For the last several years, the Beth Sholom daily minyan has been blessed with the presence of Zolie Freeman. His warmth, generosity, and devotion to Jewish prayer and practice are deeply appreciated by his fellow minyannaires.
Zolie was born in the town of Bodrok Kerestraur* in Hungary. He was raised in an orthodox family and studied at yeshiva until the outbreak of war. His parents, brother, sisters and their families perished at the hands of the Nazis. Zolie and his three brothers were taken separately to forced labour camps and assisted by Jewish Congress to come to Canada after the War. Zolie was first sent to Winnipeg where he worked as a presser for $18 a week. Anxious to leave the bitter Winnipeg winter, he carefully saved his earnings and joined his cousin in Hamilton a year later. There Zolie lived as a boarder with the mother of the Vertleib brothers, the owners of Allan`s candy factory. As his cousin was already employed there, Zolie too, was able to secure a job.
So began a remarkable career, from floor sweeper (as Zolie describes his first position), to plant manager, and in 1955, to partner in the chocolate division of the company. By that time, Zolie had married his beloved Yetta, and wanted the security of knowing he could build a business. Zolie`s natural ability to listen and learn from others, his strong work ethic, and innate business sense were key factors in his success. After securing a bank loan, he transformed the company, revamping old machinery and thoroughly modernizing the plant. In the late 1950`s, Zolie had secured a share in the company`s candy division; by the mid 1960`s, he became sole owner of the company. His resourcefulness and instinctive people skills continued to guide him. As he and Yetta travelled the world to international candy shows, he connected with the Swedish M&A company with whom he was to form a partnership. Legendary candy names including `Fuzzy Peach` and `Sourpatch` came under the Allan`s Candies banner.
The management of such an enterprise required huge effort and energy. In 1996 Zolie was ready to move on and the business was sold to Cadbury. As Yetta recounts, the deal was signed in an elegant Hamilton restaurant; at meal`s end, the waiter brought a glass urn filled with Allan`s candies, stating: ‘Of course we are serving these; everyone likes them.'
Zolie`s business enterprise never overshadowed his religious commitment and ethical values. The Winnipeg Holocaust Centre, the Hamilton Hebrew Academy and Adath Israel Synagogue, Jewish National Fund and numerous other Jewish organizations were actively supported by him. He was loved and respected by his employees for whom he set up a scholarship fund to assist with university tuition fees. His commitment to Tzedakah was engrained early on by his mother who gave food aid to the needy in her community, as well as by his own humble roots and harsh life circumstances. A loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he has transmitted those core values to his three daughters and their families.
Zolie is a welcome presence at daily minyan and Shabbat services. He sings with the cantor, recites his Bar Mitzvah portion every summer, and leads us in chanting Hallel. Symbolic of the family's generous nature is the intricately carved Tzedakah box, a gift from the family, in honour of him and Yetta, that is used daily. When asked how things are going, he replies gently: `Baruch Hashem, yom yom.. `
We are delighted to celebrate with Zolie and his family today.
An excerpt from A Tribute by Cantor Moses as read at Avron's Funeral on Sunday, July 15, 2012.
To say the least, Avron was a character. He certainly knew how to light up a room. He would hold court in the Beth Sholom daily minyan welcoming every new face, helping them to say Kaddish and calling out when to hold your tzitzit but he never told people when to let them go! He would regularly text the Cantor questions, often in multiple segment text messages. His questions were usually profoundly spiritual. He wanted to gain the knowledge to do more mitzvot and wanted to be the best Jew he could be. He loved to study...in particular he loved his gemara classes with Rabbi Karfunkel at the Temmy Latner Jewish Centre.
Avron was very principled. He would often stand ceremoniously on principle, only to later back down and either laugh or storm out of the room. In either case, it was profoundly him. He rode the highs and lows in his life.
Avron... You were truly one of a kind in every sense of the word. We all will really miss you. We wish you a safe journey to the next world and hope that Hashem rewards you for all the mitzvot you did in this lifetime.