Sarah Friedman

Lifelong passionate advocate for Yiddish language and culture

Date of Birth: 1903

Date of Death: Feb. 13, 2000

Place of Birth: Biala, Poland

Friends and relatives of Sarah Friedman remember her most for her fervent, passionate love of all things Yiddish.

“Poetry, culture, language, the arts – you name it,” said her nephew, Eugene Broder, of Tamarac, Florida. after Sarah’s passing in 2000. “Anything that began with ‘Yiddish,’ she absolutely supported, loved it, lived and breathed it.”

Born Sarah Weisman in the shtetl (town) of Biala, Poland, east of Warsaw, she read the great classic writers in Yiddish. As a youth, she attended a Zionist lecture given by Moishe (Morris) Friedman, whom she would later marry.

Surviving the turmoil of World War I, Sarah's family immigrated to Detroit in 1923. Moishe immigrated to Argentina, but did not have a sponsor to enter the United States. Sarah traveled alone for 21 days as a ship’s steerage passenger to reunite with Moishe and marry him in Buenos Aires. She then sponsored his immigration to the U.S.

In Detroit, the Friedmans were among the founders of the Sholem Aleichem Institute at Greenfield and Seven Mile roads. Sarah taught Yiddish in its Sunday school, acted in Yiddish theater, and gave readings of Yiddish poetry and prose each year at the Institute’s High Holiday assemblies. The Friedmans sponsored a Yiddish lecture series at United Hebrew Schools.

At their home, first on Tyler at Holmur in the Dexter-Davison area, and later on Sussex Street, the couple regularly hosted Yiddish writers – both the well-known (Isaac Bashevis Singer), and the struggling, to whom they would offer financial support. Sarah kept a large library of Yiddish books, original manuscripts and letters from Yiddish authors. For nearly 50 years, Sarah chaired the Yiddish book section for the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s annual book fair.

“She was known as a [Yiddish] resource,” said her daughter, Betty Sorkowitz, in 2000. “If people couldn’t find a meaning of a word or translation, they would come to her. People would bring her mail from Europe they couldn’t read.”

The Friedmans endowed a chair at Bar-Ilan University in Israel to train teachers of Yiddish. She donated her library to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the couple’s papers to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

“She took great comfort in the fact that she had done her part to keep the Yiddish language and culture alive,” Broder said.