Joe of the West End

by Josh Kerr | Apr 14, 2021
Yearly award helps ensure Yiddishkeit continues to survive

The Joseph M. Freiden Scholarship Fund, established by his daughters Syma Katzz"l, Jennie Richz"l, and Edith Landy in 2003, honours its namesake’s love of Yiddishkeit and desire to help preserve its language and culture by supplying a bursary to a student of Yiddish at Gray Academy.  

Freiden, born in Nikolaev, Ukraine, moved to Winnipeg in 1913. Shortly after, his wife Rivka joined him, and they soon became immersed in the Jewish Community in the North End of the city. He opened a tailor shop on Portage Avenue, where he earned the nickname “Joe of the West End” amongst his customers. 
In 1928, when Rivka died at the age of 36, Freiden was heartbroken. Rather than show his grief, he dove deep into Jewish literature, developing a strong connection and affinity to Yiddish writers, whose humanity, humour, wit, and wisdom he appreciated. This love turned into involvement with the Yiddish Theatre, where he was an actor, director, and make-up artist.   

On Friday nights, he could be found on stage at the Peretz Folk School with nothing accompanying him but a book. The books remained out of his sight for the most part, as he was a storyteller in the truest sense of the word, rarely needing even a quick glance down.  

His reason for dealing with an untimely loss in this manner became much clearer when he included in his Will “nobody likes a sad face, and no-one is obliged to bear my sorrow.” 

The following is taken from his Will, handwritten in Yiddish, as a guide for his children and grandchildren, but ultimately is a great lesson for all:

“The first and best thing that I would ask .... is that they should always live peacefully between themselves. This is the best and finest matter in a family: helping one another with whatever one can - sometimes even with good advice - to keep friendly and close - not to reckon with petty matters that may sometimes arise in a family. ..... If you should carry a grudge sometimes do not carry it in your heart but talk it out in a friendly manner, because one very often carries a grudge for something (when) the other party is not at all guilty. With goodwill one can always and with everyone live in peace...”

The scholarship, which helps reduce tuition at Gray Academy for grade 12 students who have taken, or will be taking the Yiddish course, helps ensure his legacy lives on. The course engages students in both the language and the culture and history surrounding it, something that would surely warm Freiden’s heart.