Friedman to Receive National Women’s Philanthropy Award

Debbie Friedman is a true leader in the Louisville Jewish community, lending her talents to many local Jewish agencies, helping ensure the strength and vitality of the Jewish community by making a Lion of Judah gift to the Annual Federation Campaign, and volunteering for the Campaign.

This year, in recognition of her many years of service to the community and her generous support of the Campaign, the Jewish Federation of Louisville has named Friedman Louisville’s recipient of the national Jewish Federations of North America Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award.

Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award winners have been members of the Lion of Judah Division, women who contribute a minimum of $5,000 a year to the Federation Campaign, for at least five years; served in a leadership capacity with the Campaign, and made a significant impact in the local Jewish community, in Israel and/or abroad. Honorees also display creativity, initiative and/or volunteerism; encourage and motivate others women to take on leadership roles and embody the spirit and vision of the Lion of Judah through a commitment to tzedakah and tikkun olam.

“I feel deeply humbled to be in the company of past and present honorees whose contributions to the Louisville Jewish community have been simply awe-inspiring,” Friedman said. “This award, which commemorates the contributions of Norma Kipnis-Wilson and Toby Friedland, the founders of the Lion of Judah Division of the Jewish Federation, honors women of valor who have dedicated their lives to making an impact in their local, as well as national and international Jewish communities.

“I enjoy working with other committed Jewish leaders in our community to make sure that our community is the strongest it can be,” she continued. “By helping other people and being passionate about our Jewish community, I feel that I am having an impact here in Louisville.

“I am honored to be among this group of outstanding Jewish women who have this same commitment,” she concluded. “Thank you for the recognition.”
Louisville women who have received this award in the past are Denise Schiller, Jane Goldstein, Carolyn Neustadt, Cheryl Karp, Karen Abrams and Jean Trager.

Both Friedman and her husband, Alan, are native Cincinnatians whose families were very active in the Jewish community and lived only a mile apart. In fact, she said, “I met Alan when I was 16 at the JCC in Cincinnati. They had a high school group called Tacapades. It was a variety show that kids practiced for every Sunday and then we performed it.”

She attended the University of Cincinnati, earned her degree in marketing and went to work as a buyer for Shillito’s young men’s department. When the Friedmans married, he was finishing his law degree at the University of Miami in Florida. She joined him there and transfered to Burdine’s, another Federated store.

Her buying job gave her the opportunity to travel about every six weeks, visiting markets around the world, including twice yearly trips to the Orient. “It was amazing,” she said, but it was not something she wanted to do after her children were born. “So I stopped working and was a fulltime mother.”

That did not keep her from being involved in the community. When an auxiliary for the National Asthma Center, affiliated with the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, started in South Florida, Friedman became involved and quickly rose through its ranks to become president. She and Alan were also involved with Israel Bonds in South Florida, and she has been a Lion of Judah since 1991, when her mother-in-law, Bernice Friedman made her a Lion for the first time.

When the young family arrived in Louisville in 1992, they enrolled their children at Kentucky Country Day. Their daughter, Laura, was in the first grade and their son, Michael, was in pre-kindergarten. Friedman quickly volunteered at the school, organized construction of a playground and was instrumental in raising $100,000 for the project. It was a great way to meet people and also connected her with the Jewish community. Emily Benovitz was in Michael’s class, so Friedman became instant friends with her mother, Amy Benovitz.

Inez Segell, the grandmother of KCD students, helped with the playground project, and when it was complete, Segell brought her husband, Jack, z”l, to see it. He immediately recognized Friedman’s leadership abilities, and, Friedman recounted, “he said to me we need you in the Jewish community. He was on the Jewish Hospital Board, so we went downtown and met Hank Wagner,” then Jewish Hospital’s CEO. An invitation to join the Jewish Hospital Foundation Board soon followed. She remained on that Board for 15 years. Soon Friedman joined The Temple’s Board, on which she served for four years. She and her husband both volunteer each year for the Annual Federation Campaign as well and are currently members of Adath Jeshurun.

Julie Benson brought Friedman onto the Jewish Family & Career Services Board in 2002, and as she learned about the agency’s mission and what it does in the community, Friedman knew she had found a special place.

“I learned all the different ways that JFCS and the Federation help people in the community and that was wonderful,” Friedman said. It ignited her passion, drive and determination, which, she explained, “is what makes it easy for me to ask you and others to donate” time, talent and money.

That passion also led her to greater involvement. With a marketing background, she enjoys fundraising, and one thing led to another. “I just got involved on more and more committees,” she continued, “and then Judy Freundlich Tiell and the Board asked me to be on the Executive Board.”

JFCS soon had her on track to become Board president and helped prepare her for those responsibilities. “JFCS helps you grow into positions,” Friedman said, “and so, when it was time to be asked … if I would be willing to be the president, I knew that I had great people before me and could learn a lot [from them].”

When her time came, she was ready for the responsibility, and served as president for three years. She also helped prepare Stephanie Mutchnick to succeed her.

Friedman has also been a member of the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence Board since its inception in 2012 and currently serves on its Grants Committee.

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