Jeffrey Fredman: We Still Need Community

Jeffrey Fredman. Photo by Chet Stein.

Jeffrey Fredman has a vision for the future of the Jewish community.

“I think calls that the community is collapsing are probably mistaken,” said Fredman, 58, the new president of B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. His term will overlap with the 100th anniversary of the Conservative synagogue in 2025.

“I think that people still need community. But, we need to meet people where they are at. We can’t expect that every member is going to come on Saturday mornings,” he said. “Jews have to have a reason to come to synagogue and I think the synagogue has to sometimes come to them. Some of our programs are not held at the synagogue anymore. They’re at restaurants, clubs, in people’s houses.”

The goal, Fredman said, “is to have communities and have people who want to be a part of the Jewish people. They may not want it as much as their parents did. They may not be as motivated, but I think a lot of them have the interest.”

Fredman is a federal administrative patent judge, an adjudicator who decides cases before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “It’s interesting,” he said. “You see cutting-edge technology.”

Fredman’s academic background is in law and biochemistry. He received his PhD at University of Alabama at Birmingham and his law degree at George Washington University. He met his wife, Debra, through Hillel during his undergraduate years at University of Maryland. She is a manager of computer programmers at Geico. They have three children in their 20s.

A native of St. Louis, Fredman recalled working in his grandfather’s furniture store after they prayed the morning service at Conservative Congregation B’nai Amoona.

Today he is a B’nai Israel regular. He took on a leadership role because “basically someone asked me to. But I think I also was interested in participating and meeting people. There’s a lot of social aspects to leadership.

“It’s nice to build a community. It allows you to find friends and people that you will have lunch with or people that you’ll eat Kiddush with on Saturday or have dinner with on Friday nights.”

As synagogue president, Fredman wants to “enhance community, make sure that everyone, the whole spectrum, is included. I would like our Hebrew school to succeed in making functional Conservative Jews.

“I think even young people who say they don’t want to be part of Judaism really do want community. They want Jewish friends. When you have a loss, they’re there to say Kaddish with you, or when you have a celebration, they’re there to say Shehecheyanu. They’re there for all the positive and negative parts of life. You have that community to help support you as you grow to be a Jewish adult and have children as you move through life.”

The Jewish value that guides Fredman is Ahavat Yisrael. “The love of your fellow Jew is really important to me,” he said.

“I think values like learning how to enjoy the Jewish ritual life can be nice. The rituals are things that enhance your life, like building a sukkah. It’s a wonderful experience to sit outside under the leafy canopy and have a meal with your family and friends.

“Every synagogue is a community and I think if you participate in your community, you’ll gain immeasurable friendships, love and experiences. Your Jewish community will be something that is a meaningful and central part of your life if you want it to be. And I think that that’s the way the Jewish community evolves in the future. Whether synagogues remain as buildings — probably some will, some won’t — we must have opportunities, not just for prayer but for other activities — social action, mitzvah day.

“Those are important aspects of building a community in the modern era, because that’s something that I think we still need. We still need people to take care of each other.” ■

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.

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