Jewish Toronto Says Goodbye to a “Gute Neshame”
Janice Freedman’s tragic passing leaves a wide circle of grief
Janice Freedman z”l, who at just 54, recently passed away, was known and loved for many things, most of all, for being a gute neshame, a good soul.
After bravely battling a lengthy illness, Janice, the beloved wife of Alan, and mother of Hillary, Jason, and Jordan, and survived by her sister Renee Birnbaum and brother Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, succumbed to her illness on April 14th.
Despite an ongoing vocal cord ailment, Rabbi Philip Scheim of Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, Janice’s shul, spoke glowingly about his late congregant through the voice of the shul’s cantor, Marshall Loomer who read the rabbi’s heartfelt words at her funeral on April 16th.
“It was so typical of Janice that I should not have been surprised in the least,” read Cantor Loomer. “Visiting her a couple of weeks before Pesach, when Janice was so ill, in so much discomfort, and clearly and understandably feeling a bit down because of her prolonged incapacity, it seemed to me, for much of the visit, that I was the patient lying in bed, and Janice, the one sitting on the chair, comforting me. Janice, aware that I was having difficulty in speech, was expending whatever energy she had, reflecting concern for me. It didn’t matter that what she was experiencing was a thousand times worse, that her illness and prognosis were far more serious than my issues. My issues, and not her own, were the matter of the hour…Her commitment to Jewish tradition, to synagogue, to community was uncompromising. Her pleasantness, her fundamental goodness, her courage, her determination, will continue, for a very long time to come, to inspire, to instruct, and to help her family and all of us to hope for better days ahead.”
The first time I had the pleasure to sit down and chat with Janice was shortly after she began working at UJA Federation in September, 2006. It was during our conversation when two things about Janice immediately struck me. One was her love for her family. The other was her love of Israel.
Janice asked if I would be willing to write a story about the Renanim Youth Singers - an award-winning, mixed pluralistic group of teenage singers from around the Greater Toronto Area, led by musical director Susan Michaels. The choir was created to help, develop and enhance the love of Eretz Yisrael and Zionism by performing in galas and by traveling to Israel.
The story was to highlight the group’s recent return from their first performance in Israel.
Janice was an active and proud Renanim Board Member and an even prouder Renanim parent as her son Jordan, now 19, was one of those talented teens who made the sojourn to the Jewish State as did many of the parents, including, of course, Janice.
One of the Renanim Choir’s Israeli performances was for SHALVA – The Association for Mentally & Physically Challenged Children in Israel
”Seeing the kids of Shalva enjoying our children gave every parent such nachas, and filled our hearts with so much pride,” a clearly kvelling Janice told me. “Seeing our children perform in Israel, surrounded by so much history and spirituality brought a tear to our eyes.”
When word of Janice’s untimely death spread, many friends and co-workers wanted to share their thoughts and memories.
“Janice was my administrative assistant for many years, but she was much more than that for me; she was a dear friend,” said former UJA Federation lawyer, Mark Anshan. “We had a very special relationship. She was a wonderful support - her dedication, commitment, work ethic set the standard. Janice was an exceptional support to me and I was privileged, in so many ways, to have worked with her. For Janice, her family, friendships and personal relationships was what mattered most. We all can learn from Janice’s values which were grounded in the way she lived her life as a Jew. I will miss Janice but I have the kippah she made for me as a constant reminder of our special friendship. I finish these brief words with difficulty in viewing the computer screen through the tears that are flowing.”
“Janice and I first worked together in the mid 1980’s,” said Stephanie Olin Chapman, a close friend of Janice’s. “Later, I was fortunate enough to be able to offer her a job as the office manager and director of tenant programming at the Kehilla Residential Programme, where I was the Executive Director. She was a key member of the staff that grew that organization. On top of bringing a new sense of order to all of the staff’s lives, her work raised the bar for everything that Kehilla would go on to do. Janice was one of the most competent people I ever had the honour of working with and on top of that – a caring and wonderful friend.”
“Janice was one of the most committed members of our staff,” said Jeff Springer, UJA Federation’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs. “She always went the extra mile in helping UJA Federation make a difference to the community she cared so deeply about. I will miss her a great deal.”
“Janice Freedman will be missed but never forgotten by all of us,” said UJA Federation President & CEO, Ted Sokolsky. “Through her efforts here Janice had the opportunity to make a difference in the Jewish world and she worked every day to do just that. She was a tireless worker with a great presence who touched everyone that she came into contact with on a daily basis, and those people are rare.”