By Sarah Massry
On Thursday, March 7, Agudath Israel of America hosted a Kinus Hazkarah for Reb Yosef Friedenson, z’l. Mr. Friedenson served as the longtime editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort, Agudath Israel’s Yiddish-language magazine, and the executive secretary of Agudath Israel. The kinus was held in Boro Park at Agudath Israel Zichron Moshe.
Born in Poland in April of 1922, Reb Yosef was a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States in 1951. Mr. Friedenson devoted his entire life in this country, more than half a century, to keeping Yiddishkeit alive and imparting the essence of European pre-war Jewry to the younger American generation. As a prominent representative of the she’eris ha’pleitah, he played a critical role in the rebirth of Torah Judaism in America after the terrible churban.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, served as the chairman of the event. He explained the depth of Mr. Friedenson’s impact: “He was not only a chronicler of history; he was a maker of history.”
The first speaker of the evening, Harav Yaakov Perlow, Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel, spoke with great emotion about the extraordinary treasure that has been lost to K’lal Yisrael. Reb Yosef’s life mission was to ensure that the generation of today was firmly rooted in the greatness of the exalted Jewry of pre-war Europe. He beautifully accomplished that through the pages of Dos Yiddeshe Vort, with the extraordinary depictions of the vibrancy of the Jewish life of that era.
On a personal level, the Rebbe noted, while others had lost their connection to Yiddishkeit, Mr. Friedenson maintained his warmth and vibrancy serving as an inspiration to other survivors.
The Novominsker Rebbe’s emotional words were followed by a powerful message from Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding, Mr. Friedenson’s son-in-law and director of Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society (RCCS). Speaking on behalf of the family, Rabbi Golding proclaimed, “The difference between my shver and other Holocaust historians is that others focused on ‘who’ destroyed European Jewry, and he focused on ‘what’ was destroyed. Others focused on ‘Necheshavnu katzon latevach yuval (we are regarded as the sheep led to slaughter)’ …and he focused on ‘U’vchol zos Shimcha lo shachachnu (but despite all this, we have not forgotten Your Name)’, regaling tens of thousands from the younger generation with tales of kiddush Hashem within the depths of Nazi Gehinnom.”
At the conclusion of Rabbi Golding’s remarks, a video was shown that was produced several years ago when Mr. Friedenson was presented the Rabbi Moshe Sherer Memorial Award at an Agudath Israel dinner. It emphasized the close kesher that existed between the two men, who did so much to build the Agudas Yisroel movement into what it has become today.
Harav Dovid Olewski, Rosh Mesivta Beis Yisroel of Ger, addressed the crowd next. Focusing on the phrase, “Avad chasid min ha’aretz,” he described Mr. Friedenson as a Gerrer chassid in every sense of the word. Additionally the word “min” is defined as “from something,” but not part of it. So too, Reb Yosef had lived in America for sixty years but was never actually a part of it; in essence, he always remained a hemishe Europeisha Yid.
Reb Yechiel Benzion Fishoff, chairman emeritus of the board of trustees of Agudath Israel and a life-long friend of Mr. Friedenson, presented a moving portrait of Reb Yosef’s life, beginning with his youth in the home of his illustrious father, Reb Eliezer Gershon Friedenson. He sketched a career of accomplishment including the impact of his magnum opus, the 430 issues of “Dos Yiddishe Vort.”
Mr. Fishoff noted that Reb Yosef’s life philosophy can be summed up from the story of his marriage in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942. When asked how, when people were dying everywhere and it seemed as though all was lost, he made the bold step to assume the responsibility of supporting a new bride, Mr. Friedenson gave an emotional answer that can serve as a lesson for generations. He explained that the Maharal named his sefer on Tisha Bav “Netzach Yisroel” (the eternity of Israel). “We must ensure the eternity and ultimate victory of the Jewish nation,” he would proclaim with passion.
And that is exactly what Reb Yosef did, inspiring thousands of Yidden through the pages of “Dos Yiddishe Vort.” By personal example and through hundreds of lectures, he vividly recreated the past to serve as an inspiration for the future. v