During his 43-year tenure as director of the regional chapter of the American Jewish Committee, Murray Friedman fought against anti-Semitism, worked to preserve Philadelphia's Jewish history, strengthened the bonds between Jews and non-Jews, and helped many scholarly projects get off the ground.
Although Friedman died in May 2005 at the age of 78, his influence still resonates throughout Philadelphia's Jewish community. Last Tuesday, in fact, marked the Inaugural Reception and Lecture of the Murray Friedman Memorial Legacy Fund, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City.
"It's really a wonderful tribute to Murray that all of you are here," said keynote speaker Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University to the 100-person audience. "I could see him circulating around the room saying, 'What's new in your world?' "
The event was sponsored by the Murray Friedman Memorial Legacy Fund, the Philadelphia/ Southern New Jersey Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and the Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, which Friedman helped establish and direct until his death.
'Barriers Came Tumbling Down'
Sarna, a friend and colleague, discussed Friedman's vast accomplishments, such as "Executive Suite," a program through which AJCommittee conducted a survey of the hiring practices of some of the largest businesses in the Philadelphia area in the early 1960s. The results showed that only one-half of 1 percent of managerial employees were Jewish. So Friedman met privately with top executives of certain companies — and was even featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal about these efforts — leading many of them to mend their hiring practices.
"In short order, the barriers in Philadelphia came tumbling down," said Sarna. "Murray became a local legend."
Early in his career, Friedman was assigned to regions of the South to fight for civil rights for African-Americans; as such, he was perceived as politically liberal.
Yet as he grew older, he came "increasingly under the sway of neo-conservative thinkers," said Sarna, who told of how Friedman called for a stronger military, and distanced himself from liberal ideals that he believed ran counter to the interests of Israel and America.
"Even as his politics shifted over time, he never stopped talking to friends of his across the political spectrum," said Sarna.
Edward Newman, a longtime friend and former neighbor, detailed Friedman's strict daily routine, a product of his time in the Marines.
"Murray never played tennis in the morning — the routine didn't allow it, even on vacation," he recounted. "The morning was for writing. The rest of the day was for the rest of the world."
Marsha R. Friedman spoke of her late husband's commitment to his friends and colleagues — and what those relationships meant to him.
"Murray was a man of ideas," she said. "You trusted him, and you supported him."
Sarna also got personal when discussing his interactions with Friedman: "When I first met Murray, I was half his age, but he always treated me as a colleague and a friend. Many in this room can attest that he was warm-hearted, he was loyal, he was devoted, and he was worried about people's family life just as much as their scholarship."
"Our world is a better world," concluded Sarna, "the Jewish community is a stronger community, and Philadelphia is a finer city for his having lived among us."