July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Joseph Freedland: A Good Man

Responsible. Helpful to others. Organized. These words or traits describe Joseph Freedland. Wherever his life has taken him, he has always been about these traits.

In 1968, Joe went to Israel. He was not there on a spiritual journey or to satisfy his curiosity about the recent astounding military victory. Joe went because his university, Beloit College (a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin) had a work-study program that encouraged students to go anywhere and write a paper about their experiences.

Joe chose Israel and was a part of an excavation team led by Tel Aviv University Professor Mordecai Gichon. The excavation of a small Roman fortress took place at Ein Bokek, which is on the shore of the Dead Sea. The New Jersey native returned to Beloit, wrote the paper, and two weeks later, transferred to Tel Aviv University to study classical archaeology.

Five years later, Joe was married (since divorced) with two children and ready to graduate from Tel Aviv University. Then the Yom Kippur war broke out. Joe–who had planned on being in the Golan Heights to work on an excavation team before the war began–went to the area anyway.

The young man left the university and volunteered to harvest bananas at Kibbutz Merom Golan. While his actions might not quite have been Hemingway-esque, Joe says, “It was a harvest season, and it needed to be done.” Joe and his family stayed on the kibbutz for a year before moving to Kibbutz Bar-Am, which is located on the Lebanese border.

Joe became an Israeli citizen and did a stint in the Israeli Army. While on his monthly reserve duty, Joe was in charge of security at a transportation base located on the Golan Heights. As head of security, “My job included performing inspections, setting the guards’ schedule, and ensuring everything was in its place.”

After five years on Kibbutz Bar-Am and the birth of a third child, Joe came back to the U.S. He says, “I did not have any intention to come back.” However, his children were longing for family and his father and uncle wanted him to work in the family business, Hospi-tel.

Hospi-tel manufacturing, which is located in East Orange, NJ, makes shower curtains, privacy curtains, and their associate hooks for hotels, motels, colleges, nursing homes, and prisons. The company currently employs around 40 people; before 9/11 it employed well over 100 people. Joe says, “The business model changed after 9/11. We had been making everything in the USA but had to import to bring down costs. We started remanufacturing here.”

Joe began working for the business as soon as he got back from Israel. Joe says, “When I first started in the business, I had no real experience in doing anything like this. So, I started learning the manufacturing end of things.” These days, Joe is the Vice President of Production (his brother is the owner of the company). Joe says, “I run the factory and am in charge of production.” From reviewing and transferring the customers’ orders to factory terms, Joe does a number of things upon arrival each morning to ensure the day will run efficiently. While his job is much different from what he studied, Joe enjoys it and is particularly happy that he is helping provide a livelihood and putting food on the table for the people who work at Hospi-tel.

“Everyone is part of the process. We are all part of a zipper and if two teeth are broken, the whole thing is useless.” This is Joe’s fundamental belief. Hiring the right people is the key to fulfilling that process. When it came time to hiring unskilled labor, Joe consulted his uncle. “He suggested I try agencies that dealt with people with special needs such as West Essex Rehabilitation Center located in Montclair and Jewish Vocational in East Orange.”

Joe has been very pleased with the work habits of employees with special needs. He says, “I saw over time that they are wonderful employees and, as a group, have excellent attendance and are a pleasure to work with.” He also notes that the agencies provide support and deserve credit as well. He says, “They are amazing people who deserve credit for bringing satisfaction to individuals with special needs and their families.”

Joe estimates that 10 percent of Hospi-tel’s factory work is being done by individuals with special needs; this number was higher in the past. These employees are primarily intellectually challenged, though some have physical challenges and some have both. Joe believes that by employing these people it can give them a better chance to be accepted by society.

They are clearly accepted at the factory. Joe tells the story of one employee with special needs whose apartment burned down. Everyone pitched in and assisted in some way to help him back on his feet. He has been with the company for 22 years. Joe speaks glowingly, “Brian came to us as a young person and we watched him grow into the best person he could possibly be.” Joe adds that Brian provides general factory help and can be trusted to do whatever is asked of him. “You know he will get the job done properly.”

Joe is a Fair Lawn resident and is active in his shul. He says of Bergen County, “It’s a great place and there is so much here for people to take advantage of for all denominations of Judaism.” He has lived his life in Israel, at Hospi-tel, and in his role as a husband, father, and grandfather of 22, believing that we all need to help each other.

By Larry Bernstein

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