Sign In Forgot Password


09/06/2023 11:11:00 AM


Yael Friedland

“My Jewish Journey” is an ongoing blog series in which members of the Bet Torah community describe and share their personal connection to Judaism, and how that journey may have evolved over time.

My Jewish journey is one shaped by cultural connections and a rich family history.  It offers a unique perspective on identity, heritage, and the enduring spirit that binds generations together.  My story begins with my parents.  My mother was born and raised in Brooklyn, to my Italian Catholic grandparents. My father was born shortly after his parents were liberated from a concentration camp in Poland.  

Just before his 7th birthday, my father received the gift of a baby sister, Yael. It’s clear that Yael’s life, albeit brief, taught him this guiding principle: Our family, even though it may be small, is the most important thing. There is no better example of his belief in the significance of building and keeping family, than the connection he single-handedly created with ours in Israel. He tracked down relatives, no matter how remotely connected and regularly maintained contact.

After living in Poland for ten years, his family left in an attempt to reach Israel.  They stopped in a displaced persons camp in Venice, where they sold cigarettes to make a living. They saved up enough money to buy an espresso machine and brought it to Israel, hoping to sell it there. He often told us of the disheartening experience, watching his father struggle to support the family. After having lived through times of uncertainty, he was determined to work selflessly to build a solid and secure foundation.  Finally here in America, he learned English and helped his parents start a sporting goods business. 

Just when things started looking up, the family tragically lost Yael when she was just 12. My father often recounted the pain he felt as he witnessed his sister’s suffering.  For the rest of his life, he was highly sensitive to others and their struggles, and did whatever he could to provide solace and support.

After graduating from dental school, where he met my mom, he shortly thereafter transitioned into real estate and she converted to Judaism. It was then that he began to increasingly focus his time and energy on the Jewish world. His mission was simple, but profound, for its connection to his own story: he sought out Jews around the world in need of help. His kindness, energy and generosity knew no bounds. He was notorious for saying that “anyone could write a check” but he gave his time and his soul.  This mantra has been a guiding principle for me and how I choose to dedicate my time.

Around this time, religion started playing a more pronounced role in his daily life. He never missed a minyan at his shul, became the President of his synagogue and JCC Global, and served as an active board member for countless other organizations and Jewish causes.

Although this story may sound like a biography of my father’s life, it is the story of who I am.  His stories have become mine in that he has instilled in me a deep connection to and responsibility to ensure the stories of survivors are carried, the importance of a Jewish education for our children, and the cruciality of instilling in our children a love for Israel, and our rich history and traditions.

To know my father actually meant something.  He was light-hearted, so much fun to be around, had countless responsibilities and did it all with such grace and a huge smile.

Today, four years after my father’s sudden and tragic passing, I carry on his legacy and continue on my own Jewish journey, as a proud board member here at Bet Torah, a member of the Westchester Advisory Committee for UJA, a JCC board member, an active volunteer at the Leffell School, among others.  I started and continue to run the Share Shabbat program, where I match volunteers with a Holocaust survivor, to visit with a monthly meal, share stories, and offer companionship.

I am the grandchild of two remarkable survivors and the child of two parents who instilled in me the importance of continuing their rich heritage and legacy.  I take much pride in seeing my children proudly waving the Israeli flag at their school events and the Israeli Day Parade.  I feel so many emotions as I bring my three children with me to visit survivors, as they will be some of the last of their generation to touch, meet, and get to know survivors of the Shoah.  And I revel in their love for the Hebrew language, our homeland, and our Jewish values and traditions.  The work I do, within and outside of my home, personally connects Jews to others and intentionally ensures that the next generation picks up the torch to do good in the Jewish way. If we don’t pursue continuity with intent and if we don’t live our values with action, who will?

Sat, September 30 2023 15 Tishrei 5784