Gerald “Pateesh” Freedman is currently in his sixth term on the Hillside Township Council. His 21 years on the council span several mayors, an uprising in government from the commission format to the Faulkner format and includes a two-year run as council president.
Freedman’s initial interest in local government was in his area of expertise, on the Hillside Recreation Board. By profession, he has been director of the health and physical education department at Essex County College in Newark for 51 years. Initially, he was asked to reorganize recreation in Hillside and set about the task. When the fourth ward councilman resigned, Freedman was asked to run, and won the seat, which he has held ever since.
Asked by The Jewish Link what improvements he has seen in council function during his tenure, Freedman responded, “I have tried to be a successful facilitator. The fourth ward needed a voice on the council. I applied the old Boy Scout philosophy as my outlook: ‘If you used or benefitted from something, then you are mandated to make an improvement.’”
Freedman enjoys good relationships with the council members, and in more recent years has been able to contribute his unique perspective on development opportunities for the township.
The Jewish Link asked Freedman to comment on the benefits for Hillside of having such a strong Jewish presence. “The Jewish community in Hillside is still growing. When I moved here in 1987 there was one other family. Today it is filled with children, Adath Israel, Rabbi Kanelsky’s shul, and the yeshiva area is expanding.” He believes that the Chabad community will have a school for older children in the near future.
He continued, “There have been suggestions about how to remap the wards, which comes up every 10 years,” but so far remapping has been impeded by the seniority or tenure of the third-ward councilman. However, Freedman noted that “we in the fourth ward impact every election in the township, so when the Jewish community comes out to vote it can sway any election.”
Freedman is widely respected as a non-partisan council member, and he pays all of his own election expenses, taking no donations and remaining staunchly independent. He said, “People who know me like that, and it keeps the ward strong. In the last election there was an (unsuccessful) attempt to split votes.” He also noted that he was influential in bringing Judge Dombeck to the Hillside judicial domain from Irvington, and welcomed Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro to a township board position as well.
Commenting on the biggest challenge for the Jewish community in Hillside, Freedman said, “We need to encourage more kosher business development in the community, and need to support the current local businesses. We need to ride the crest of the improvements happening in Newark as it makes a comeback, and Hillside can keep up.”
The Jewish Link asked about the monumental effort made a couple of years back by the Jewish community to attain building-code variances on the proposed new Adath Israel synagogue building site. The project has been stalled and Freedman gave his assurance that the delay has not altered the support of the council for completing the building whenever the community is ready to do so.
And finally, The Jewish Link could not resist asking about the unusual name Freedman uses: Pateesh.
He chuckled and answered, “Well in Hindustan, it means, ‘I’m not paying the bill!’”
He went on, however, to explain that he grew up in East Stroudsburg, spending his spare time boxing, later competing and then coaching other kids for the Police Athletic League, and has managed boxers and served as a referee. In fact, to this day he still trains young boxers. So, Freedman was an accomplished boxer, winning the popular nickname given by peers to good young boxers: Hammer.
Freedman added, “You can find this word, Pateesh, in the Haftarah of Parshat Lech Lecha/Yeshaya Perek 41, Pasuk 7.” (In Hebrew, pateesh means iron hammer.) The name stuck, and the rest is history.
By Ellie Wolf