Around Town: The man who brought faith
I first met Joseph Freeman in 2004. An energetic 91-year-old, Freeman sat by himself at a table in the entryway at the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center.
It was early evening. People came and went. There were classes and meetings. But Freeman sat at his self-assigned post, greeting everyone who entered.
As I walked in, he said, "Hello. I am Joe Freeman."
"I'm Anita," was my reply.
"I am a historian," said Freeman, cheerfully.
"Great," I told him. "I was a history major in college."
And then he showed me one of his books. It was "Job: The Story of a Holocaust Survivor," by Joseph Freeman.
I died, he said. I died and then I lived again.
I learned that Freeman was a survivor. He survived the camps, and he survived the Nazi Death Marches of 1945, when, as the Allied forces closed in, the Nazis marched prisoners such as Freeman miles and miles in the snow, without food, water or shelter. Most died along the way.
Freeman looked up at me.
"My son died," I said.
"How old?" he asked.
"23," I replied
"When?" he asked.
"A few months ago."
Freeman was silent, and then he said he was sorry to hear that.
Looking for an answer, I asked him an important question. It was my most
pressing question at the time, having inherited a religion that commands us to embrace life.
My question to Freeman was this: "How do you live in the world?"
He knew exactly what I meant. He smiled, and then jabbed his forefinger straight down on the table and shouted one word, at the top of his lungs.
The word he shouted was this: "Faith!"
Funny thing, I believed him. I figured he was an expert.
I decided to try Freeman's formula. I began to attend early-morning services at Adat Ari El synagogue. (Pasadena has weekend services.) I threw myself into the liturgy. I prayed for our daughter, my husband, our friends, for Freeman. I prayed for all survivors of all losses. For a cure for cancer. For safety from war.
And I also asked, why?
Each morning, when the services were over, I drove to work. I worked, engaged with people, saw clients and went to court. After work, we saw friends, ran, played golf, went to the gym, to meetings, read books, walked the dog and made dinner.
At night we slept.
All because Freeman, a survivor of the worst evils, answered my question, and because I believed him. I believed Freeman when he said that faith was the answer.
I will always be grateful that he shared his secret formula, with me —
this cure for the dilemma of loss, in a religion that commands us to embrace life.
Last Sunday, Freeman was laid to rest, surrounded by family, including his beautiful wife, Helen, who survived Auschwitz. There were colleagues and friends. He left beautiful, successful and accomplished children and grandchildren.
Thank you, Joseph Freeman, for your gift to me of la vita nuovo.
The man who brought faith - LA Canada