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Mitzvah Moonlighters

Eytan Kobre

How is it that the busiest people seem to be the ones to accomplish so much extra good? Every community has them — they’re the go-to people when there’s a crisis, the ones who look around, perceive a need, then fill it with out-of-the-box solutions. Here are some of those unsung heroes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Weddings with a Heart

A classic Jewish joke tells of a shtetl Yid dreaming of what he’d do if he came into wealth. “If I were Rothschild,” he mused, “I’d be richer than Rothschild — I’d do a little teaching on the side.”

Dr. Michael Friedman, a renowned surgeon and medical school professor, also does a little project on the side; he moonlights waiting on tables and serving as bartender, but he admits that it’s not making him rich — at least in the classic sense.

For Dr. Friedman and his brother David — a real estate manager, owner, developer and hotelier who helps create the food that Michael serves — it’s not about the money, but about the mitzvah. The brothers are the patriarchs of a family mitzvah project in which three generations of Friedmans pitch in to enable hundreds of Chicago-area families to make tasteful, subsidized, inexpensive chasunahs for their children.

Dr. Friedman says it’s all his late father’s fault. “I was the attending physician in a nursing home and I’d make my rounds every Friday. One time, I saw a lady who had just been admitted to the home and was distraught over her new surroundings. I tried to reassure her that the care in this facility was excellent, but it emerged that she was upset that she would be missing the delicious Shabbos food that a man used to bring to her home each Friday. I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have good food here too.’ To which she replied, ‘You don’t understand, it was the smile on his face when he brought it.’

“It turned out that man was my father. He’d bring his married kids samples of the Shabbos cooking each Erev Shabbos, but what we didn’t know is that he was doing the same for people like this.”

When the elder Friedman passed away almost 20 years ago, his sons thought about creating a fitting chesed monument to his memory, and one of the ideas was to establish a gemach that would loan people money for wedding expenses. “But we nixed that idea,” Dr. Friedman says, “because for large families that would just mean taking on unmanageable levels of debt, albeit interest-free. So instead, we said, ‘Let’s make their chasunahs for them, from soup to nuts.’”

So that no kallah would ever feel embarrassed, the Friedmans selectedMidwestConferenceCenter, a beautiful first-class conference facility — located conveniently close to O’Hare Airpor — to house the Lev Chasunahs Subsidized Wedding Project.

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