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Profile: Ellen & George Friedman

 Everyone has a good reason for moving to Teaneck. For Ellen and George Friedman, the reason was parking. George has related, in public places and more than once, how it was a free parking that hooked him on moving to Teaneck. There actually are several parts to the story, some of which appeared in the Jewish Link in George’s column about life in Teaneck in the 1970s. In one 2014 column, he mentions that while he and Ellen were dating, they were stuck in a Route 4 traffic jam heading toward Queens that backed up into Teaneck. As he fumed about the traffic, he noticed a sign on the side of the road near Belle Avenue that said “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home.” The Township, and the sign, really didn’t register at the time, he said, but, in another column, George detailed how when the couple was looking at apartments in Queens, he was really bothered by the lack of easy parking. Ellen’s brother Eddie Greenberg and his wife Barbara already lived in Teaneck, in the State Street area. In addition to securing an apartment in their complex for the new couple, “describing the shuls, shopping, proximity to transportation; and explaining their belief that Teaneck was an up-and-coming Jewish community,” Eddie used the magic words “parking is plentiful and not metered.” Ellen and George have been Teaneck residents ever since, moving here following their wedding in 1976. They’ve been members of Beth Aaron just about as long. “When George and I first came to Teaneck, we were searching for a shul,” Ellen recalled. “Back then, we didn’t have so many shuls to choose from. We lived in the apartments on State Street, and the choices were B’nai Yeshurun and Beth Aaron for an Orthodox synagogue. George and I both grew up in Conservative shuls, so we checked out the Jewish Center of Teaneck, too. Beth Aaron was the best fit for us, mainly due to its size and friendliness, and also the feeling that our presence (despite our limited religious backgrounds) made a difference to the shul. In 1977, when they joined, Beth Aaron met in a house. George sat in the “talking section,” which was in the back near a fireplace. “The Rabbi couldn’t see you in that area,” he explained. “We were part of ‘Aliyah Bet,’ joining right after the founders,” said Ellen, noting that they were perhaps the 40th family to join. Kiddush on Shabbat was in the hall upstairs, she added, pointing out that “hall” meant “here is one bedroom and this is the hall to walk to the other bedroom.” At that time, “Kiddush was a treat usually served on top of an ironing board.” Rabbi Fass, the Morah de-Atra at that time, “made a great effort to welcome every new person to the shul,” Ellen said. “When your shul has less than 100 people, everybody has an impact on its development. What was great when we joined was the camaraderie among members. George and I had a Talmud Torah background. I always felt out of step with the Orthodox world, but having gone to NCSY in my teen years, I wanted to be part of it. The members were so accepting. If I didn’t know something, all I had to do was ask, and answers were given graciously. Beth Aaron felt like ‘family.’” Today that “family” has grown so large,” she said. “Beth Aaron is still the ‘friendly’ shul in town, and George and I love to see that there are so many activities for new members. We may not know all the members these days, but the ones we do know, we are close with. I believe the uniqueness of Beth Aaron in 1976 or 2016 is that the people are really concerned about each other and are willing to do whatever it takes to celebrate the good times and help each get through the bad times.” Even though Beth Aaron is much, much bigger now, it is still a warm, friendly, welcoming place. “It’s a place where you make friends for a lifetime,” Ellen said. “All ages make up the Beth Aaron community, but it’s wonderful to see young families joining the shul, just as we did so many years ago.” George and Ellen feel so fortunate to have been guided by several Rabbanim that they have the good fortune to call their friends, to this day. “Leadership is crucial to the growth of a shul,” they said. “There isn’t enough time and there aren’t enough words to sing the praises of Rabbi and Chaviva Rothwachs and their children. Their support for our family has made a great difference in the way George and I have grown spiritually.” Encouraging new neighbors to become new members is easy, according to the couple. All you would need to say is “Walk in on a Shabbat and hear the quiet during the davening. Listen to Rabbi Rothwachs speak, and inevitably there will be some part of that speech that you will take home to discuss at your Shabbat table. Come to the Kiddush after shul and see how long people are standing around trying to catch up with their friends. Shul ends, but people are talking for at least 45 minutes after shul, because they don’t want to leave each other. “Read the shul’s weekly newsletter. You will find an activity, a class, a program for you and your family. “Finally, ask Rabbi Rothwachs a shayla. He is a remarkably humble leader and will answer you with all his brilliance, his spirituality and his heart.” When the couple was first married, George was working full time and going to law school at night. It was at that point that Ellen began to realize that life was going to be very lonely if she didn’t get out and make friends. “I went to my first Sisterhood meeting, and the rest is history,” she reminisced. “If you ever want to make friends, go to a Sisterhood meeting, raise your hand, and say ‘I want to volunteer.’ No doubt, you will bewelcomed back again, and again, and again.” Ellen has worked on many projects for the shul, including fundraising for Sisterhood, serving on the shul Board, and working on the negotiation committee for Rabbi Kanarfogel’s contract. “When our shul decided to go on several missions to Israel, I usually took care of organizing the chesed components of our trips,” she said. “Children wrote letters or decorated pictures to give to soldiers. Toiletries were collected to be distributed to soldiers. Children’s winter clothes were brought the first winter after the expulsion of the families from Gush Katif.” More recently, she has redecorated the Mommy and Me room, with the help of custodian Alberto Villafane. Her latest project, along with Toby Eizik, is creating a memorable tallit for the Kol ha-Ne’arim project. “I told you, once you go to a Sisterhood meeting and say ‘I’d like to volunteer,’ the volunteering never ends.” George, too, has been active in synagogue life. Over the many years of their membership he has served on the shul Board, the Seudah Shlishit Committee (25 years), the Bikkur Cholim Committee, and the Simchat Torah Kiddush Committee. Using his professional expertise, he also chaired a Constitution Revision Task Force. A lawyer, as well as an arbitration and mediation expert and consultant, George chairs the Board of Directors of Arbitration Resolution Services, Inc. (“ARS”). He “retired” – for about a month – in 2013 as FINRA’s Executive Vice President and Director of Arbitration. He previously held a variety of positions of responsibility at the American Arbitration Association. George also is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham Law School, where he has taught arbitration for 20 years. George says that his name in Native American is “Wearing Many Hats.” And that Teaneck means “Place with Many Kosher Establishments.” Ellen was a teacher in the Teaneck public schools before she became a pre-school teacher in several of the Jewish schools in Bergen County. She retired from the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey 13 years ago. She worked in the children’s department at Barnes and Noble and has had several businesses, all related to art. She has created chuppot, tefillin bags, and challah covers. In addition, she has taught art privately and through after-school programs. When the work on the Kol ha-Ne’arim tallit is completed, she plans to return to working on her own fine arts projects. As a child, Ellen lived first in Bayside, NY, and then New Hyde Park, NY. George was born in Brooklyn, but lived in Douglaston, Queens from the time he was 2. They grew up three miles apart, they noted, but didn’t meet until 1971, working as camp counselors. They feel incredibly lucky to have their children and grandchildren so close, as well as Ellen’s parents, Bernice & Mishel Greenberg, who also are members of Beth Aaron and live just a few blocks away from the Friedmans (and across the street from the Rabbi and Chaviva). George’s Mom still lives in the house in which he grew up. Their daughter Leyna is married to Jarred Goro and lives in Teaneck with their children, two boys and a girl. Their son Mikki lives in Fair Lawn with his wife Rachel, and their two children, a boy and a baby girl. Their son Ben and his wife Allison live in Fair Lawn, around the corner from Mikki. “Everyone lives nearby, and we see our parents, kids and grandkids all the time. That’s four generations. It’s a bracha,” George said.


Sat, August 13 2022 16 Av 5782