A Letter from a Bais Yaakov Student


Dear Freedman family,

Upon hearing of Rabbi Freedman’s passing, I felt a tremendous amount of sadness and pain. For you see, I didn’t just lose a principal, I lost a father.   Rabbi Freedman epitomized what it means to be the ultimate mechanech. A few years after I graduated from high school, I wrote him a letter and published an article (anonymously) in Horizons magazine expressing my hakaras hatov. I realized even then that my life had been changed by his approach to me.  Back then, I thought that what made Rabbi Freedman special was that he cared so much about each girl. In the early 1980s, a girl with my skills and abilities could have been considered a “dummy,” and it was Rabbi Freedman who insisted on educational testing and proper intervention to help me succeed in school, and ultimately in life.

Now, years later, I realize that it wasn’t Rabbi Freedman’s care for each individual student that made him special, but rather his belief in each individual student. This belief in me gave – and gives – me tremendous emunah in Hashem, for if Rabbi Freedman, a mere human being, could believe in me and respect me so much, then I know that Hakadosh Baruch Hu believes in me too.

At the age of three and a half, I entered the doors of Bais Yaakov. I was so little that during carpool times, Rabbi Freedman, afraid that I would be trampled on, literally picked me up and carried me on his shoulders out to the parking lot. This was to be his motto throughout my elementary career: to pick me up, whether physically, emotionally, or academically, and raise me to the top.

I was a very late talker, and when at the age of five I showed many learning difficulties, Rabbi Freedman strongly encouraged my parents to take me for educational testing. Who had ever heard of educational testing in 1983 for a “normal” child? Who had ever heard of learning disabilities? My parents were sure that there are smarter children and less smart children – this daughter must be on the less smart end. But no, Rabbi Freedman said, this girl is smart; she just has some learning difficulties – go for testing.

It didn’t just end with the testing, though. The educational evaluation found that I was indeed smart, but I had some expressive language problems, and the evaluator wrote that in no terms should I progress to first grade with a dual academic program. However, Rabbi Freedman believed in me and sent me on to first grade. He gave me some workbooks to do over the summer, to help me come better prepared to first grade.

Proper intervention for language disorders was still a new concept in the world of education, but Rabbi Freedman persevered to find me the proper help. It took a couple of tries, but in second grade, he brought a speech therapist to the school and I received speech therapy on the grounds of Bais Yaakov. This was exactly what I needed at that time; it truly made a difference in my daily life. Bais Yaakov of Baltimore was presumably one of the first parochial schools to institute therapy in school; I am forever indebted to Rabbi Freedman for this initiative.

In first through third grades, I was a daily visitor (in first grade, sometimes twice a day) to Rabbi Freedman’s office, so I got to know him very well. Now I realize that it was probably due to my learning differences that I got into trouble so frequently, but at the time teachers did not yet understand about helping children with learning disabilities in the classroom. The amazing thing is that Rabbi Freedman never yelled at me, never made me feel bad or stupid. He just had me sit and keep him company in his office.

In third grade, Rabbi Freedman had a popcorn machine in his office and would distribute popcorn “poppers,” as we called them, to girls who did the best. I knew, of course, that this was something I would never be able to achieve. However, I remember very clearly being sent to his office one day for the umpteenth time. He pleaded with me to not be sent to him again. He asked, “What can I do so that you won’t come to visit me for a week?” At that moment, I truly felt that he cared.

I didn’t feel like he was asking me this to make the teachers’ lives easier or because he was tired of me always being at his side, but rather because he cared about me. At that moment, I felt such a love emanating from him. He promised me that if I wasn’t sent to him for a week, I would receive a popcorn popper.

Suddenly, the unreachable became reachable, the intangible became tangible. I could succeed. I could be a success; I was not a failure. I am almost positive that I didn’t manage to attain this goal and receive a popcorn popper, but this encounter was a changing point in my life. My frequent visits to his office tapered off shortly after this.

My next personal encounter with Rabbi Freedman occurred towards the end of sixth grade. I didn’t get along at all with my teacher, to say the least, and it culminated with a suspension. By this point, I was frustrated and in pain from the lack of understanding that the teacher had expressed to me throughout the year. But I was suspended; I had done a crime and I had to be punished.   

I will never forget returning to school and going to speak to Rabbi Freedman. Upon entering the office, the first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t a small closet-like room that I had frequented in my formative years. It was a spacious office with a large desk, large comfortable chairs, and a carpet – a room that spelled prestige, importance. And yet, the first thing he did was sit on a chair, not behind the desk but in front of it, and had me sit across from him. Rabbi Freedman was not a stately person, but rather a friend. I cannot tell you how many times I remember this simple gesture. I did not need an enemy at this point; I needed a friend – someone who could understand me.

Rabbi Freedman told me that if he had known that the year would be so difficult for me, he would have switched me to a different class at the beginning of the year. I thought, You mean my opinion counts for something? I’m not just a nobody? My feelings actually mean something? You understand my source of frustration?

Of course, he tried to get me to understand how the teacher felt, but I got the impression that he understood me even more than he understood the teacher. It seemed to me that if it had been up to him, he never would have suspended me. I was much more important than that. This encounter is what I hold onto so tightly to remind me that Hashem loves and cares about me, even when I am at my lowest.

About 20 years ago, the Jewish Observer printed a groundbreaking issue on children going off the derech. The number-one predictor, if I recall correctly, was learning disabilities. Reading the issue, I thought, Thanks to Rabbi Freedman, I am not a statistic.

Every time I read articles on this topic in various Jewish publications, I am reminded of my hakaras hatov to Rabbi Freedman. Once again, Rabbi Freedman had raised me up when I was down.

At the end of sixth grade, when we practiced marching down the aisle for elementary-school graduation (this was before there was a middle school), I came last in line because I was the shortest. In front of the whole grade, he announced, “As I always say, the best things come in small packages.”

And that, my dear friends, was the culmination of my elementary school career. Rabbi Freedman raised me to the top. At times I felt less than others because of my short stature, but once again, Rabbi Freedman knew how to raise me from the bottom all the way to the top.

Here are some additional memories that I have of Rabbi Freedman:


  • Every Rosh Chodesh and each day of Chanukah in the earlier grades (when the school wasn’t so large), we would daven Hallel together in the auditorium, and Rabbi Freedman would lead the Hallel. I still sing his tunes to this day. Often, he would play the piano as we sang.


  • I remember one day when he taught us a new tune for “Pischu Li.” He seemed so excited to teach it to us. This excitement made an indelible impression on my mind.


  • Rabbi Freedman led us in the carpool line each day, taking us from the main lobby through the high school building out into the parking lot – all with precision, orderliness, and care for each individual student.


  • Going into fourth grade, I was zocheh to attend Bais Yaakov camp. On Topsy-Turvy Day, I dressed up as Rabbi Freedman, suspenders and all. Who would want to dress up as their principal? Yet I felt so special that I had the privilege of dressing up as Rabbi Freedman.


  • Whenever Rabbi Freedman would substitute for us, he would make a point of cleaning the erasers and washing the boards for his teachers. I still remember how he washed the blackboard, since it reminded me of how a person would open a sefer Torah. I used to think that perhaps his mind was always on Torah and that was why he washed the board that way.


Final Thoughts

It would be difficult for me to write about Rabbi Freedman without writing about his father-in-law, Rabbi Diskind, for the two are so intertwined in my memory. In my childish mind, Rabbi Freedman was the tatty and Rabbi Diskind was the zeidy. While Rabbi Freedman raised the low to high, Rabbi Diskind always made you feel that you were truly special, unique, and beautiful just by the mere fact that you were a bas Yisrael.

Both Rabbi Diskind and Rabbi Freedman epitomized what a mechanech should be. We may not see results in one day, in one week, in one month, or even in a year, but they will be seen for generations and generations to come.

Once again, I would like to thank them for instilling in me true emunas Hashem. Thank you, Rabbi Diskind and Rabbi Freedman, for believing in me!

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