Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Santa is Jewish, an Attorney, and a Real Mensch


Dana Friedman says he comes from the generation of Borscht Belt comedians and incorporates that kind of humor into his role when he puts on his red and white costume every December. An attorney with an office near the World Trade Center site, he puts on the Santa suit to raise funds for the children of the first responders on 9/11. 

As Naomi Zeveloff wrote in The Jewish Daily Forward,
Friedman, a 53-year-old Jewish civil attorney from Queens, has been playing Santa for 11 years. It all began after the September 11 attacks, when Friedman, whose law office is located just blocks from the World Trade Center site, wanted to find a way to give back to first responders. Instead of donating money, his secretary suggested that he don a Santa suit and make Christmastime visits to the families of firefighters and police officers affected by the attacks. What began as an act of “tzedakah,” in Friedman’s words, soon turned into a seasonal side job.

Today, with his gray hair bleached to a chalky white, and his beard groomed in kingly curls, he suits up in nine layers of red-and-white regalia and spends the month of December in malls and hospitals, hoisting children onto his knee for keepsake photographs. Only rarely does he divulge his own religious background, and usually just when the family in question is Jewish. But he always gets the same tickled response. “It’s something people don’t expect,” he said.
In the video below, Friedman talks about his days in the early grades at the Yeshiva of Flatbush and teaching at Temple Emanuel in Boro Park.

Sometimes the children's requests are difficult, like when they say they want their dad when their dad is serving overseas or otherwise absent. But Friedman's approach, in his own words is:

"You provide comfort to a child. You give them hope. One thing I never do is I never lie to a child and I never promise anything that I can't personally deliver."

All in all, a real mensch.

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