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A Place for Every Child

C. B. Lieber

As principal of Bais Yaakov in Baltimore for 37 years, Rabbi Mendel Freedman nurtured generations of Jewish girls with care and sensitivity

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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Each teacher who worked under Rabbi Freedman over the last four decades has stories to share — of how he cared, of how he loved the students, of how his enthusiasm spilled over in all areas. Nothing was beneath him (Photos: Eli Greengart)

I was just five years old when I first met Rabbi Mendel Freedman z”l.

We had just relocated to Baltimore after living in Buffalo, New York, where I attended a small, out-of-town, co-ed day school. To my almost-six-year-old eyes, the all-girls school I was about to enter was huge. How would I ever learn my way around? I was sure I would get lost and no one would ever find me.

Then my parents and I sat down in Rabbi Freedman’s office, and he spoke to me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I do remember this: When I walked out of there I felt like I was ten feet tall, and I knew I had come home.

Needless to say, I’m not the only girl who ever walked out of Rabbi Freedman’s office feeling that way. When I entered Bais Yaakov of Baltimore in 1986, it was the only girls’ school in town, with 60 girls in the first grade. By the time my class had graduated, the school had grown to 100 or more girls in each grade. Today, there are more than 1,700 girls in the school — from preschool through high school. And Rabbi Mendel Freedman, who passed away on the 15th of Cheshvan after a short illness, presided over much of that growth. Over 37 years, he made sure that every girl felt she had a place, no matter how big the school had become.

Rabbi Freedman’s name may be familiar to Mishpacha readers. In April 2015, he made headlines when he supported a fifth-grade student through a groundbreaking heart transplant, just seven years after his own. They were likely the only principal-student duo anywhere who had both undergone this complex medical procedure. That act of chesed was classic Rabbi Freedman, an educator, and most of all, a guiding light for thousands of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore girls.

Each Girl a World

Rabbi Mendel Freedman was born in New York in 1949. His parents, Reb Leib Freedman and tblch”t, Mrs. Chana Freedman, were Holocaust survivors who instilled in their children the importance of working for the klal. When young Mendy asked his father how he had carried on after the war, his father replied: “I figure if Hashem made me, of all people, survive, it must have been for a reason. I wasn’t going to let Hitler finish the job.”

 

Perseverance and a sense of purpose were ingrained in his son as well. Rabbi Freedman attended Rav Mottel Weinberg’s Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway through high school. Then, at the urging of Rav Avraham Pam, he moved on to learn in yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore. As a bochur, he established Pirchei Agudas Yisrael and was a prominent staff member in Camp Agudah for many years.

In 1972, Rabbi Freedman married Zipporah Diskind, daughter of Rabbi Hirsch Diskind, the legendary dean of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore and a son-in-law of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. After several years in kollel, he became an eighth-grade rebbi in Baltimore’s Talmudical Academy (TA) for boys.

Then, in 1979, he was hired as general studies principal of Bais Yaakov Elementary School, working alongside his father-in-law. When Rabbi Diskind retired and moved to Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Freedman took over as both limudei kodesh and general studies principal for the elementary school. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 688)

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