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Bob Freedman

Uriel Heilman

Herzlia Synagogue
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editorial: The First question for Seder night: Is Bob Freedman Correct in his Assessment of Our Community?

by Rhonda Spivak, April 8, 2014

Bob Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg who is set to retire shortly said something very important and thought provoking in an interview with Uriel Heilman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. I will review what was said in the interview and then give readers my comments and questions . ( Heilman's full posting can be read at: )

According to Heilman, Freedman told him that our community needs to focus on attracting modern orthodox Jews to join our community if it is to survive. 
Heilman wrote:
"Here’s why, according to Freedman: A Jewish community cannot survive in the long term without a committed core of people for whom Jewish living is a daily concern and who can serve as role models for others for what being Jewish is all about. Otherwise, a community eventually will assimilate into oblivion, he postulated."

“As we live in a very tolerant North American society, and as we become more assimilated, we can’t lose a critical mass in terms of an observant community,” Freedman told Heilman.

“Maybe we should get more people actually living what we teach in day school, instead of something that’s theoretical in the classroom,” Freedman also told Heilman .

Heilman wrote that Freedman also told him that young people from our community who are most interested in serious Jewish life understand that they need to move to places with more vibrant observant Jewish communities, such as Toronto. Heilman wrote "But having a committed core is essential if Winnipeg Jews who are less Jewishly involved are to become more so, Freedman says."

According to Heilman, Freedman warned: "Without a committed core, Jews interested in Judaism won’t have opportunities to deepen their engagement with Judaism. 

Freedman told Heilman “At the end of the day we have to have a component that lives a Jewish life and are seen as role models for others."

“If I’m socializing with people who are a little more observant, I learn off them.” I might say to myself: “Hey – they ain’t much different than you or me. They just happen to observe Shabbat and Yom-tov and dietary laws, but otherwise they’re just like you or me.”


Here are this Editor's Four questions" (with sub-questions) for Seder night and my comments:


 1. a) Is Freedman correct in his view that in order to survive long term our community will need to increase/bolster the modern orthodox component of the community for the reasons he gave in his interview with Uriel Heilman?.


I raised this very question and essentially gave an answer in an editorial   on December 28, 2013, where I wrote:



Given the Pew Study's findings, ought we be trying to grow the modern orthodox and orthodox segment of the community? I would like to see the Jewish Federation engaging with Herzlia's leadership to put forth a plan for outreach and growth of that congregation. Could this involve the Federation (with the support of the Foundation?) bringing in a modern orthodox Jewish orthodox teaching couple to do outreach?  Remember that we did have Aish Hatorah here (we had two teaching couples the Lessersons and the Klatsgows) who delivered adult Jewish education, as well as, education for children and young families. Their Shabbaton retreat weekend was always well attended. They sustained themselves by being able to fundraise within this community.
I share Freedman's thoughts and am of the view that for the sake of Jewish continuity in this community a vision and a plan is needed to bolster the modern orthodox component.
b) Has Bob Freedman through his words in his interview with Uriel Heilman given Herzlia Synagogue a last gift as CEO of the Jewish Federation?
Answer: Yes.  The only logical concIusion that can be drawn from what  Freedman has said is  that Herzlia Adas- Yeshurun Synagogue, the only modern orthodox synagogue in our community, must survive for our community to survive long-term. Assuming Herzlia Synagogue were to  turn to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba for financial support for a kosher kitchen or other building or program enhancements,ought it to receive the necessary funding from the JFM? The inescapable conclusion from Freedman's words  to New York's Uriel Heilman is "yes".  A modern orthodox community needs a synagogue if parents  and their children are to remain in the community, a synagogue where a woman can grow in her Judaism and still maintain a modern lifestyle. Chabad Lubavitch will not fit that bill and will never be a replacement for a modern orthodox synagogue.


If one understands the essence of what Freedman said to Heilman then there is no question our community will have to find the resources to ensure that Herzlia synagogue and its congregation continue to exist. 

2. Is Freedman correct in saying to Heilman that young people from the community who are most interested in serious Jewish life often are encouraged by their parents to move to places with more vibrant observant Jewish communities, such as Toronto?


The answer is “Yes”. I know members of this community who are having the discussion with their children about how it would be better to leave Winnipeg for this reason.  There are many over the last two decades who have already left to live a more Jewishly observant lifestyle, and others who see the writing on the wall. Even for some who stay here because their jobs are here, they would encourage their children to leave.  I ran into someone last week who is orthodox and told me he had read the statements from the Council of Rabbis about Kashrut at communal events posted on this website recently. He spoke to me with concern for the future, and of the real possibility of  leaving this community for the sake of his children. He is looking for a community with a critical mass of observant families.


3. Does the Hiring Committee for the New CEO of the Jewish Federation share Bob Freedman's vision of the need to strengthen the modern orthodox component of our community for the sake of Jewish continuity of this community?  I believe that Freedman is in essence saying that a Jewish community will not survive long-term based on cultural Judaism alone. Do members of the Hiring Committee have a different vision/s for the long term survival of this community-and if so what are they?  

Uriel Heilman quoted Bob Freedman as saying “Even before the Pew study, you’d have to be living in a cave not to have understood what was happening.”  Freedman added “Time isn’t necessarily on our side.”


Did Bob Freedman have an opportunity to share his view with community leaders, and if so, do they agree? 


A. I can't answer the above questions. I do not know the answers. Uriel Heilman wrote in his article that "Freedman says he has shared his thinking with federation staff", but the article doesn't say whether he has shared his thinking with his Executive or Board or the Hiring Committee. I can only urge those on the Hiring Committee to give what Freedman said a good read, and consider whether they agree with him. If they do, then in my respectful opinion, the Federation's approach to Jewish continuity in this community  will have to be one that makes it a top priority to bolster the existing component of  observant Jews in our community, and attracting other conservadox and modern orthodox Jews like them to join the community, and raise families here. This will require a new CEO of the Jewish Federation who understands the needs of modern orthodox families, and who has the ideas and brainpower to bolster our community's longevity on this basis.


4. As Passover approaches, let me ask the fourth question. Assuming Freedman's analysis of what is needed for the long term survival of our Jewish community is correct, would the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba recognize the importance and necessity of working together for a vision/plan to increase the modern orthodox component of our Jewish community? 


Happy Passover to all my readers.

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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.