Opinion: Once And Future Warrior


rav-avrohom-abba-freedmanBy David Sachs, Detroit Jewish News

I often think fondly of the late Rabbi Avrohom Abba Freedman, whose Monday night study group I attended in the dining room of the late businessman Marvin Berlin and later at the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah building, both in Southfield.

In 1944, Rabbi Freedman was the first instructor hired to launch the Yeshiva day school. He never left. One night after our study group, Rabbi Freedman told me that I should join a busload of people he periodically took to celebrate Shabbat or a Jewish holiday in Borough Park, a predominantly Orthodox section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Unfortunately, the rabbi died suddenly at age 81 on Feb. 2, 2002, and I never made the journey.

Recently, I was in the metro New York area for a wedding and had the opportunity to explore the city on my own. While in lower Manhattan, I approached a yarmulke-wearing clerk at J&R Music World, which stands in what was once the shadow of the World
Trade Center. He very graciously told me which subway to take to Brooklyn and where to visit.

So, here I was on a Tuesday afternoon on the “D” subway line, headed to Borough Park. Granted, it was not Shabbat or a holiday, but I still hoped to gain a glimpse of what it was like to be a part of the large, vibrant Jewish community.

At 50th Street and 12th Avenue, I exited the subway car that had since morphed into an elevated train. I was immediately
lured by a kosher market, a kosher bakery and a kosher candy store. I took a moment to consume something sweet at each venue.
I then walked a block east toward the primary commercial district, passing small yeshivot along the way. Once on 13th Avenue,
I encountered blocks of Jewish businesses – additional kosher markets, bakeries and candy stores along with restaurants, bookstores, music shops and a hotel.

A Familiar Face

The first attraction that drew me in was the biggest bookstore on the block, Eichler’s. As I perused the shelves, I came
across the section of books displaying biographies of many great rabbis of past centuries. All of a sudden, while I scanned
the array of noble sages, I was extremely pleased to see the familiar face of a more common but noble man peering back at me – albeit crosseyed and through large, thick-lensed glasses. The friendly, bespeckled face on the book jacket was that of Rabbi Freedman; his biography Holy Warrior: A Portrait of Strength and Determination was penned two years ago by Detroit community leader Gary Torgow. So, here was the rabbi’s life story enshrined on a bookrack in Borough Park, side-by-side with the histories of the great rabbis of our heritage! The “warrior” reference in the book’s title describes Rabbi Freedman’s legacy: 58 years of relentless striving in Detroit to instill in children and share with adults – especially the waves of Russian immigrants – his love for Torah and dedication to the religious way of life.

I felt Rabbi Freedman’s overwhelming presence in the bookstore, giving me, at last, his personal “Welcome to Borough Park.” It was like a voice from the past reaching into the future – providing me a small taste of the opportunity I had missed while he was alive.

Recent History

But on the bookrack right behind me was another volume that drew my attention. It was a book commemorating the 20th anniversary last year of the weekly publication Yated Ne’eman, “the Torah family newspaper.” I remember that Rabbi Freedman was a strong advocate of the paper, urging everyone he met to subscribe. He saw the frum publication as the fulfillment of a need envisioned by his childhood mentor and teacher, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz of New York, who died in 1948.

The large, thick book contained many testimonials as well as reprints of scores of front pages from the paper’s
two decades of existence. I quickly checked for the issue just after the death of Rabbi Freedman and, yes, there was a front-page tribute to him.

Among the testimonials in the book, I found one written by one of the rabbi’s sons, Rabbi E.B. “Bunny” Freedman, founder and director of the West Bloomfield-based Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. In it, Bunny reminisces about his father’s zealous dedication to the ink-and-newsprint realization of his rabbinic mentor’s dream.

But thumbing through the newspaper’s 20 years of front pages, I was uncomfortably reminded of all the war, terrorism and scandal that had befallen Israel during the past two decades – not to mention the numerous dead-end peace initiatives. And today, with
heavily armed terrorists looming on several of Israel’s borders and the prospect of a nuclear-armed, crazed Iran, I feared what
awful history a commemorative volume 20 years hence would chronicle.

Faith In The Future

I purchased both books and began reading them on my return. At the end of his biography of Rabbi Freedman, Gary Torgow
includes an essay written by the rabbi titled “We Are A Historical Society.” In stark contrast to the bleak outlook one gets from following current events and the sense of dread of what might lay ahead – Rabbi Freedman’s words abounded with joy in the here and now and overflowed with optimism for the future.

Everything, he assured us, is in God’s hands. While the once-mighty ancient empires that oppressed us are but forgotten dust, under God’s shepherding, the Jewish people and our Torah have survived for thousands of years and will survive forever. Our future is “as clear and vivid to us as our past,” Rabbi Freedman declared.

“We are historians, yesterday, today and tomorrow,” he confidently explained. “We are as sure of the unwritten last chapters of history as of those that have already transpired.”

The rabbi’s last message to me was this bold, fearless vision of a peaceful, holy future. All this wisdom from a day school teacher who, in his long lifetime, was a relentless warrior for the Torah and the Jewish way of life.

{Detroit Jewish News/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I knew him well. He was a wonderful man, imbued with love for all Jews and patience for everyone. He reared two, perhaps three generations of b’nei Torah. It’s a shame that we are incapable of ever coming close to replicating such a special mechanech.

  2. When I was a child growing up in Detroit I didn’t realize or appreciate who rabbi freedman was. Only upon returning to Detroit as an adult and seeing that every

    spare minute he had, he would be learning Torah. That was what was important to him. And that was in Detroit .