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Freyda Faivus’ New York Forverts Life

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

It’s unusual for a staffer in the back offices of a newspaper, amidst the glories of the type of fame suitably bestowed on the editorial staff, is also deemed worthy of recognition by colleagues. Former Benefits Administrator and one time Comptroller Freyda Faivus was just such a type. And so Forward colleagues were shocked last month to learn of her untimely death at the age of 62 from lung cancer.

For nearly a decade, Freyda guided Forverts’ high level executives on budgetary issues, first as Comptroller, and later as Benefits Administrator. She patiently answered people’s seemingly never-ending questions about payroll, vacation as they wandered that arcane bureaucratic maze. With a sharp wit and an MBA degree seemingly at odds with her tender heart, Freyda was available for everyone, frequently calling out hardened health insurance administrators herself on our behalf. When a young colleague was unable to secure proper benefits for a broken arm, Freyda gave the stubborn insurance clerks a piece of her mind until they adjusted the claim to reflect reality. Another time, she negotiated endlessly with them on behalf of an editor — saving senior staff precious writing time as they stared down a deadline.

Born in Jersey City to candy storeowners, Freyda’s origins seem classically Jewish American. The family managed to produce three college-educated professionals — a doctor, lawyer and business administrator. But despite the Jersey City roots, Freyda personified New York City where she ultimately made her fulfilling life.

Impatient with those she deemed self-serving and ego bound, she herself was generous to a fault, frequently donating to causes she deemed worthy, often leaving herself off that list. Freyda’s actions at the Forward mirrored her passion for fellow citizens of her beloved Manhattan. Freyda’s inextinguishable zest for life was hard to resist—In her free time she was a natural athlete, theatre addict and animal lover who volunteered with many groups — whether joining a cat rescue group, ushering endless theatricals or swimming with a hardy group that free-styled in the frigid waters of Brighton Beach early on Sunday mornings. A gang of friends new and old nearly always accompanied her many activities. She seemingly came to the rescue, drawing out your weary doldrums, entrenched urban loneliness, divorces and messy breakups—not unlike the many pets she welcomed into her home menagerie. Her friends were your friends.

At her wise suggestion, I joined an affordable, adult swim class and later, we even took a speed walking class together—where naturally, she knew everyone there. When I ran the NYC Marathon — she stood watch on a designated corner, the way as administrator she guarded the Forwards’ preciously garnered finances. Waiting she cheered me on while handing me the requisite orange quarter to slake my thirst and up my electro lights. I am slightly ashamed to admit that it was at her insistence I finally saw my first musical theatre show, featuring Tommy Tune. She had that unique gift of generously admiring other people’s talents without a hint of envy, and so watching Tune tap dance, without any particular plot to drive this show, under her influence, I was able to finally grasp what drew people to this peculiar art form. It was a magical moment in my early life in the city when I felt that despite myself, I too might have a chance to belong. Like the proverbial Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we needn’t be in Kansas anymore, no matter your particular version of Kansas—Freyda extended a heartfelt welcome.

She was a sophisticated metrosexual before the term was coined — comfortably socializing in a diverse social group dominated by LGBT New Yorkers. Her unshakeable bond with her Jewish identity was similarly urban, uncomplicated and organic. Like a true New Yorker, she readily discerned a meaningful ritual from a more ostentatious one. For a while, I was the solitary lesbian colleague here, and my first High Holiday service with the LGBT synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, was at her insistence. She made sure to introduce me to the other gay colleague in a neighboring organization, who naturally was her friend. Freyda was a force of support and compassion for those suffering from AIDS throughout the height of the crisis. In her own beloved apartment building at London Terrace in Chelsea, Freyda watched over those weaker neighbors, making sure they were fed, clothed and visited on a regular basis. She handily practiced those proverbial random acts of kindness or hesed and exemplified the socially progressive ideals she cared deeply about.

When her time came to a close here at the Forverts, she gradually rended whatever ties remained outside of office hours. It might be said she did us all a favor—for the loss of Freyda’s charm and unique warm presence here was felt. Folks here could be seen unsettled like dybuks wandering the hall outside of her former office wondering aloud who might now advise them with their tangled queries. Her death in late January, after a seven-week battle with lung cancer, was only made known to the Forverts this past April, and for that the shock of the loss echoes all the more. As an administrator, Freyda was frequently the first person you met after being hired, and last staff member you saw prior to departing. You’d see her to gather your paperwork, get your door pass and find out when your paycheck was due to arrive. She’d be the one you saw to note any changes in ‘status’— be it birth, marriage or a death. And you’d see her at the end of your time here to find out about future health insurance payments on your own, life insurance, unemployment and disability if you needed it. While filling out your paperwork, she’d effortlessly get to know you and she somehow made the experience pleasurable.

Her seemingly endless capacity for khavershaft, for the dignity afforded by friendship, coupled with her work toward fair treatment for all, didn’t go unnoticed. There’s a dark shadow outside her old office space here and even dimmer ones throughout her beloved Chelsea (not to mention at the neighborhood dog run there). Though we remain a weekly publication, Freyda Faivus is missed daily.

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