Farewell to Reb Yosef Friedenson, z”l

While World Jewry suffered irreplaceable losses because of Churban Europa, certain sections — especially American Jewry — were able to experience a surge of inspiration and penetrating uplift from the thousands of survivors who were able to make their way to our shores before and after the war.

Chassidishe Rebbeim and Rabbanim — such as those of Satmar, Klausenburg and Vizhnitz — as well as Litvishe Roshei Yeshivos and yeshivaleit such as the Mirrer bnei Torah who escaped to Shanghai and those who joined yeshivos as maggidei shiur in Torah Vodaath, Telshe, and Ner Yisroel before and after the war, served as models of Old World Yiddishkeit of earlier generations. We certainly gained immeasurably from them.

One outstanding personification of our connection with pre–War European Jewry was Reb Shmuel Yosef Friedenson, z”l, who was niftar this past Shabbos. He made his mark in America and truly on the world scene with his editorship of Agudath Israel of America’s monthly Yiddish-language publication, Dos Yiddishe Vort. He had enjoyed contact with, and had deep appreciation for, the many streams of Yahadus hachareidis, as I will explain. First I would like to refer to a touching parable expressed by Hagaon Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, the late Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva and Mesivta Chaim Berlin [this story is printed in the transcription of Rabbi Golding’s hesped]:

As the train leaves the stations, the crowd on the platform raise their hands in farewell. One woman remains, waving energetically to the distant train, explaining that she can still see the red flag her son is waving and is still connected with him.

Harav Hutner said, “Reb Yossel Friedenson is the red flag waver of our era. As long as he’s with us, he connects us with our rich, multi-faceted European past.”

His Multi-faceted Connections

Reb Shmuel Yosef Friedenson was born in Lodz, Poland, in April 1922. His father, Reb Eliezer Gershon, was a prominent askan within Agudath Israel. He helped administer the Bais Yaakov system and edited its monthly Bais Yaakov Journal.

When World War II broke out, Reb Yossel (as he was fondly called) ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he married Gittel Leah Silberman, a”h. He spent over two years in the Starachowice Labor Camp, and then was shipped to other camps, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After the war, he began editing a news sheet, Dos Yiddishe Vort, first in Munich and then in Feldafing in 1946. When he arrived in America in 1951 he began editing Dos Yiddishe Vort for the American Agudah.

He respected every segment and movement within Torah Jewry — including various Chassidic groups, German Orthodoxy, Sephardic and American Torah groups. His articles not only reported on important events or inspiring speeches by leading personalities, his writings often conveyed important and uplifting hashkafah.

In addition, he did not cooperate with or work together with anti-Torah groups, but he never condemned the survivors who identified with them, saying, “One does not comprehend how much they suffered.”

Reb Yossel published Dos Yiddishe Vort regularly — the most recent issue a month ago, after he had suffered a stroke and had vision in only one eye.

The following story [also related in Rabbi Golding’s hesped] is an indication of his unbending loyalty to friends and family:

As Reb Yossel and his wife were returning from a vacation in German, they flew by Lufthansa and found that their seats were mistakenly assigned a distance apart. Reb Yossel refused to board the plane despite the threats of the chief administer. He pulled up his sleeve and displayed the numbers tattooed on his arm. He said, “This is the last time we were separated. It will not happen again.”

The executive left for a few minutes and returned to tell them that they had adjoining seats, in first class.

Reb Yossel is survived by his wife b’zivug sheini, Mrs. Yocheved Friedenson, and his three daughters and their husbands: Rabbi Chaim and Mrs. Esther Gruenstein; Rabbi Moshe andMrs. Chana Kahn, and Rabbi Yosef Chaim and Mrs. Rosie Golding. He is also survived by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who made him proud.