Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Annual Report
| Page 5
Barbara Benioff Friedman:
The First Woman to Chair
HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors
arbara Benioff Friedman’s election as the first
woman Chair of HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors
is a milestone in this institution’s 132-year-long history
one that reflects the significant role that HUC-JIR has
played in empowering women in Jewish life.
Friedman’s journey to HUC-JIR first began during
her childhood in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where her
grandfather was a founder of the Conservative syna-
gogue and her grandmother was Honorary President.
It was a small town, Jews were a minority, and you
felt it,” she says, recalling how the anti-Semitic
remarks of a minister’s daughter made her aware
of both her feelings of “otherness” and connectedness
to the small, yet vital, Jewish community in her city.
Jewish holidays celebrated with her family, grandpar-
ents, aunts, uncles, and cousins provided her with a
strong sense of warmth and inclusivity within Jewish
tradition and community that was reinforced through
her participation in B’nai B’rith Girls and USY.
She attended Cornell University, where she met her
future husband, Stephen Friedman, and received a
B.A. from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1959.
When they married, she taught in the New York City
public school system in Harlem, moved to Stuyvesant
Town and had children, and joined the East End Temple.
Upon moving uptown, we were told about a wonder-
ful synagogue with a young assistant rabbi who was
great with kids and that brought us to Central Synagogue
and Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman,” she notes.
Friedman’s participation in UJA-Federation of New
York’s Distribution Committee, which she eventually
chaired, exposed her to some unexpected bias against
liberal Judaism. “In a discussion about funding and
spending on Jewish camping, someone said: ‘I think
we should put money into the Orthodox camps
because that’s where the future is. My grandchildren
won’t be Jewish, but theirs will be.’ Such a statement
distressed me greatly. If it were true, then a lot of us,
Reform Jews, were betting on the wrong horse.”
This experience prompted Friedman to bring together a
group of leaders from Federation and other organizations
to discuss Reform Judaism’s principles and meaning for
contemporary life. For several years Rabbi Jack Stern and
Dr. Lawrence Hoffman from HUC-JIR organized these
classes at her home, which led to her involvement in
Hoffman’s Spirituality Group, the predecessor to Synagogue
and its mission of revisioning congregational life.
My admiration for Larry Hoffman and Rabbi Peter
Rubinstein’s encouragement directed me toward the
College-Institute,” she recalls. Friedman first joined
the New York Board of Overseers and served as Co-
Chair of its Development Committee, and soon after
joined the Board of Governors in 1993. During the
past fourteen years, she has provided valuable experi-
ence, counsel, and creative vision as Vice Chair of the
Board, Chair of the Student Welfare and Nominating
Committees, and as a member of the Pension and
Benefits and Budget Committees.
She brings to HUC-JIR a strong commitment to
education and community building. She was Vice
Chair of the Board of Trustees at Cornell University,
where she is now a Trustee Emerita and Vice Chair
of the Board of Overseers of its Weill Medical
College, as well as former Chair of the Jewish Braille
Institute (JBI International), and CLAL. She has
served on the Boards of the Settlement Housing Fund,
Jewish Outreach Institute, and Central Synagogue,
and was a leader of UJA-Federation of New York,
where she chaired the Distribution and Public Policy
Committees, and served on the Domestic Cabinet,
UJA-Federation Board, and Strategic Planning
Committee, and has been involved with the Women’s
Campaign for over twenty-five years. Her civic and
communal values are shared by her husband. Stephen
Friedman is the former Chair and Senior Partner of
Goldman Sachs, where he continues to serve on the
Board of the GS Group, served as Chief Economic
Advisor to President George W. Bush, and is now
Chair of Stonepoint Capital, a private equity group.