirley and our dog Jasper. The late Ron Duhamel brought remarks from the federal government and officially opened the "Jasper" Jewish Community Campus, which made our dog so proud. That speaks to one of the funniest moments.

Another was when Marjorie Blankstein and I were doing our dog and pony shows to every group we could identify promoting the vision we had for the community, which eventually led to the development of the Campus. We met with the board of the Ashkenazi Shul, the late Silverberg brothers, who after listening to us with a glazed look on their faces proceeded to tell us that unless we abandoned our secular ways we would be forever screwed and then pitched us to become members of the shul for only $ 18 which included high holiday seats.

Q. Most challenging aspect as CEO of the Federation?

A. Needless to say, there are no shortages of challenges in a position like this, but when I took on this position I came to an understanding with the board at the time that I would have a fair amount of authority to do my job and move this community forward. I would venture to say, that without that support and the unbelievable people that I was fortunate to work with, I would never have survived 25 years.

Q. What can you tell us about your family, and education?

A. My parents were immigrants from the Ukraine. When I was born, we lived in a tenement on Salter between Alfred and Aberdeen. The building is still standing. My dad had to borrow the $ 500 he needed as a deposit on the first house they bought. He worked as a salesman most of his life, for Chicago Kosher and Weidman Foods. My mother maintained a kosher home. Despite their limited education they taught me to be respectful of other people and to never forget where we came from, that no matter how successful we would become, to always maintain a sense of humility and empathy for other people. I could never have succeeded in what I have done the past 25 years without carrying the lessons they taught me.

I have an older brother who lives in California. He was very successful in the entertainment business, having been the manager for Tina Turner, Lionel Ritchie, and The Eagles, among others.

I first attended Peretz Shul, where I learned a little Yiddish, and then 4 years at "Talmud Torture". I graduated high school from West Kildonan Collegiate. I lived in the North End until I got married to another north ender, Shirley Bober. We have 2 daughters, both married and 5 grandchildren.

Additional Info:

Prior to becoming Executive Director of the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council in 1986, Freedman was the Executive Director of Legal Aid. He began working as Legal Aid's Comptroller and became its Executive Director in 1973, quite an achievement for someone who did not have a law degree. He was the first Chairman of the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education, and received the Harry Silverberg Young Leadership Award in 1981.

On September 7th, 1997, the Asper Jewish Community Campus presented Bob with an award of sincerest appreciation by for his unique contribution as Campus Coordinator. His involvement in the conception, planning, implementation, and capital campaign helped bring the Campus into being.

In 2003, UIA/Federations Canada presented him with the Chai Award in recognition of his dedication and commitment to rescue, and to strengthening Jewish life and Jewish identity in Canada, Israel, and throughout the world.

Quotes from Leading Community Personalities

Marjorie Blankstein: "WOW – 25 years—hard to believe! But I have known Bob longer than that, when he was Chair of the Board of Jewish Education and I was President of the WJCC board in the early 1980’s. After 1986 when he became Executive Director of the WJCC, we worked together on the Long Range Planning Committee, which led to the development of our [community] Campus. Bob is a solid professional,capable,and supportive of his volunteer leadership. His leadership,wisdom, and commitment to our community was and is exemplary.Under his watch,our community has achieved amazing growth and development."

Former Jewish Federation of Winnipeg President Dr. Ted Lyons: “Bob is a visionary leader. For the past 25 years, Bob and his team have made the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg the source of operating funds for most of the Jewish community organizations and the long term planners for the community."

Rory Paul, CEO of Gray Academy of Jewish Education: "Over the last 25 years, Jewish Community and Bob Freedman have become synonymous. Bob's fingerprints can be seen and felt on every successful venture and every agency in our community. As I come into contact with Jewish communities across Canada, Bob's name and Bob's work are known. We are fortunate indeed to have Bob's leadership and stewardship."

Adam Levene, winner of the 2011 Harry Silverberg Young Leadership Award: "Bob is one of our community's top jewels. His devotion and commitment to the growth and sustainability of the Jewish community is remarkable."

I hope you will agree this has been a fitting tribute for a gentleman who has devoted his life’s work to us. Yasher Koach Bob! Your shoes (or should I say your Sweet Pedtootie Mukluks) will be hard to fill. And thank you Shirley, Pam and Suzie for supporting him.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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