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David Isaac Freedman (1874–1939)

by O. B. Tofler

This article was published:

David Isaac Freedman (1874-1939), rabbi, was born on 17 April 1874 at Budapest, Austria-Hungary, son of Moses Freedman, merchant, and his wife Esther. Two years later the family went to London where he was educated at the Bell Lane School, Jews' College (1891-97) and the University of London (B.A., 1894). He was encouraged to write by the author Israel Zangwill and contributed to journals; in 1889 he was naturalized.

In 1897 Freedman arrived in Western Australia, on the Ophir to minister to the Perth Hebrew congregation. He was a bearded, curly-haired, handsome young man. Joined by his fiancée, Anne Florence (Mollie) Cohen, he married her on 22 December; they had two sons. He became a Freemason, established the Perth Hebrew Philanthropic Society and in 1899 wrote a report stressing the value of Hebrew education and the need to foster pride in the history and traditions of Judaism. He became headmaster of the Perth Hebrew School where he improved teaching methods by writing and setting to music over 150 songs covering the major teachings of the Jewish religion. In 1903 he set up a fund to aid victims of the Kishineff pogrom. From 1904 he edited the West Australian Craftsman, Scottish Freemasonry's official organ in the State. Next year he and his wife visited England. Freedman was a keen cricketer and tennis player and he encouraged by his membership a wide range of cultural and charitable activities within the Jewish congregation and in the wider Perth community. He became well known as a lecturer on literary and historical subjects. In 1910-11 he joined a delegation urging the State government to appoint a commission on the establishment of a university for Perth.

On 1 October 1915 Freedman was appointed as a chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force and he served briefly on Gallipoli and in Egypt and France. Throughout it was his policy to write home to the family of every Jewish soldier whom he met. In February 1916 the British War Office appointed him chaplain to all Jewish men in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. In France, for two years he took no leave and in December 1917 was mentioned in dispatches. Next year he returned to Perth, his war appointment terminated. During his absence the title of rabbi had been conferred on him by the London authorities of his faith. Perth Jews were relieved to have him back and they protested so vociferously when he was offered a promotion in Sydney in 1920 that he remained with them for the rest of his life. Freedman had visited Palestine and on his return he became president of the Western Australian Zionist Association. He also became active in the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and was its State president in 1924. Among the organizations to benefit from his membership were the Soldiers' Children Scholarship Trust, Jewish Returned Soldiers' Circle, Australian Jewish Welfare Society, Jewish and non-Jewish dramatic societies, Children's Protection Society, Victoria League, Institute for the Blind, Prison Gate Committee and the Home of Peace for the aged.

In 1932-38 Freedman was a member of the Senate of the University of Western Australia. In 1933 he went to London as a delegate to the British Empire Service League's sixth biennial Congress; from there he went with the Australian delegation to the fourteenth assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva and spoke on the German-Jewish question which dominated the proceedings. Next year in Perth he spoke out against the 'good deal of anti-Jewish feeling in Australia' and called on the Federal government to make it a criminal offence to circulate racial propaganda. In 1936 he was appointed O.B.E.

As a pastor Freedman was orthodox yet understanding, benign and good-humoured. He possessed phenomenal energy and 'had his own methods of facing difficulties—sometimes with superb diplomacy and tact, at other times with a direct vigour that proved him to be a man of courage'. Until late in life he wore a monocle and a neatly waxed moustache. He never owned a car and enjoyed playing golf with the leaders of Perth's other religious denominations. Survived by his wife and sons, Freedman died on 24 June 1939 from a coronary occlusion suffered while at a hospital committee meeting. Two thousand mourners attended his burial in Karrakatta cemetery. The Jewish Centre and Perth's Hebrew congregation are now located in Freedman Avenue, Mount Lawley.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1913)
  • H. Boas (comp), The Australian Y.M.C.A. with the Jewish Soldier of the Australian Imperial Force (priv pub, Lond, 1919)
  • P. Masel, The Story of the Perth Hebrew Congregation (Perth, 1946)
  • Western Mail, 12 July 1918, 22 Jan 1920
  • Westralian Judean, 1 Apr 1937, 1 July 1939
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 1 (1939), pt 2
  • West Australian Craftsman, 8 July 1939
  • West Australian (Perth), 18 Jan 1905, 24, 26, 27 June 1939
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Nov 1934.

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Citation details

O. B. Tofler, 'Freedman, David Isaac (1874–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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