A 50th Anniversary Tribute

To Bob And Molly Freedman

Dr. Kathryn Hellerstein khellers@sas.upenn.edu

Assoc. Prof. of Germanic Languages

University of Pennsylvania


The Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive at Penn is an incomparable resource for researchers in Jewish and Yiddish music, culture, folklore, history, linguistics, and literature. These researchers have included scholars, performers, and Penn students.


Aside from being a major archive of world‑wide recordings of Yiddish folk and art songs, as well as liturgical, theatrical, vaudeville, and klezmer music, the collection also includes readings of Yiddish literature by some of the great writers and actors of

the twentieth century. The Freedman Jewish Sound Archive is unrivaled in its depth, breadth, and variety.


What makes this archive supremely usable for those who want to research the gilgul or transformation of a song from a folk song to a theater piece to an anthem

of survival in the ghettos and concentration camps, or to find a particular musicians recordings, or to locate biblical or political references in Yiddish song is the database in Yiddish and English of more than 35,350 entries, which the Freedmans developed long before there was an easy way to write the Yiddish alphabet

on the computer.


This index, now searchable through the Penn libraries websites, made the collection a magnet for both individual researchers and institutions, such as the

U. S. Holocaust Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The Freedman Archive has received credit in many films, plays, audio albums, musical programs, and books.


Alongside its scholarly importance, the archive is an amazing resource for teaching Yiddish language and culture. In 1991, when I began teaching at Penn, I would bring my Yiddish students to Bob and Molly's Center City apartment for an evening of Yiddish music. where we enjoyed bowls of rozhinkes mit mandlen (raisins and almonds) and heymish graciousness. Since the Freedman's collection became Penn's Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive, Penn students have continued to enjoy and learn from Bob and Molly.


Every semester, my colleague Alexander Botwinik and I bring our Yiddish language students to the Freedman Archive. I also schedule sessions in the


Archive for the students in my courses on Jewish American literature, Yiddish literature in Eastern Europe, women and Jewish literature, and


Translating Cultures as do other Jewish Studies faculty in their disciplines. Bob custom‑designs excellent Programs for these classes. on such topics as Itzik MangerŐs poems. "From Tradition to Modernity. "Songs in Yiddish Theater and Film," and "Translation and Song."


Sometimes Molly joins Bob at the head of the seminar table to recount their family romance with collecting Yiddish music. Although we cannot munch on raisins and almonds in the Smith Room on the sixth floor of Van Pelt‑Dietrich Library. the students come away from Bob's and Molly's lectures with a tam gan-eydn—a taste of earthly paradise.  


The warmth with which the Freedmans talk about how Yiddish music shaped their courtship and marriage gives my students an appreciation of Yiddish that goes far beyond the classroom. They see the greater rewards for memorizing all those conjugations and adjective endings.


Bob's work over the past few years to digitize selected recordings from the archive will expand the reach of the Freedman collection. giving students, faculty, and the Penn community access to the music on line. Anyone who hears this music will know how deeply and joyously Yiddish lives.




Bob and Molly are native Philadelphians who

grew up in bi‑lingual Yiddish and English speaking homes. Their common backgrounds and common love of YiddishkaytJewish culture ‑ made for a perfect match. Shortly after they married, Molly suggested they should buy Jewish musical recordings wherever they traveled.


Thanks to her foresight. the Freedman collection contains the broadest spectrum of Jewish music from across the U .S. Canada. Argentina. British Isles. Holland. Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Russia, and Ukraine. The Archive is also the beneficiary of gifts of recordings, books, sheet music, and ephemera from myriad donors. Today, the Freedman Jewish sound archive has grown to be one of the largest in the world and without question the most accessible resource of its kind because of the Freedman's unparalleled public database.