A life of learning and lovingkindness

Barbara defies the limits of time and reminds us of the potential of time.

Barbara Freedman is seen with her grandchildren. (photo credit: AVIDAN FREEDMAN)
Barbara Freedman is seen with her grandchildren.
(photo credit: AVIDAN FREEDMAN)
A highlight of the week for a group of women who enjoy learning, myself included, is attending Barbara Freedman’s NaKh class (Prophets and Writings) every Tuesday morning.
She is currently teaching the Book of Samuel. Her love of the study of Torah, her comprehensive preparation, her choice of sources, her inclusion of aesthetics such as art and music, are a joyful experience for her devoted students. Learning together allows for a unique connection between people.
Barbara emphasizes the power and beauty of the language and reminds us that even if we have studied the text before, it is still special to experience the wonder of a story again.
“Read it as if for the first time. Reflect on the purpose and the message. Look for the ambiguous phrases that may lead to multiple meanings, new perspectives,” she tells us.
In Jerusalem, Barbara is able to fulfill her dream of learning Torah in depth, where the possibilities of lectures, classes and study groups are truly infinite.
“I have the privilege of studying with some of the most outstanding, renowned scholars and teachers,” she says.
When she arrived in Jerusalem in 2012 from Montreal Barbara understood that her journey was continuing and beginning. She would continue to fulfill the ideals that infuse her life and the life of her family, the ideals of intellectual pursuits, social justice and compassion.
She speaks of her late husband, Dr. Benjamin Freedman, who was a professor of medical ethics at McGill University, and a medical ethicist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.
“His primary concern was the rights of the patients. He would have contributed much wisdom during this time of crisis.”
Upon arriving in Israel, Barbara began volunteer teaching at One Family, an organization that gives support to victims of terrorism and whose goal is “rebuilding shattered lives together.” At One Family, for four hours a week, Barbara teaches English skills.
“It is an extraordinary privilege for me to reach out to One Family, to find something that may bring pleasure to those who have suffered so intensely,” says Barbara. “I am learning from their courage and resilience. Some study English to be able to share their story.”
She also gives English language support at the Nishmat volunteer tutoring program to young Ethiopian women who are preparing for Israel’s standardized psychometric admissions exam for higher education and to those already in college programs such as the Efrata College of Education and Hadassah College.
Barbara graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor’s in psychology, and received a master’s degree in special education from Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. In Montreal, Barbara was an elementary and secondary school teacher, and an administrator at the Hebrew Academy. She also taught methodology in the Jewish Teaching Training Program at McGill University.
Barbara is inspired by her children’s lives of service. Her son Menachem led her to JACC, the Jerusalem African Community Center. The program was founded in 2014 by Israelis and Africans to support asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, and strives to improve quality of life through education and awareness of rights. Barbara tutors different levels of English to Eritreans.
“My son was a lone soldier at the time of the Second Lebanon War in 2006,” she explains. “He had studied in the Gush for two years and then volunteered for army service. At the southern border he saw Eritreans and Sudanese shot at by Egyptians as they were crossing over the border. Once in Israel, the army gave them safe refuge. It was devastating for my son to witness the suffering of human beings.”
MENACHEM PHONED her from the Egyptian border and asked, “What should I do? My heart is breaking. How do I help?” He spent several summers in Tel Aviv working on a hotline for the rights of foreign workers and refugees, and is now a labour union rights lawyer in Vancouver.
Barbara’s daughter Ariela is a professor at the Liberal Arts College at Concordia University in Montreal and a published author. Her daughter Orit is an oncologist in Toronto. Barbara’s son Rabbi Avidan Freedman, of the Shalom Hartman High School and the Hevruta Gap-Year Program, created the Yanshuf Coalition as an umbrella group for organizations that support the creation of moral and transparent oversight of Israeli weapons sales, in response to the current state of affairs in which Israeli arms are often sold to regimes engaged in brutal human rights violations.
Barbara’s hessed, lovingkindness, is far-reaching. The TAHEL website affirms, “Violence against women and children is the most widespread human rights violation on earth.” TAHEL is the Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children. Barbara is on call for three hours a week on their anonymous National 24 Hour Hotline to offer much needed emotional support and help.
In truth, Barbara defies the limits of time and reminds us of the potential of time.
She is a presence and reaches out to connect with individuals in ways that make a difference. She also leads a weekly Tehillim (Psalms) group, and as part of the volunteer cooking brigade at the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, she cooks once a month for lone soldiers for Shabbat.
Barbara uses her skills for The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University. She contributes to curriculum development for the school’s website by preparing questions for the weekly Torah portion on ethical and moral issues for grades four through six. She recently answered the call for volunteers to edit the Jewish community database of the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. She elaborates on the information in the Jewish Encyclopedia and spotlights the incredible histories of communities all over the world.
Communication and community are important to her. She has been studying Arabic at the Talpiot Mizrach Community Center and has now joined a photography course being offered there.
“I am studying photography once a month with Palestinian women who live close by in the neighborhood of Tsur Baher,” says Barbara. “The organizer has a dream: ‘How can we get to know each other better and speak to each other?’ We found our common languages – English, Hebrew and Arabic. Together we are working toward a photography exhibition.
“I have lived in many cities. I was a wandering Jew but now I’m happy to be home,” says Barbara. “I am very grateful for the blessings of having a wonderful family, friends and the zchut, honor, of living in Jerusalem. An unexpected delight in coming on aliyah is that I have reconnected with people from the various chapters of my wanderings, especially with dear friends from high school. Jerusalem is truly a city that brings everyone together, ‘a city joined together within itself.’” (Psalms, 122:3)
How does she describe this stage of her life? “Learning, giving, loving.”■