Ed Frim, passionate Jewish educator and innovator, has died at 61
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Ed Frim, passionate Jewish educator and innovator, has died at 61

Former Agency for Jewish Learning executive director remembered as inclusive and kind.

Ed Frim plays the accordion at a USCJ conference in July 2018. Photo by Aimee Close
Ed Frim plays the accordion at a USCJ conference in July 2018. Photo by Aimee Close

Ed Frim, whose benevolent demeanor and inclusive spirit helped ensure access to Jewish education for generations to come, died on April 28. He was 61.

After more than 20 years in Ohio-based nonprofit Jewish work, Frim relocated to Pittsburgh in 2005 to serve as executive director at the Agency for Jewish Learning. Charlie Saul, of Squirrel Hill, was on the subcommittee tasked with filling the position and recalled Frim as being perfectly suited to the task: “He seemed to be sensitive to the needs and interests of all sections of the community, and he certainly acted in that capacity.”

In Pittsburgh, a city where residents often pride themselves on counting generational predecessors who occupied the same tree-lined streets, Frim found a way to not only enter the area and nourish its roots but plant the seeds for later growth.

Frim’s arrival cemented the AJL as an organizational home for adult education, through teacher training and the Florence Melton Adult Mini School, and as a space where high school students could enjoy supplemental learning through SAJS (School of Advanced Jewish Studies). During his nine-year tenure at the now defunct organization, Frim spearheaded several new community initiatives, including introducing a student-centered Reggio Emilia approach through the JECEI early childhood initiative, facilitating systemic change through the Congregational School Improvement Initiative, enabling career development through the Spertus College Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies, and introducing multisensory teaching through DVASH, a Hebrew curriculum. Most of those programs continue today through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh or the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh.

Frim’s commitment to growth was not merely focused on the organization, explained Cheryl Moore, who spent three years as president of the AJL and spoke almost daily to Frim during that time. He was a “colleague and friend” who pushed her ahead in her own journey.

“It was the standard for a volunteer/professional-staff relationship,” she said. “Everybody will tell you that Ed was brilliant and passionate about Jewish education, but he was also kind and decent and ethical.”

Ed Frim moderates a 2018 forum on strategies and resources for more inclusive practices. Photo by Adam Reinherz

When he came to town, it was apparent he was “the consummate Jewish educator and mensch,” said Carolyn Linder. “He was incredibly gentle and had this thoughtful nature.”

Linder, now working at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, preceded Frim at the AJL, and noted that although the staff quickly adapted to its new leader, there was one surprise.

During Frim’s first Chanukah party at the AJL, “he pulled out an accordion,” recalled Linder. “We were like, ‘Oh, he plays the accordion.’ It’s not a common instrument.”

In Frim’s case, it seemed like the perfect instrument for a man who was able to adapt to a variety of purposes.

“He was a creative thinker, using that same accordion to hold the back of his seat up in his run-down used car,” said Frim’s sister Sara Forman during the May 1 funeral.

Streamed over Zoom and Facebook, the service attracted more than 300 viewers. The large attendance was evidence of Frim’s enormous impact, noted funeral officiant Rabbi Beth Naditch, a MetroWest Jewish Day School board member. Echoing the rabbi’s sentiment were more than 100 comments posted by childhood friends from Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire; Prozdor: The High School of Hebrew College in Boston; and Brandeis University. While Naditch and Frim’s family eulogized Frim onscreen, the digital community remarked upon Frim’s qualities and offered condolences to his wife, Lori, and daughter Naomi.

“Family meant everything to him. Naomi was the light of his life,” said Linder.

The father-daughter duo would entertain senior residents at eldercare facilities in Pittsburgh — Frim on accordion and Naomi on violin.

Frim’s abilities, which included singing, enabled him to be a “very popular High Holiday service leader,” as well as an “educator of the highest caliber,” said Rabbi Seth Adelson, of Congregation Beth Shalom. “He was committed to teaching our tradition — its values, its text, its melody — and lived an exemplary life as one who lived the values he taught.”

Chief among those principles was a belief that everyone deserved access to Jewish education.

In his years after the AJL, Frim worked as both inclusion specialist and director of learning enrichment at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Frim did not merely speak about inclusion as a theoretical practice, but demonstrated “the importance of including people of all abilities,” said Jennifer Gendel. “He did that in his everyday life, always giving of his time and always being available.”

As colleagues at USCJ, Gendel and Frim presented at conferences across North America.

“I was really lucky to get to work with him because he had such a passion for this work,” she said. “He was incredibly committed to Jewish education and to making sure that every single person could participate.”

Ed Frim on his initial visiting day at MetroWest Jewish Day School. Photo by Deborah LG Daniels

Frim’s more than 30-year track record of implementing best practices was cause for celebration by MetroWest Jewish Day School in Framingham, Massachusetts, when it named him head of school in June 2019.

“With his strong, multitiered experiences in the world of inclusive, innovative and high-quality Jewish education, Ed will build on our strengths and promote MWJDS to the next level,” said Hope Casey, MWJDS board president in a statement at the time. “Everything about Ed’s approach to education and leadership reflects MWJDS’ commitment to help each student to engage, inspire and excel.”

Frim’s own education included joint bachelor’s degrees in history, Judaic studies and Jewish education from Brandeis University and Hebrew College, and a master’s degree in public policy analysis from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He formed meaningful bonds within the educational world, said Liron Lipinsky Salitrik, associate vice president of Jewish Enrichment at BBYO.

“His mentorship and influence in the field of Jewish education had a far greater reach than just the Pittsburgh community,” said Salitrik, a colleague of Frim’s during his days in Pittsburgh and in the years that followed.

“He just had a magical way of connecting with others, particularly children,” said Forman.

When Frim visited MWJDS, prior to his hire, he shared lunch with Boaz Weber, the Jewish day school’s current vice president of student government.

“He told us that he wanted the students to have more of a voice in the school,” recalled Weber. “When he said that at our first meeting, I asked if he would listen to the students’ voice if it was asking for a waterpark. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no immediately. He told us that if we can make a solid enough case for the waterpark that he would consider it. I liked his approach. As I got to know him a bit better, I grew fond of his kind personality. He was a wonderful man. We will all miss him. May his memory be for a blessing.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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