For Debbie Friedman, Judaism and the Jewish community have always been an important part of her life. Born and raised in a loving Jewish family and community in Cincinnati, her family belonged to Wise Temple and she was active at the Jewish Community Center.
“I actually met Alan [her husband] at the JCC in Cincinnati,” she recalled. The Center there had a theater production company called Tacapades, “and all the high school kids got together every Sunday and put on a play in the spring.” They both participated in the program.
Friedman was a marketing major at the University of Cincinnati, and when she graduated she joined the Federated Department Store chain, working as a buyer, first with Shillito’s in Cincinnati, and later, after she married and moved to Florida, for Burdine’s.
As a buyer, she had the opportunity to travel regularly to New York, and even to the Orient. “It was very exciting, and I liked it,” she said. She worked until her children were born.
Twenty-one years ago, when Alan Friedman had the opportunity to go to work for his family business in French Lick, IN, choosing a new home in a strong Jewish community was a priority for the family. “Louisville was the closest large city that had a vibrant Jewish community, so that’s why we’re here,” she said. “We love it. It’s been a great place to raise our kids and we have lots of great friends.”
A vibrant Jewish community doesn’t just happen. It takes a cadre of dedicated volunteers who are willing to invest their time and resources to ensure its success. The Friedmans have done both.
Since she’s always enjoyed working in marketing, volunteering with the Annual Federation Campaign was a natural fit. “When you’re passionate about something,” she said, “it’s very easy to fundraise.”
“Every year since we’ve been here, we’ve been part of Super Sunday,” Fried-man said. “We think it’s vitally important to reach out to every member of the Jewish community and get their support.”
In addition to volunteering on Super Sunday, Friedman, a Lion of Judah, has chaired or co-chaired Lion of Judah and Women’s Philanthropy events, and, with her husband, co-chaired a Major Gifts event. They’ve also attended many Campaign events.
During their first eight years in Louisville, most of Friedman’s activities were with her children’s school. Her first regular volunteer involvement in the Jewish community was with Jewish Hospital, a connection she still maintains. Today, she serves on three Jewish Hospital-connected committees: the Jewish Hospital St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation, the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and the Jewish Heritage Excellence Grants Committee.
About 12 years ago, she was asked to serve on the Jewish Family & Career Services Board, and has been part of that organization ever since. Today, she’s president of the organization and a volunteer driver for the Senior P.A.L.S. program, which provides affordable transportation for doctors appointments and a variety of errands to seniors who no longer drive.
For her first Senior P.A.L.S. assignment, about eight years ago, “I drove three elderly Jewish women down to Jewish Hospital where they volunteered,” Friedman recalled. “They were in their late 80’s or early 90’s, and they would go down and make the decorations that were put on the dinner trays.”
“I love being on the Board of JFCS,” she said. “It’s an extremely well run organization, and we do a lot of great things for a lot of people, whether it’s feeding people through our food pantry, career services or senior home care.
“These are vital programs,” she continued, “and we couldn’t do what we do if the Federation doesn’t have a strong Campaign. We rely on the Jewish Community of Louisville (JCL) and we rely on the Jewish community to support JFCS so we can continue to provide needed services to our community.”
The Friedmans are also members of Congregation Adath Jeshurun and she is a member of National Council of Jewish Women.
Friedman is also pleased with the progress she sees at the JCL. “When my kids were in high school, the BBYO program had fallen apart,” she observed, “and that was upsetting. So I’m happy to see that there’s very strong programming now for middle school and high school students. That’s really vital for our children.”
“I come to the JCC a lot,” she added. “I do the water pilates classes and a lot of the other water classes – indoor in the winter and outside in the summer.”
“I’m committed to and passionate about the JCL.” she concluded, “When I see how many people are helped and how the JCL helps develop Jewish identities, I recognize the importance of a strong Jewish community.”
The Friedmans have two children. Their daughter, Laura Witkov, and her husband, Adam, live in Milwaukee and are expecting their first child in June. Their son, Michael, lives in New York.
[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]