For Jonathan Ben-Choreen Freedman, the 2015 recipient of the Gilbert Greenberg Distinguished Service Award, giving back to the community is a family affair.
“My parents have always been involved in leadership roles and charity,” Freedman said. “And I certainly was inspired by the late Gilbert Greenberg, who was a friend of our family, and watched him be both a philanthropist and leader in the Ottawa community.”
The award – named for the late Gilbert Greenberg, a past president of the Jewish Community Council of Ottawa/Vaad Ha’Ir (now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa), who exemplified the qualities of leadership, which the award seeks to recognize each year – is the highest tribute Ottawa’s Jewish community bestows on an individual for exceptional service over many years and will be presented on Wednesday, June 17, at the annual general meeting of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
The Freedman family has roots that reach deep within the Ottawa Jewish community, Freedman said.
“I’m one of the oddballs in Ottawa. The Freedmans arrived in Ottawa at the latest in 1891,” he explained. “I’m a third generation born in Ottawa and two of my kids are fourth generation, which makes us oddballs. There are not many of us who have been around that long.”
Freedman moved to Israel with his family when he was nine years old.
It was in Israel, he said, that he got a greater understanding of what it means to give back to the community. Freedman spent 21 years as part of the Israel Defense Forces, four years of active service and then in the reserves. His rank, by the end of his time in the reserves, was lieutenant-colonel.
“In that sense, giving back and national service is part of the way of life in Israel.”
Freedman eventually returned to Ottawa and became involved with the Jewish community here.
The late Gerry Levitz recruited Freedman to serve on the Vaad board before it became the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. He served on the Vaad and Federation boards for several years, most notably as Federation chair from 2007 to 2009.
“Being chair of Federation was a great honour and a very interesting position,” he said.
At the national level, Freedman represented Ottawa on the boards of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Freedman currently serves as chair of both Hillel Ottawa and Jewish Memorial Gardens.
“If we’re doing a good job, it all looks very easy. For the people on the inside, we’re at it every day,” he said.
Reflecting on his years of community service, Freedman said it is meaningful moments, such as hearing the Tamir Choir sing, or seeing the community coming together at events and rallies, especially the Stand with Israel Solidarity Rally on Parliament Hill in 2002, which stand out for him.
“It’s those events that are special,” he said.
“Being able, as chair, to go out and see how diverse our agencies are, and the different works that they’re doing, and how broad a swath of the community we touch, is very, very exciting.”