Like most couples who celebrate the milestone of a golden wedding anniversary, Bob and Molly Freedman have spent their lives accumulating children, grandchildren, dear friends and fond memories.
Unlike most others, they also spent the years collecting Jewish music, a collection which, since 1997, has been known as the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive at the University of Pennsylvania.
The archive began as a modest distraction for a lonely young bride. Molly explained that when they bought their first house in the suburbs, she missed the sounds of her childhood home in Philadelphia, where her mother sang Yiddish songs and her father played Jewish and operatic recordings.
Suggesting to Bob that they just "buy a few records," the couple embarked on a "treasure hunt," seeking out whatever Yiddish recordings they could find.
As a real estate lawyer involved in the "malling of America," Bob's work took him across the country. On those business trips, or on the various vacations to destinations around the world that the couple took together, they added to their holdings, eventually moving beyond Yiddish to include samples of cantorial music, Israeli songs, Ladino folk melodies and more.
Once they heard a lecture/ performance by renowned folksinger and ethnomusicologist Ruth Rubin, they were inspired to build their casual collection into something much bigger.
As the collection grew to include song books, concert programs and other music-related items, Bob began to compile a catalog of his holdings — originally, by hand. He bought his first computer in 1981, and soon "the printout took up more space than the collection."
As word spread about their activities, a steady stream of performers and researchers began visiting the small Center City apartment to which they had relocated. Molly explained that "the second bedroom we added to house the printout doubled as a guest room."
A recent public concert by the local Ken Ulansey Ensemble held on the Penn campus as part of a golden-anniversary tribute to the Freedmans offered just a small sampling of the various kinds of music housed in the archive.
Transferred to Penn in 1997, the collection now includes 5,300 Judaic sound recordings in various formats, and the public database of more than 35,000 entries is still growing. Now retired, Bob still spends some five hours per day at the archive, overseeing its continuing growth.
Asked about any limits placed on the collection, Bob responded that "Jewish music is what I say it is." One of his favorite items is a Kinky Friedman recording called "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Any More."
Novelty items like this one certainly amuse their younger audiences, but Bob and Molly are quick to point out that songs like these — however quirky they may be — can help educate their listeners.
They readily agreed that "anything that helps communicate the importance of Jewish music is a valuable tool to preserve our heritage."
For more information about the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive, visit: sceti.library.upenn.edu/ freedman.