Baltimore, MD – Nov. 4, 2017 - Great sadness has descended on the Baltimore community with the passing of Rabbi Mendel Freedman on Shabbos morning, Parshas Vayaera.

Rabbi Freedman was one of the pillars of the Baltimore Jewish community for the past decades. He served for close to forty years as the Principal of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore. He was an extraordinary mechanech, and thousands of bnos Yisrael were educated under his supervision. He became principal in 1979 when Bais Yaakov had but a few hundred girls, and at the time of his death, the school has burgeoned to over 1700 students. He famously ensured that he knew every student’s name, and took a personal interest in every single one of them.

Rabbi Freedman was particularly dedicated to students with special needs. Many years before it became commonplace, he accepted children with disabilities into his school. He was one of the first, if not the first, principal in American Torah schools to accept students who were hearing impaired, vision impaired and others with a host of limitations. Many of these girls who received a regular Torah education went on to become full-fledged members of the community, something which was unheard of prior to the 1980s. Rabbi Freedman also pioneered the entry of students with Down’s Syndrome into mainstream schools.

Rabbi Freedman was a mechanech’s mechanech, and for many years gave classes on chinuch in Yeshivas Ner Yisrael to aspiring educators. Similarly, he served as a mentor to every one of the hundreds of teachers who served under him throughout his decades of service.

His Life

Mendel Freedman was born in New York in 1949. His parents were both concentration camp survivors who arrived in America determined to rebuild the lives that they had known in pre-war Poland. His father, the late R’ Leib Freedman, Z’L, was the sole survivor of his entire family, and his mother Tlcht”a Mrs. Chana Freedman, lost her parents and most of her family, though some of her relatives escaped the churban.

Mendel attended the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway through high school, and was especially close to its Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Mottel Weinberg, Zt”l. Following high school, at the urging of Rav Avraham Pam ,zt”l, he moved south to Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore. This move would lead to fifty years of life in Baltimore.

In Baltimore

As a bachur, besides learning in the Yeshiva, Mendy, as he was known, established and led Pirchei Agudas Yisrael. At the same time, he was a prominent staff member in Camp Agudah for many years. In 1972, he married the former Zipporah Diskind, daughter of Rabbi Hirsch Diskind, zt”l, the legendary Dean of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore. Zipporah’s mother Mrs. Rivka Diskind, tlcht”a, is the daughter of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, so R’ Mendel became a grandson in law of the Gadol Hador.

 

In 1974, Rabbi Freedman became an eighth grade rebbe at Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim-TA. Over his five years as a rebbe he became a premier mechanech, and made a major impact on his talmidim. Many of these students credit him, until this day, for their success in Yiddishkeit.

In 1979, Rabbi Freedman joined his father in law in the administration of Bais Yaakov. At first, he served as General Studies principal, and later became Menahel of the entire Elementary School, working side by side with his father in law and Rabbi Binyamin Steinberg, Z’L, the High School principal. Rabbi Freedman is credited in leading the school’s remarkable growth, and later participated in the recruitment of other stellar mechanchim to join him as the school burgeoned.

Rabbi Freedman was a prominent mispalell at Rav Amram Taub’s Khal Arugas HaBosem for 45 years, and served as Baal Tefila for Yomim Noraim for many of those years. Despite his leadership position, Rabbi Freedman always saw himself as a regular member of the shul, and was an integral part of the ‘chevra’ at early morning minyan for decades.

Rabbi Freedman passed away on Shabbos Parahas Vayera, which details Avraham Avinu’s Hachnasas Orchim. The Freedman home was always a hub of Hachnasas Orchim, drawing guests of all stripes and types, but with a special emphasis on the needy, suffering or downtrodden. Similarly, for years, Rabbi Freedman’s Purim was spent visiting widows, the elderly and other downcast members of the community. A talented musician, he would circulate with his accordion or keyboard, and bring simcha and hope to the less fortunate.

In 2007, Rabbi Freedman suffered heart failure and was hospitalized numerous times in serious condition. In March 2008, as the haftara of Parshas Para was read, with the sentence ונתתי לכם לב חדש (‘And I shall give you a new heart’), he received a life-saving heart transplant. During this time, the Baltimore community stormed the heavens with tefilos, something Rabbi Freedman always attributed his remarkable recovery to.

Rabbi Freedman regarded his successful heart transplant as a command to rededicate himself to community service. Rather than retiring, as is common for transplant patients at that age, he threw himself, reinvigorated, back into his chinuch work. With a new, young heart, he literally tired out younger staff members with his energy, and led Bais Yaakov for another 8 years.

At the same time, drawing on his own experiences, he became an advocate and guide for many suffering from illness in the Baltimore community and beyond. He especially became involved in counseling and advising potential transplant patients. He recognized the natural apprehension such patients have, and he encouraged them with his own story and experiences. At times, this even included sending the videos of himself swimming or dancing vigorously, to show the choleh the potential which a transplant could hold for him or her. In 2015, Rabbi Freedman accompanied one of his own Bais Yaakov students to her own heart transplant. According the attending doctors, this was most likely the first time in history that a student and her school principal had both received heart transplants!

In 2016, Rabbi Freedman determined that the time had come to retire. Many complained to him that he was still in his prime, and that he could still carry on for more years. He responded that he prefers to retire when he is still being effective, and allow younger forces to take over. “Why not leave when I am still being successful, rather than be pushed out when I become elderly?” he asserted.

 

Immediately upon retirement, Rabbi Freedman returned to where he had commenced his life in Baltimore- Yeshivas Ner Yisrael. He became a regular member of Rabbi Yissachar Frand’s Shiur and became chavrusos with talmidim much younger than his own children, which did not disturb him at all. He believed that during his tenure as a mechanech his time for learning was limited, but now that he had time, his place was in the Beis Medrash.

A year and half ago, Rabbi Freeman was again diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. He underwent surgery and treatment, and once again, returned to active life. Now too, Rabbi Freedman considered the refuah he experienced as a charge to redouble his Avodas Hashem.

In recent months, R’ Mendel was stricken by another illness, and experienced tremendous challenges and yisurim. Throughout it all, he recognized the yad Hashem and strove to be mekabel his suffering with simcha.

His passing leaves his family grieving and the entire community in mourning. Rabbi Freedman is survived by his Eishes Chayil, Mrs. Zipporah Freedman, who Rabbi Freedman credited with all of his successes, and who faithfully cared for him during his illness;  four sons: Paysach (Yael) Freedman of Yerushalayim, Aryeh Leib (Dena) Freedman of Baltimore, Shmuel (Rivky) Freedman of Inwood and Mayer (Shani) of Atlanta; and four daughters: Laya (Gavi) Wachsman of Toronto, Henni (Yochanon) Stein, Perel Malka (Yoel) Simpson and Golda (Dovid) Goldberg, all of Baltimore.

He is also survived by his brother R’ Shmuel Freedman of Lakewood, and two sisters: Pearl Phillips and Etti Soskin, both of Brooklyn.

Yehi Zichro Baruch