FRIEND OF THE NEEDY AND LONESOME
WOMEN and THEIR WORK
The Story of the Myriad Activities of Mrs. A. J. Freiman Whose Name Stands, for Kindliness to Jew and Gentile Alike
THE WORLD would have called him a derelict. He slouched against the wall of a certain Mission and made a great outcry against the bitterness of his fate.
“No money, no job, no clothes decent enough for the light of day, and hungry,” he complained. “Wot’s the answer, boys? Wot am I going to do?” Somebody suggested that he apply for help to Mrs. Freiman.
“Aw, rot!” the man growled. “She’s a Jewess, and a fat lot she’ll care wot becomes of the likes of me!”
Nevertheless, he was persuaded to try, and when he returned to the Mission in a new suit (the last addition to Mr. Freiman’s own wardrobe!) with a ticket to Montreal and the assurance that a job awaited him, there; with money in his pocket and food in his stomach, he was asked if he didn’t think his benefactress was a pretty fine woman.
The Noblest Christian
“Woman?” he echoed, huskily, “By G—, fellows, she ain’t no woman, at all. She’s a blooming angel!”
History does not record the date that the first Jewish settler came to Bytown, but this article records the fact that at ninety-one he is still a hale, vigorous and kindly old man, whose candle throws its beams afar, and who can’t break off the habit of fathering his flock. Such is Moses Bilsky.
His home was the harbour of all immigrant Jews in the Ottawa district. It was not only their refuge, but their school and their tabernacle. Although the Bilsky family was large, including several adopted children, and although the coffers did not bulge with money,there was scarcely a day that did not find some needy compatriot receiving hospitality; and on high holidays from thirty to forty guests were invariably housed between the seemingly elastic walls. Mrs. Bilsky did not include the word “rest” in her vocabulary. Its equivalent was “service,” and times without number, her day has started with the dawn when she would wash and iron the clothes of her I sleeping guests so as to avoid causing J them embarrassment on account of the limitations of their wardrobe!
Mr. Bilsky not only instructed the imI migrants in the ways and language of their adopted country, but he establishJ ed family after family in business, presenting them with hand-carts for ped| dling, with licenses, and provisions, perhaps, with which to open a little shop;
I and while his wife was performing her j works of mercy at home, five o’clock ! would find him down on the market to I see that all was well with some vendor [ f°r whom he had acquired a stall.
It will be seen therefore, that the Bilsky children had a thorough training in social service (which was just regarded I as ordinary kindness in that family) and the spirit so carefully fostered in childhood has developed into one of the outstanding examples of philanthropy on this continent.
She works for Jew and Gentile, for Protestant and Roman Catholic; no objective is too big for her to undertake; no errand of mercy too trivial. In the midst of organizing some huge campaign, she has time to think of a sick baby in the humblest section of the city. While entertaining some distinguished visitor, she remembers to send her car to one of the hospitals that the convalescents may have an outing. Every moment of her life is filled with thoughts for other people.
When asked whether, as a child, she did not find constant charitableness, irksome, Mrs. Freiman laughed.
“Good gracious, no!” she said. “It was as much the ordinary routine as going to school, eating and going to sleep. We didn’t know any other way of living. It was the usual thing when we came home from school to find that our rooms had been given to some unexpected visitor, and we never knew when we went to dress what article of clothing would be missing.”
“History repeats Itse'f,” said the inter* viewer, thinking of Mr. Freiroan’s new suit and the m?n from the Mission.
“That was just one time,” returreij Mrs. Freiman.... not quite truthfully» “But let me say that ne were far happier and got more out cf life, than the child* ren now-a-days, who are miserable in their selfishness, without knowing it.”
\/l RS. FREIMAN’S first conspicuous -‘-’A achievement occurred in corree] tion with the I.O.D.E. Paper Scheme.! So soon as this became known, the Jew-i ish rag-pickers and junk dealers came to her in a deputation and declared that if the scheme persisted, their living would be sw ept away. Naturally, this aspect of the collections had not occurred to the Daughters of the Empire, who generously abandoned the project once they w^ere convinced of its error. In the mean-! time, however, there was a good deal of work for Mrs. Freiman to accomplish, including conferences with the mayor,
rHE name of Mrs. A. J. Freiman is too well known to require any j introduction. Although her first thought I ¡s ^or her own people, there is a splendid ! impartiality about her works of grace J that, impelled the tribute,
I “She is the noblest Christian in the i Capital!”
with the prominent business men who had promised to support the Paper Scheme and with the Regentsthemselves. “The gratitude and relief of the men,” she remarked, “was touching, and will ever remain one of my happiest memories ” _ .
When war was declared, Mrs. Freiman organized the Jewish women of Ottawa into a branch of the Red Cross at a meeting which was addressed by Lady Borden. A generous part of the Freiman home was dedicated to the branch, thirty machines were installed and socks, pyjamas and dressing gowns were made. The latter proved so satisfactory that the pattern was adopted by the U. S. Red Cross. It may be of further interest to mention that the material used was felt from the Booth Mills.
The first big organized collection undertaken by Mrs. Freiman was that for the Hospital Ship in which H.R.H. the Duchess of Connaught was so keenly interested. At that time, campaigns involving the raising of thousands of dollars were new to the' city, and her achievement was viewed with not a little awe. Almost immediately after, she began to collect foodstuffs and clothing for the Belgians and this led to her appointment as Convener of the Committee to supply milk for the Belgian Babies.
Getting the Thing Achieved
IN RESPONSE to the necessity for A growth, the Canadian Women’s Club expanded just about this time, and recognizing Mrs. Freiman’s ability in fields so large as to embarrass most workers, the officers invited her to join the finance committee as tvell as the Executive. Her activities in the Club are too numerous to mention in detail, but one of her chief interests was the Gardening Scheme. She not only collected the produce from the various plots at an hour when most people were sleeping, but she took the truck to market and sold it, before returning to an eight o’clock breakfast and her round of meetings and their resultant labours.
When the Soldiers’ Comforts Committee decided to issue an edition of the Ottawa Free Press, Mrs. Freiman as head of the advertising committee brought in so many ads, that the managing editor cried for her to stop. Twice she oversold her space, and in the end although the size of the paper was enlarged succeeded in crowding out reading matter that was thought by its creators to be sacrosanct. The edition was a huge success and netted several thousand dollars. Mrs. Freiman sold the first copies out on the street, herself.
A Well Known Organizer
THE Canadian Club was by no means the only organization to which she lent her splendid energies. She was elected to the Executive if not the Presidency, of practically every society in the city, managing, in some wholly inexplicable way, not only to attend all their meetings, but to accomplish the most difficult tasks undertaken by them —which tasks were invariably given to her! From obscurity, she became, in a few short months, the figure in the Capital, and for no other reason than because her work, her philanthropy, had spread its effect over the whole city. Directly or indirectly, every one was touched by it!
Her home was a regular barracks. From Friday night to Sunday, all the Jewish soldiers in camp were welcomed, and their Gentile friends as well. The G.W.V.A. was practically organized in the Freiman home and it was Mrs. Freiman who furnished their first office (after sweeping it out) and who wrote the first letter for the organization from the desk that she had donated! It was she to whom the officers of The Veteran turned when they found themselves in difficulties, and to Mrs. Freiman belongs the credit for originating the idea of advertising through the medium of the movies. When the days for The Veteran looked dark, she had slides made, explaining the aims and objects of the paper and sent them broadcast throughout Canada for showing in the theatres. For getting individuals, groups or societies out of financial difficulties, she has no equal And all the while, it must be remembered,she was organizingbig “drives” . the Patriotic Fund, the Red Cross,
Hospital Tag Day, the Joan of Arc Institute, the Polish and Italian Relief, the Perley Home, the Day Nursery, the Association for the Blind and others.
Raising the Objective
THE Blind Association in Ottawa, by the way, never has been given the support it deserves, and when the officers decided to open a campaign for funds, they called on Mrs. Freiman for assistance, naturally. She asked them the amount of their objective and they answered timidly that about three hundred dollars was what they hoped to raise.
“Three hundred dollars?” echoed Mrs. Freiman. “I can’t work for any such sum as that . ..and for the Blind!”
“If you could help us raise half of it, then......” the ladies cried in consterna-
tion as she reached the doorway.
“Make your objective a thousand, said Mrs. Freiman, “and I’ll get it for you.” In three days, she handed over to them fourteen hundred dollars which, I venture to say, is the smallest sum that ever resulted from one of her campaigns!
And it wasn’t as though she did only one 'thing at a time. She never did less than three or four, and did them all well. Her appointments followed one another as closely as those of the Prime Minister, and I never saw her make a note or refer to an engagement pad. I have rarely known her to be late for a meeting. The following accurate account of an evening spent in her home, trying to arrange a patriotic entertainment, givessomeideaof her activities.
First, there came a long distance call from Kingston; the police told her a Jewish lad, claiming Ottawa as his home, had been arrested for stealing. She arranged for his bail and return. Next, there came a wire from St. John asking her help for a Jewish family refused admission to the country. She despatched the requisite sum of money.
Presently, a telephone call announced the death of a Frenchman whose wife was one of her protégées. She promised to make a visit to the stricken home, early in the morning. The door bell rang and in the vestibule, there stood a frightened, shawl-wrapped figure to plead sympathy for the life that a moral-loving world would soon condemn. Mrs. Freiman set right to work to gain admission for the girl into a maternity hospital.
“When in trouble, call on Mrs. Freiman!” became a sort of by-word in the city.
POSITIVELY, nothing daunted her.
She was convener of the G.W.V.A. Bazaar, the opening of which was some what dampened—by the firemen’s hose. Late at night, just after everything had been put in readiness, a blaze broke out and destroyed one side of the building. But Mrs. Freiman moved everything she could retrieve to the _ unburned sections, and carried on, in spite of the accidWhile the fire was burning, she was sending out in all directions for more contributions, and her motor being requisitioned for this work, she boarded the street car for home, some time after mid-
“I’il have to get off,” she told the conductor, in some embarrassment. “I haven’t a cent of money with me!” _
“Sure, you won’t get off, Mrs. Freiman,” answered the man. “Step in-
“How do you know me?” she asked, in genuine surprise.
“Bedad, didn’t my boy sleep at your house, as well as eat, When he went there along of his tent mate—a Jew fella named Clancy? Doesn’t he write to me every week—my boy—and tell me to watch out for you and ‘if you ever see her’ sez he, ‘you tell her I’m fighting for her,’ he sez.”
Many a boy at the front sent home his money to her for safe keeping, and one an orphan—begged her to accept his little savings in case he did not return!
Mixing Tragedy and Comedy
TRAGEDY and Comedy cross and recross the pathway of Mrs. Freiman’s life, sometimes so inextricably i mingled that she can’t weep for laughing, | or vice versa. But I doubt that any
more serio-comic situation ever occurred than that in connection with the Stage Hands I Inion.
As president of the Herzl Girls Society, Mrs. Freiman had arranged for a mamoth performance at the largest Ottawa theatre. There were 300 children taking part, and there was quite a flutter locally over the event. On the afternoon set for the dress rehearsal, the “troupe” gathered at the Russell, only to find the theatre dark, rio“boss,” no crew, none of the mechanical contraptions which had been ordered and uponwhieh depended much of the success of the performance. Frantic telephoning revealed the fact that the “boss” had forgotten all about the rehearsal and was quite incapable of attending, his next twenty-four hours being pretty well engaged in advance, in the historic town of Hull, Province of Quebec!
There was a terrific row. Mrs. Freiman is not the person to see failure of a project stare her in the eye. She and the Director, ably abetted by the crew, hastily gathered together, expressed in pretty frank terms their opinion of the absent “boss,” and even the management took a hand in the general strafing. A few days after the performance, (which, by the way, was a great triumph for all concerned) some members of the Stage Hands Union, waited upon Mrs. Freiman to ask her to appear against the delinquent “boss,” and thus separate him from his
“Oh, give him one more chance,” she begged, weakly.
“He’s had too many, already,” the men told her. “He gives a bad name to the theatre and the rest of us.”
“I think this will teach him a lesson,” she argued. “I can’t take a man’s job away from him—especially in war time.”
“He’s a reg’iar Czar,” was the quick answer, “and he’s got to go. There’ll be many another Romanoff, you know,” said the wag of the party.
The result was that the “boss’ ’signed the pledge for six months, friendly relations were re-established and every one was quite content with the turn affairs had
One time, when sitting in the box of the Jewish Theatre in New York, Mrs. Freiman was almost bowled over to receive at the rise of the curtain, an address from the star, and an enormous bouquet of roses. She had entered the theatre exactly as had every one else, and was not aware that her presence had been remarked, or that any notice had been taken of her. Imagine oneself going into a theatre in Halifax or Winnipeg, and being presented with an address and a bunch of roses!.... Out starring the star, so to speak!
Through a Great Epidemic
WITH the close of the war, it looked as though Mrs. Freiman might enjoy a much-needed rest, but it was then that the Flu epidemic swept Ottawa in its merciless course, and giving up all thought of self, she answered the city’s frantic appeal for help.
It came on Friday night, late. Her last soldier guests had just gone. The Mayor wanted her on the telephone. He begged her to come at once to the City Hall. “If your car is not in the garage, I will call for you,” he said.
“My car is here, but I never drive on Friday,” returned Mrs. Freiman, who is thoroughly orthodox. “If the matter is urgent, I will walk.”
The matter was urgent. The Mayor’s desk was piled high with telegrams and memoranda of telephone calls, all asking for help. In his office members of the Board of Control and several newspaper men sat looking at them, bewildered.
Said Mrs. Freiman, “It was as though a tremendous bubble had burst. The epidemic had suddenly assumed gigantic proportions. There was no preparation, no organized relief. The situation was appalling.”
She was the only woman—the only person—considered capable of attacking the problem, and she confesses that she
had no idea what to do. But it seemed rational to open an office for the registration both of cases and nurses, so advising the newspaper men to make such an announcement in the morning edition of their papers, she went home to sit up the rest of the night and plan the biggest campaign she had yet undertaken!
At half past seven, she was at the City Hall in her newly-opened office. At five minutes to eight the first call for help came. At three minutes to eight, a woman walked in to ask if there was need for voluntary nurses. Said Mrs. Freiman, huskily, "God has sent you. Go
right out to--” and the Relief Work
Presently, there were fifteen hundred practical workers in the field. Three hospitals were opened and a number of diet kitchens. Hard as she had worked before, Mrs. Freiman’s previous efforts were dwarfed by her activities during the epidemic. When asked how she stood the strain of those terrible weeks, she said, “I could stand the work, but I used to think I’d have to give up when the people came in to beg for coffins in which to bury their dead!”
Her Work in the Ukraine
AFTER the epidemic had subsided, she went to Toronto, where a Zionist Convention was in session. No sooner had she arrived than she was asked to raise funds for relief in Palestine. At first, she refused, but her refusals are not very firm, and that very afternoon, she organized the women at the Convention into a committee for the collection of clothing for destitute Palestinian Jews. Within three weeks, Mrs. Freiman had collected $167,000 besides $40,000 worth of clothing, sent, by the kindness of the Red Cross, to the sufferers in the East.
Two years ago, a deputation of Jews waited on her and spoke of the need for relief in the Ukraine. Automatically, Mrs. Freiman’s hand moved towards her cheque book. But the men shook their heads. “We don’t want money,” they said. “We want you to go to the Ukraine yourself; to bring the orphaned children to Canada, and to establish hospitals in the stricken country.”
Again she refused, and again, she weakened. After a conference with the immigration authorises, to whom she made certain representations regarding the adoption of these children, she received word that two hundred would he allowed to enter Canada.
Then the great work of finding good homes for the children began, to say nothing of raising funds with which to finance the undertaking—the deputating gentlemen to the contrary! From Glace Bay to the Coast, Mrs. Freiman travelled, using the first money collected to send a unit overseas for the purpose of organizing . there. A director, a doctor and treasurer went to the Ukraine, examined 8,000 children and selected about a thousand for immediate care. Out of these, two hundred were chosen and Mrs. Freiman went over, herself to bring them to Canada.
Every one of them was taken into a good home—not to be dedicated to a life of drudgery, but comradeship. Mrs. Freiman, herself, adopted a little girl and boasts that to-day she speaks excellent English and has become a thorough Canadian, knowing more of the Queen’s Birthday than many of her Ontarioborn associates!
I have not mentioned her management of the Empty Stocking Fund, which gave to 9,000 children a taste of Christmas happiness, nor her work for the Salvation Army Hospital; nor the rooms she furnished and maintains in various hospitals. Neither have I listed any of her offices, of which there are many, but in so brief an article one can give but a hurried glimpse of this remarkable woman, whose splendid impartiality and great heart prompt her to work alike for Jew and Gentile and who never allows her right hand to know what her left hand doeth!