Six years ago my family and I became members of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem on Baily Road. For me, it broke a lifetime association with Beth Zion Congregation on Hudson Avenue (soon to be renamed Sidney Shoham Place).
Why did I switch? The main reason was their spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz. I had always been a great admirer. Even though he was not our rabbi, we felt very close to him. His sermons always gave me a lift. We made the move and never looked back. I immediately got involved as the editor of their Bulletin and as an advisor on publicity matters. It did not take long to feel the warmth and energy of the entire synagogue. More recently, I began to work exceedingly close with their fabulous president Judah Aspler and executive director Joyce Reinblatt.
When Rabbi Steinmetz announced a year ago that he was taking a dream job at a synagogue in New York City, my heart sunk. How could TBDJ function without him? We bid a tearful good-bye to him last fall. Wasting little time, Aspler and his team sprung into action. They consulted every single member on what type of individual they wanted to see as Rabbi Steinmetz's successor. Then they went the extra mile, bringing three final candidates to town on successive weekends.
Rabbi Freundlich, Judah Aspler and Joyce Reinblatt.
Well, it has only been two weeks since Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich and his family arrived at TBDJ. I have met with him several times and I will already go out on a limb and say that the executive made a brilliant hire. He appears to be a perfect fit. Unquestionably, his dynamic personality and wonderful sense of humour will win everyone over. Last Monday I invited him to meet with Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and our city council. The banter was superb.
Rabbi Freundlich and Judah Aspler with Mayor Brownstein and council.
I asked Mount Royal Liberal Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather to pay the rabbi a visit and explain to him how Canadian government works. He did and reported on a great first meeting. D'Arcy McGee Liberal MNA David Birnbaum will be next to stop by. Most recently, I asked the dean of local community journalists, Janice Arnold from the Canadian Jewish News, to interview him. She, along with Stuart Nulman, noted Montreal Times columnist and blogger, joined the rabbi at a nice lunch organized by Aspler and Reinblatt. It was like sitting around the table with lifelong friends.
Anthony Housefather and the rabbi.
Rabbi Freundlich, affectionately known as “Rabbi Y,” his wife Rifki and their seven children arrived here via Atlanta. Since 2007 he had served as the Associate Rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob. In addition, he became Head of School at Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael High School in 2014.
“Having had the opportunity to engage with Rabbi Freundlich in the lead-up to his debut, there is no doubt that our incredible synagogue and community is now on its way to growing even stronger,” said Aspler. “With the Rabbi’s leadership and enthusiasm, the days, weeks, and years ahead will be filled with learning, spiritual growth, a connection to tefila, friendliness, chesed, and a lot of excitement along the way.”
Rabbi Freundlich was one of three final candidates brought to TBDJ to spend a weekend with members. “Each of our guest Rabbis commented to me on how impressed they were by what they saw in terms of member involvement, care and passion for the shul,” said Mr. Aspler. “From participation in davening and classes to efforts made to personally say hello and chat. I will add that the level of feedback received prior to and during the search was tremendous. Our candidates were impressed, and I think we all were as well. We demonstrated who we are, and who we will be.”
Rabbi Freundlich received his semicha (rabbinic ordination) in 2005 from Baltimore’s Ner Israel Rabbinical College, where he also earned a Masters of Talmudic Law. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Professional Counseling from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Maryland. He and his wife are parents to seven children: Racheli (16), Binyamin (14), Ephraim (12), Shlomo (11), Rena (8), Shai (6), and Shayna (3).
More than 300 people attended a Shabbat dinner on August 19 to formally welcome the Rabbi and his family to TBDJ. “As my wife and I went from table to table to introduce ourselves it really felt like our wedding,” he said. “There was so much positive energy in the room.”
Last summer the Rabbi circulated his private email to the membership, inviting anyone to reach out. He was pleasantly surprised by the avalanche of messages he received. “I wish to express my gratitude and excitement to be part of this community,” he said. “This is such a wonderful opportunity.”
While in New York City over the summer, Rabbi Freundlich paid a visit to his predecessor Rabbi Steinmetz. “We had a wonderful discussion,” he said. “Rabbi Steinmetz has been a tremendous help and resource to me already. I am grateful for that.”
In his former post, Rabbi Freundlich also served as a member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel, responsible for promoting personal and religious growth through family meetings, personal development classes and social programming, with special attention given to marital counseling and parenting consultations. In this role he also directed the Maor Eliyahu program, an advanced nightly Talmud study group, and held outreach responsibilities for university students and preschool parents. Amongst other accomplishments and publications, he developed and produced a “Strengthen Your Marriage” Workshop which was presented numerous times across the United States, and developed a “3 Minute Parenting Through the Parsha” online video series, featured by several national organizations such as The Orthodox Union and Aish Hatorah (videos can be seen at http://tbdj.org/RYF1).
Aspler has expressed his gratitude to Search Committee Chairs Morty Yalovsky and Ami Drazin, who worked tirelessly in order to ensure that the search was thorough and achieved its goals. He added that committee members Louis Drazin, Edie Friedman, Leslie Gal, Alan Katznelson, Perry Kliot, Daniel Lieberman, Dean Mendel, Shira Vasilevsky and Scott Garber left no stone unturned, explored every issue and detail, and considered every member throughout the process.
Rabbi Freundlich’s arrival coincides with the launch of new programming that will guide TBDJ into the New Year and Holiday season. “I am very excited to get started on this new adventure,” he said.