Continuing his legacy, Vanderbilt Chabad opens fund in young kosher chef's memory

The Aryeh Fund continues the legacy of Zack Freeling, a young kosher chef who worked to help others despite personal hardship.

 Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, US (photo credit: HARRISON MCCLARY / REUTERS)
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, US

The Rohr Chabad House at Vanderbilt University has started the Aryeh Fund in memory of Zack "Aryeh" Freeling, a former student who ran a kosher food truck at the university and is remembered for his perseverance in working for his community despite personal hardship.

Freeling was shot and killed last week and his death is being investigated as a homicide.

"This is a tragedy built on tragedies and words cannot do justice," wrote Chabad Vanderbilt's Rabbi Shlomo Rothstein on Instagram last week. 

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Freeling, who graduated from Vanderbilt in 2017, lost his brother, Sam, to suicide in 2013 and founded Aryeh's Kitchen, a kosher food truck at the campus, with his father, Ken, and Rothstein in Sam's memory in 2016. The food truck temporarily closed a few years ago, but has since reopened and been rebranded as Holy Smokes, which continues to operate to this day.

In a Tripping Kosher video from last year, Rothstein said that the food truck was important for Freeling's father because "it was a way of bringing the goodness and kindness that he found in Judaism and bring that to other Jews and the greater campus as a whole and also he felt this was a great way for him and his son Zack to have a regular on going conversation and something to work on where can mentor his son and be in the role of an active father."

In further tragedy, Freeling lost his father to suicide in 2017 and his mother, Sue, in 2019.

In the Tripping Kosher video, Freeling stated that after losing his father, he thought to himself "What does this mean? It has to mean something more. It can't end like this."

Freeling made the decision to donate the food truck to Vanderbilt Chabad in the hopes that they could continue the legacy of what Aryeh's Kitchen was all about: "Being the focal point of the Jewish community, being a nice fixture on Vanderbilt's campus, and also continue the legacy of me, my dad and my brother."

He added in the video that the food truck still being on campus is "a symbol of hope and it's a physical representation of what can come out of such a tragic story. What can come out in the wake of devastating losses. These things can happen and it doesn't mean it's the end of the world. You can always come back and you can do something good."

"I’ve never met a person with as much family tragedy as Zack," wrote Rothstein last week. "He had every excuse and reason to give up on life, but he didn’t."

The Chabad rabbi added that Freeling loved his Hebrew name, Aryeh, which means lion. "He spoke about courage, boldness, and strength and how to use that in a positive way. Beneath his tough, fun, façade, however, was a sweet, loving, trusting young man. I cannot imagine the battles he fought in his heart but he won and decided to live a life of generosity and service to others."

"My story is inspiring and creates strength through hardship and perseverance. I want to be able to share my story by assisting others in need during their harshest moments. With my successes, I will see forward my family’s memory through charity, humility, and compassion, to pay tribute to my faith and society,” reads a quote by Freeling on the page of the new fund. The fund is meant to "continue the work and community that Zack cherished."

Rothstein stressed that Freeling was driven to help people, using his experiences to ease other people's pain and even hiring employees in order to help make their lives better. Freeling also dedicated the new Torah scroll the Chabad house had written for Vanderbilt.

"Zack left a deep impression on anyone who met him and made a practical difference as well," wrote Rothstein. "This coupled with the inner battles that he won is more than most people accomplish in a much longer life. And of course he did much, much more than this."