Rabbi Norman Fredman (1964 "Legacy" yearbook photo)

Introduction: From 1958-1966 Rabbi Norman Fredman, along with his wife Micheline and four children - Aryeh, Yonah, Batsheva, and Tova, lived in Winnipeg. Though here only for eight years, Rabbi Fredman left an indelible impression on many Winnipeggers - especially among students at the former Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, where Rabbi Fredman was assistant principal.

 

 

 

He was known for his liberal views on education and for many innovations he introduced to the school in the years that he was there, including the then radical idea of having students from different grades take classes in Jewish studies together and students being able to have elective subjects in Jewish studies.
Now 87, Rabbi Fredman suffers from Parkisnon’s disease, but still retains a brilliant mind according to his second-oldest son Yonah. We asked Yonah to write a brief biography of his father, beginning with how he came to Winnipeg and why he left after such a relatively short period.

Rabbi Norman and Micheline Fredman along with their five children in a 2006 photo (l-r): Yonah, Aryeh, Batsheva, Tova, and Pnina

By YONAH FREDMAN
Chaya (Clara) Shpaler was married to Neil (Shmuel) Fredman in 1927. They were both immigrants from Ukraine, arriving in the United States in the early to mid 1920s. Their second son, Naftali, who was given the English name Norman Jacob, was born in 1932 in St. Louis. The family lived at that time in Vandalia, Illinois, where the Fredman brothers - Neil’s older brothers, David and Harry, owned a furniture store. In 1937 the brothers bought a store in Peoria, Illinois, which, though not a great urban center, had a heder where Neil would be able to send his sons to learn their traditions and texts.
In 1945, soon after his bar mitzvah, Norman was sent to study in Chicago at the high school associated with the Hebrew Theological College. He continued his studies there until 1958, when he was ordained as a rabbi. It is common for beginning rabbis to start their careers in places far from the urban centers and Norman chose Winnipeg, which was not my mother’s first choice because of the distance from her mother and brother. (When Rabbi Fredman was asked by one of his rabbis to describe the Winnipeg Jewish community, he mentioned the Peretz School run by Yiddishists, and the rabbi waxed nostalgic: “The Yiddishists? Our old enemies.”)

Rabbi Fredman began as a rabbi at the Bnay Abraham synagogue and a teacher at the Talmud Torah evening school. The post at the Bnay Abraham was ill fated, for he was/is a Cohen and thus unable to attend funerals or cemeteries. One of the major parts of the job was through the synagogue’s Chevra Kadisha, officiating at funerals. His association with Rabbi Kravetz, who was the chief rabbi of Winnipeg, deepened however, and he became the assistant principal at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, the Jewish high school. Rabbi Kravetz, who was in failing health, was grooming him as a successor.
When Rabbi Kravetz died in January of 1961, about two and a half years after my father’s arrival, Rabbi Fredman was the one who ran the school, but the board of directors of the school was looking for someone older as Rabbi Kravetz’s permanent replacement. In fact, they ended up hiring someone younger, Rabbi Irwin Witty, and Rabbi Fredman remained at his post as assistant principal, also becoming the rabbi at the Talmud Torah synagogue - which shared the building with the Talmud Torah school.
During the summers our family would travel back to visit family in Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis. My father was working first towards his MA in education, and then towards his Ph.D. In 1966, when his work towards his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois required a more substantial year round presence, he moved his family to Chicago. This coincided with Aryeh, my older brother’s bar mitzvah, and the need to obtain a more yeshiva oriented education (Talmud emphasis) that was available in Chicago, (but not in Winnipeg).

As a result, our family left Winnipeg in June1966 and, except for returning for Labor Day weekend that September to celebrate Aryeh’s Winnipeg bar mitzvah, I haven’t been back in 53 years. We moved into a 3rd floor apartment in Chicago’s Hollywood Park and my brother began studying at the high school associated with the Hebrew Theological College, also known as the Skokie Yeshiva. My father did some part time education administration of the Chicago Hebrew School system, but his emphasis was on getting his Ph.D in Education from Northwestern University. We went to shul about a mile from our apartment, at the Mizrachi (religious Zionist) minyan. It felt unusual that my father was just another shul goer and not the rabbi like he had been in Winnipeg.
When my father got his Ph.D. (tests and measurements was his thesis topic), he found a job teaching at Queens, College in Queens, NYC. Most of our extended family lived in Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis, so, despite the fact that my mother Micheline’s father lived in Queens, the move to the East Coast was a move away from family. We attended the Young Israel of Hillcrest synagogue, which had many more European-born members than was true in Chicago. Also Queens modern Orthodox Jewry was far more conservative than Chicago Orthodox Jewry. Although Meir Kahane came from Brooklyn, he was a shul rabbi in Queens when he started the Jewish Defense League. My father did not wear a yarmulke when he taught at Queens College for the first year or so. At shul he volunteered quite often to give the dvar Torah at shalosh seudos. Within the first year he signed on for a part time job, teaching one course at the local yeshiva high school where I was attending, Yeshiva High School of Queens. My youngest sister was born in May of 1969, adding up to five kids, the oldest - two boys, then three girls.

My father’s kipaless days ended rather quickly at Queens College, once he grew comfortable in his new surroundings. Eventually he developed a close friendship at the Young Israel of Hillcrest with a group of men, a few of them Ph.D.’s, but all of whom were dedicated both to secular knowledge and the study of Torah. Eventually the synagogue wised up and took advantage of my father’s knowledge and he began teaching Friday night lessons in Chumash and halachic and philosophical subject matter as well. But after leaving Winnipeg, teaching Torah was never again his meat and potatoes and he regretted that. My mother did not regret that he was no longer dependent upon the mercies of the community’s largesse, but his contract was negotiated instead by a strong union. In 1975-76 the family spent my father’s sabbatical year in Jerusalem. That year, in March of 1976 Aryeh married Pessy Levinson. Aryeh has lived in Israel ever since and he has been firmly ensconced in the haredi community since his marriage.
My younger sisters are all modern Orthodox. Batsheva married Berel Lerner in 1981, made aliya in 1982 to Kibbutz Shluchot, not far from Beit Shean. and has five children, all of them married. She has nine grandchildren. Tova married Dov Ganeles in 1985, made aliya in 1995 to Raanana and has four children, one of them married with one granddaughter. Pnina married Jon Schechter in 1991 and made aliya to Beit Shemesh in 2000. She has three children, one of them just recently married.
Because Aryeh lives in a Haredi neighborhood and he was the only one who lived in Jerusalem, when my parents decided to buy an apartment in Jerusalem, they bought one a mile and a quarter away from him. At the time there were some Modern Orthodox who lived nearby them, but now their neighborhood, Arzei Habira, is almost completely Haredi. In 1993 my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Within four years he retired and, in 1997, my parents moved to Jerusalem. At first, he still continued to give shiurim, one of his favorite topics being Pirkei Avot. His audience was usually made up of people in their neighborhood who came from Modern Orthodox backgrounds. In recent years his condition has deteriorated and, in 2010, my parents hired Maximo, a Filipino, who has been very helpful in caring for my father.

I have avoided talking about myself until now: I stopped following Halacha when I was in my 20s and to sum it up: I never married and I have no kids. I’ve driven a cab and I’ve written an unpublished novel and two unsold screenplays. Currently I teach math in Brooklyn public schools.