Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rabbi Herbert Friedman: The Loss of a Giant [2]

In a post yesterday I mourned the passing of a giant. A number of people have contacted me to ask to learn more about him. I offer you three different sources:

1. Rabbi Friedman's own book The Roots of the Future [There are only two left in stock on Amazon right now so other people may have the same idea... though there are used copies available.]

2. A beautiful and touching message sent out by Larry Moses, President of the Wexner Foundation:
I regret to inform you of the death of our beloved teacher, mentor, and friend, Rabbi Herbert Friedman, Founding President Emeritus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. Rabbi Friedman died this morning at his home in New York. He was 89 years old. More than teaching us leadership, which he did in abundance, Herb embodied and demonstrated it. He was passionate, courageous, and determined. Above all, he was fiercely proud of his Jewish heritage.

Along with Leslie Wexner, his dear friend and partner, Herb put adult Jewish learning on the Jewish map once and for all, and because of Herb we will forever couple Jewish learning and Jewish leadership.

My colleagues on the Foundation’s professional staff in New York have expressed their devotion to Herb over these past months and to the very end through their loving visits with Francine and their caring for Herb in countless ways.

With sadness that he is now gone, but with soaring gratitude for his life, we express our condolences to Francine, their children and grandchildren, and to all of us who, in some way or another, felt that Herb took us under his wing.
3. And finally, an excerpt from my own book, History on Trial which tells of what happened right after I learned that I would need at least a million dollars [turned out to be closer to two] for my defense. It only conveys a small portion of the great debt I owe Herb Friedman.
A few days later, my ability to ignore this issue [that I would need to raise the funds] abruptly ended as I was leaving my home for a weekend seminar organized by the Wexner Heritage Foundation. I was climbing into the taxi to the airport when a Fedex truck pulled up in front of my home. The driver ran over and handed me a large envelope from Anthony. I took out a multi-paged document. I quickly turned to the last page and blanched. The bottom line was 1.6 million dollars.

I generally loved participating in the Foundation’s activities and had been looking forward to the weekend as a bit of an escape from the case. The retailing legend, Leslie Wexner, had created the Foundation to educate Jewish communal leaders. Wexner, together with his wife Abigail, believed that Jewish life needed leaders who were both educated in Jewish history and tradition and knew how to think outside the box.” Adhering to Leslie’s commercial philosophy that “retail is detail,” the Foundation’s programs are meticulously executed and were models of adult education.

I had been teaching for the Foundation for over ten years. At this seminar I was scheduled to participate in a series of panels about strategies for lessening inter-denominational Jewish strife. That topic quickly faded into the background as word of my predicament quickly spread. Participants inundated me with questions.

The Founding President of the Foundation, Rabbi Herbert Friedman, a tall man with an Einstein like shock of white hair pulled me aside. Friedman had been United States Army chaplain during World War II. He became profoundly troubled by the myriad of Jewish survivors languishing in Europe -- some were being housed in former concentration camps. Many wanted to enter Palestine but the British refused them permission. Friedman commandeered American army trucks and, with the help of Jewish soldiers, transported survivors to Italian ports where they boarded ships for Palestine -- among them the SS Exodus -- and tried to outrun the British blockade.

After the war he went on to a distinguished career in Jewish organizational life.
Friedman, sounding a bit miffed that he had heard about my case via the grapevine and not directly from me, demanded a briefing on the case. He immediately asked how I was planning to raise the money. I told him that I had no idea. “I’ve always been a giver, never a recipient. I never imagined I would need to solicit funds for my own needs.”

He peered down at me and declared, in a slightly condescending tone which, had it come from anyone else, I would have resented. “It’s time to get organized. He then added: “Irving set his sights on you, but it’s the entire Jewish community and historical truth that he is aiming at.”

And then Friedman took charge. He called Les Wexner and briefed him. Les responded in his characteristically straightforward fashion. He asked for background material and after closely scrutinizing it, told Friedman: “This is not Deborah’s issue. It’s much bigger than that. We will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.” He told me I was not to worry about funds.
Throughout the years of my legal battle Herb watched over me, calling me to check if all was OK, reminding me that I was to let him know if I needed anything, and just making sure that I knew he was there in every way possible.

The operative line in this excerpt is "And then Friedman took charge." That was his style. That was his genius. That was Herb Friedman.


Ari said...

Dear Deborah Lipstadt,

there could not have been a more telling episode that would describe Herb Friedman's unique, outstanding personality so aptly than your encounter with him before your case against Irving.

As someone who has known Herb and Francine for many years, I feel the need to tell you that your words have touched many of his friends.

Very sincerely yours,

Ari Rath

Jerusalem, April 1, 2008


Deborah Lipstadt said...


Deborah Lipstadt