Israel Freedman

Israel Freedman 12/23/1905-3/26/1986

Family: Son of Minnie and Daniel. Siblings were Sarah, Jake, Sam, Mary, Lena and David

Though he attended Duke University, Israel, like many of the educated Jews of his generation, worked in retail. When his father could no longer run D. Freedman, a clothing store, Israel took over along with his brother Sam and Jake. As Leonard Rogoff in Homelands describes, the Jewish storekeepers developed friendships with their customers who were often farmers and factory workers.

The 1930’s was a turbulent time for labor and Durham Jews, “for reasons of self interest, if not principle”, supported the workers.

Rogoff goes on to explain:

“These friendships were noteworthy because working-class southerners, recently removed from the countryside, were susceptible to anti-Semitic appeals from rustic preachers who railed against Christ killers and from populist demagogues who fulminated against shylocks. Durham Jews sometimes complained about East Durham ‘lowlifers,’ uneducated mill workers, who harassed them. Yet warm feelis also developed. Jews depended economically on workers, both white and black, for their trade.” Israel cultivated these relationships. He was very willing to extend credit in hard times, believing that he would be paid when the economy improved. He would pile up groceries to bring to tenants who were staying on his farms. He endowed Duke scholarships for Durham students.

Israel was astute in his business dealings in other ways. By the 1960’s, the downtown stores could not compete with the suburban malls. David and Israel closed their stores in downtown Durham and opened up a men’s store in Northgate.

Israel was also involved in the Jewish community and in helping to facilitate the move of the congregation to its current location. As early as 1942, plans for a new synagogue were being discussed as the old synagogue on Roxboro Street was overflowing. The facilities were 30 years old. In 1943, Israel donated $10,000 in seed money.