His frequent trips to New York, Israel and Russia were opportunities to expose his students to the great Jewish personalities worldwide. His tenacity and amazing energy allowed him to create encounters with nearly any great person anywhere that he felt appropriate.
After reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” by the world famous professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Vienna Medical School, Dr. Viktor Frankl, Rabbi Freedman felt compelled to travel to Vienna to meet with him. Dr. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and Rabbi Freedman wanted to warm the Doctor’s soul by encouraging him to come closer to yiddishkeit and the Almighty.
Rabbi Freedman had no connection to Dr. Frankl other than being an avid reader of his collection of books. Yet, Rabbi Freedman managed to invite himself to the Doctor’s home in Vienna where they shared a few days of intimate conversaton regarding man’s search for meaning through Rabbi Freedman’s eyes and perspective.
Rabbi Freedman had similar encounters with the famous Holocaust author Elie Wiesel, who Rabbi Freedman would search out whenever he had a speaking engagement in Michigan.His goal was to cajole and encourage Mr. Wiesel to view history in a more spiritual way. Their conversations were very impactful and Elie Wiesel spoke very highly of his time and discussions with Rabbi Freedman.
Blessing For Strength
Rabbi Freedman was once asked how he managed in his “retirement years” to have the energy of a teenager. His answer was simple and straightforward. “It came from a bracha I received from my Rebbe, Rabbi Mendlowitz when I was in my twenties. He saw me running up the stairs at Mesivta Torah Vodaas and told my that I should save my strength for my old age.” Rabbi Freedman was convinced that that was a bracha that he carried with him till the end of his life. His remarkable energy level until his tragic passing on the 20th of Teves at 81 years old, seems to bear out Rabbi Freedman’s conclusion that this bracha was mekuyam (fulfilled).
Rabbi Freedman was an incredibly humble human being: he had virtually no ego. When those close to him would want to disagree or challenge him, even sometimes in rather strong terms, Rabbi Freedman would never, ever raise his voice or evidence any discomfort or disappointment with those individuals. His loving and devoted son, Rabbi Bunny Freedman, told over one of the surest examples of this extraordinary quality. Reb Bunny was driving his father home from Maariv one evening when his father exhorted his son to always remember to wear a hat during davening (which Bunny had not done that evening). Reb Bunny became exasperated and carried on for half an hour in the car about how his father was never satisfied with any of his actions or activities. When Bunny concluded his respectful but vocal tirade and Rabbi Freedman had sat quietly and patiently for the half hour with a wry smile on his face, as he got out of the car, he turned to his son and said, “Okay, but you should still wear a hat.”\
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman
In 1939, Rabbi Freedman was privileged to hear a shmeuss (lecture) from Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l who had come to America for a short but impactful visit. During the question and answer portion of the shmuess, Reb Elchonon responded to a query about what the future would bring for the Yiddishe brethren in the Soviet Union. In 1939, the Russian Jews were suffering terribly from the dastardly persecution of Stalin and his henchmen. Reb Elchonon thought for a moment and announce prophetically, “They will come back; it will take time but one day, they will return.” Many years later, Rabbi Freedman would hearken back to these monumental thoughts espoused by Reb Elchonon and use his words to undertake great efforts on behalf of Soviet Jews in order to underscore how prophetic Reb Elchonon was. This effort became one of Rabbi Freedman’s most vital projects—the rescuing, saving and educating of Russian Jews worldwide.
Russian Jewish Outreach
Rabbi Freedman’s devotion to the historic rescue of the hearts and minds of our Russian brethren began to take hold after his maiden voyage to the Soviet Union in 1985. On that trip he encountered some of our generation’s most remarkable newly-Orthodox (Baalei Teshuvah), including Rabbi Eliyahu Esses shlit”a, who is widely known as the patriarch of his Russian generation.
On this and subsequent excursions to the Soviet Union, Rabbi Freedman’s teachings inspired and encouraged Jews across the Russian landscape. He raised money in America to provide Tefillin, Siddurim and Sifrei Kodesh (holy books) in Hebrew, English and Russian to hundreds of Soviet citizens. On one memorable trip, he remained in Moscow for nearly two months, developing lifelong rebbe-talmid relationships, cementing his total commitment to Detroit’s significant and burgeoning Russian Jewish population.
In May of 1994, Rabbi Freedman and his wife were the victims of a life-threatening automobile accident outside of London, Ontario. After a miraculous recovery from this horrific accident, Rabbi Freedman concluded that the accident occurred as a heavenly notification that he was required to do more to inspire the Detroit Russian community. His mission from this revelation to the final moments of his life was dedicated to uplifting, inspiring and nurturing the Russian immigrants of Detroit.
He would involve and devote himself to every aspect of their lives. He concerned himself with their educational and spiritual growth, their financial well being and their familial progress. His love and sincerity, completely void of any personal agenda, made Rabbi Freedman a true father figure to the Russian émigré community.
One of Rabbi Freedman’s great soldiers and quiet heroes was his devoted student and dear friend, Marvin Berlin. Marvin, at the urging of a talented and special architect, Leo Stein of Detroit, attended a Monday night Hirsch Chumash shiur given by Rabbi Freedman at the Yeshiva. Leo’s introduction of Marvin to Rabbi Freedman initiated a revolution in Marvin and the Berlin family’s life and created an everlasting friendship between the Rabbi and Mr. Berlin. Marvin and his unusual and special wife, Alice, hosted that Monday night class in their home in Southfield for nearly twenty-five years.
Rabbi Freedman’s efforts, on behalf of the Russian community, were enormously enhanced by the kindhearted and generous largesse of the Berlin family. Marvin, an industry leader in retail carpet sales, provided, at Rabbi Freedman’s urging, any Russian Jew seeking employment a place to work at New York Carpet World. He also financed numerous trips to New York so that Rabbi Freedman could escort busloads of Russian Jews for Shabbos and holidays. These excursions provided for Rabbi Freedman’s Russian talimidim, a window into the warm and spiritually uplifting East Coast Torah community.
Marvin was an extremely loyal student who exhibited his gratitude and devotion to Rabbi Freedman by becoming the most generous financial supporter for Rabbi Freedman’s many, varied Torah causes.
Rabbi Freedman encouraged exemplary Tzedaka giving because of the Gemara in Sukkah (folio 29b) that underscored the admonition that wealthy individuals are held responsible for the behavior of their generation because it is their duty to use their power and influence to improve the people of their time.
Marvin and Alice Berlin were particularly devoted to Rabbi Freedman’s beloved Yeshiva Beth Yehudah where Marvin served, until his untimely and tragic passing, as the Honorary President. His wife Alice, and their children continue to be devoted supporters, carrying on the legacy and tradition begun by Marvin Berlin.