On May 14, 2020, the Los Angeles Times, as well as other media, reported the passing of S. David Freeman on May 12 at the age of 94. Freeman had a remarkable life and career as a pioneering, visionary leader in the field of public utilities, including a lengthy stint with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) earlier in life and a later stint with the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power, among others.
It was during that latter era that I happened to attend a lecture he gave in his signature cowboy hat. Mark Rogen, my assistant director of SoCal Arbeter Ring at that time, had joined me to hear Freeman speak about transitioning to a green economy long before anyone else in such a high leadership position in the utility field was thinking in those terms. Pardon my prejudice, which I fully confess to, but it was astounding to hear someone painting such a utopian renewable picture of our energy sector in such a thick, broad Southern accent!
Before he was done speaking, I forget if it was I turning to Mark, or Mark turning to me, but almost with one mind and one voice we agreed: This is someone Arbeter Ring should be honoring for his clear futuristic environmental and humanitarian vision.
We approached Freeman with our offer of the Rabbi Melvin S. and Erna B. Sands Memorial Award for Human Rights. From his outward affect and that charming drawl of his, we had no idea Freeman was even Jewish. It’s hard to say who was more shocked at what he revealed. He said, “The Workmen’s Circle? I didn’t even know they were still around! I grew up in the Workmen’s Circle!”
Sure enough, Freeman had been born in 1926 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where his father was a leader of the local Arbeter Ring and an ardent promoter of the kindershule there. Freeman’s Yiddish was by now a little rusty, but he remembered many words, expressions and songs from his classes in our Chattanooga shule in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Freeman received his award at our Annual Awards Luncheon on Sunday, October 21, 2001. It was obvious to us, and to him as well, that his early secular Jewish shule education exerted a strong and positive influence on his life and professional interests. He subsequently got friendly with the leadership at our national office, who were thrilled to meet him, and he agreed to be named as an Honorary Member of our SoCal Arbeter Ring District Committee.
These are things I doubt you would ever see reported anywhere else in the many published tributes to our departed member S. David Freeman. If I may be allowed an additional editorial comment in light of the unique times we are going through right now: We must never be intimidated or ashamed to share our progressive ideas and programs for a more rational, humane, caring and loving society. We can never know what vital seeds we are planting for the future, but surely, one way or another, some of them will eventually flower.
in eybikn ondenk!
—Dr. Eric A. Gordon, Director Emeritus, SoCal District