JFSA’s Freedman, ‘a true role model,’ retiring after 11 years

Marlyne Freedman
Marlyne Freedman

For more than a decade, Marlyne Freedman has been there for members of the Tucson Jewish community. Not just through her job as senior vice president at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, but as a compassionate supporter of all things Jewish — both people and causes.

At 66, Freedman is about to retire. She will receive the thanks of Tucsonans at a reception and dinner at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, at the Skyline Country Club. “I’m really humbled and honored that the Federation is doing this,” Freedman told the AJP. “I’m really grateful to have been part of the Federation team. I’m retiring before I get too old or too sick to be open to new adventures. I’m a risk taker.”

“Passion” is the word typically used to describe Freedman. Interviewing her more than a decade ago, says Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO, “there was a moment when she revealed her passion for the Jewish community. She helped build Temple Chai in Phoenix. We knew she could make a difference in our community.”

Freedman started out at the Federation as the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “After a few highly successful years as the JCRC director,” says Mellan, she became Women’s Philanthropy director, then Campaign director and most recently senior vice president.

“For me, she’s a true role model because of her willingness to jump in whenever she’s needed,” says Deanna Evenchik, co-chair with Tom Warne, of the April 28 retirement dinner. “I’m amazed at her leadership skills. She’s brought so much to our community,” including her work on behalf of the Cardozo Society for Jewish legal professionals and the Maimonides Society” (for health care professionals), where she helped spearhead the Cindy Wool Memorial Seminar for Humanism in Medicine.

“She’s always there. She didn’t miss a boot camp for cancer,” continues Evenchik, referring to workout sessions when Freedman proved her grit. “She’s a real

mensch in our society.”

Freedman’s “ability to connect is phenomenal. My husband, Harvey, of blessed memory, really didn’t get the whole philanthropic world,” says Evenchik. “He was always working. That changed when he saw firsthand what Federation did, on a trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2004. Marlyne suggested he go for a ride with a Russian man who was so proud of his junk car — that he had a car, although it kept backfiring. Harvey thought Mar­lyne was great. She had a huge impact on my husband.”

Soozie Hazan, a cancer survivor, recalls that Freedman attended every meeting of CHAI (Cancer, Healing and Inspiration) Circle when the group, now sponsored by Jewish Family & Children’s Services, was getting off the ground in 2005. “She got really involved. She went to bat for us and kept us together,” says Hazan, “although she didn’t have cancer. She [also] made the meetings fun.”

Freedman is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren. Additionally, she says, “I’d like to do some consulting,” which may help Mellan accept Freedman’s retirement. “Mar­lyne connects to people in a way that’s beyond comparison,” he told the AJP. “When she meets someone she immediately thinks, how can this person play a role in Jewish life, in our community? In some ways it’s going to be a hard separation. We’re hoping it won’t be a complete separation.”

And if her retirement dinner is only a way to say l’hitraot, or “till we see each other again,” that may help.

Tickets for the reception and dinner at the Skyline Country Club, 5200 E. St. Andrews Drive, are $50 each. For more information, contact Karen Graham at 577-9393, ext. 118, or kgraham@jfsa.org.