Dear Reader: Before we go further, here’s some background. This article was supposed to be a profile on Joshua Friedman, an impressive young man whose story — the abridged version — is below.
The son of a cantor and an audiologist, Friedman, who moved to Silver Spring at 13 and attended Yeshiva of Greater Washington, was born profoundly deaf. Although his deafness was unexpected, his mother, Mindy, who was trained as an audiologist, was well prepared to help him make his way in the world. When Friedman was an infant, a doctor told Mindy and his father, Judah, “He will never communicate orally.”
But his mother was resolute. “That’s not going to happen,” she said. She quit her job and worked with him instead.
Her attention paid off.
Friedman was mainstreamed at a Jewish day school and later attended the University of Maryland, both for undergraduate studies and law school. He completed his M.B.A. at the University of Baltimore. Through a combination of hearing aids and lip-reading, he is able to understand spoken language; he is also able to speak clearly. Despite his hearing impairment, Friedman was able to complete school without significant accommodations, only requiring the help of a stenographer in college and law school.
Recently, he was selected as the winner of Maryland’s 2013 Hamilton Relay Better Hearing and Speech Month Recognition Award. Friedman, 31, an attorney, was selected because of his strong advocacy on behalf of individuals with hearing loss, deafness and speech disabilities.
But almost immediately after this profile was written, the JT learned that his wife was also an award winner. On June 5, Becca Friedman, 26, a fifth-grade teacher at Ohr Chadash Academy and a mother of two, received the Sam Kahan Distinguished Educator Award and the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Clearly, the article needed to be revised.
Once Becca Friedman, who holds a master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University as well as a pre-doctoral degree in school administration and supervision, was interviewed, it became crystal clear that there were three parts to the story. There was the story about Joshua, the story about Becca and the story about the two of them and the life they share with daughters, Shuli, 3, and Bella, 1.
“There are three parties at stake. There’s me, there’s Josh and there’s us. Sometimes we do what’s right for me, sometimes we do what’s right for Josh, and sometimes we do what’s right for us. But we’re always careful to cater to the mind, body and soul of the third party — us,” said Becca Friedman. “We have a good balance and a good system”
She also noted that she couldn’t have achieved as much as she has was it not for her husband’s help.
“We’re both really supportive, and when one of us succeeds professionally, we’re so proud,” she said. “My award is truly a reflection of our partnership. We can accomplish more together. Sometimes when something good happens, we give each other a high-five and say ‘Go Team Friedman.’ There’s a real sense of unity in our family.”
Becca Friedman also credited her parents for giving her “roots and wings. They’ve allowed me to trip but not fall. They told me I could do anything, and I was crazy enough to believe them,” she said.
The couple’s pride in one another is evident.
“Becca’s award reflects her as a person,” said Josh Friedman. “She puts 100 percent into all she does — as a mom, a teacher and a co-worker. For some, achieving this award could mean letting other areas of life slack. Somehow that’s not the case with Becca. She can focus on each aspect of her life. She’s driven, motivated and doesn’t seek accolades. She just does her job to the best of her ability. That’s the ultimate in achievement. She’s naturally good, and it shows. People recognize her.”
Becca Friedman is especially proud of her husband’s ability to confront adversity.
“Josh could have chosen to have a pity party for himself. Instead, he turned lemons into lemonade,” she said. “He didn’t allow his disability to stand in his way. He saw his disability as an opportunity to excel and to help others. All his accomplishments stem from his ability to help others.”
And Josh Friedman’s accomplishments are many. Along with his friend and colleague, Gary Norman, who is blind, he co-founded the Mid-Atlantic Animal Law Symposium and the Mid-Atlantic Lyceum, a local, nonprofit advocacy organization for the disabled, animal rights and mediation interests. He and Norman have also co-written numerous articles on disability rights issues.
His other achievements include being a founding member of the MSBA (Maryland State Bar Association) Disability Law Section, the current vice chairman of the Maryland Assistive Technology Loan Program and the 2009 accessibility committee adviser for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Additionally, he served on the Maryland Advisory Council for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Board Member from May 2004 to February 2008.
Josh Friedman’s can-do attitude has undoubtedly contributed to his many accomplishments.
“If you just lie down and say, ‘I’m disabled and there’s not much I can do about it,’ not much is going to happen for you. Sometimes you have to stand up and tell people what you need. Most people will respect that,” he said.
In addition to their work and family lives, the Friedmans are among the founders of Ohr Chadash Academy, a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC (See related article, “Empty Chairs,” on page 46).
“After Rambam closed, there was a need for another school. I would love to say that Josh and I wanted to start the school for purely altruistic reasons, but really we did it as perspective parents,” Becca Friedman said. “We wanted our daughters to have a school they could attend one day. It was nice that it also ended up being a job for me.”
As for Shuli and Bella, the Friedmans said their little girls remind them to laugh.
“I’m in awe of their sense of curiosity and their humor,” Becca Friedman said.
“Josh and I really work hard and play hard,” she added. “When we’re with the girls, they have our undivided attention. I am in love with the teaching profession, and it really is my passion. But my motivation for everything I do professionally is because I want my children to be proud of me. I really care about setting a good example for them.”
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org