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by Debbie Denenberg


On Sunday, May 19, Friedel Jewish Academy will honor its capital campaign donors at the Sixth Annual Tribute Celebration Dinner. The entire community is invited for hors d’ouevres, silent auction, surprise themed dinner, program including musical selections by the students, and dessert reception. First-look tours of the new Friedel renovation and the Riekes Museum will be conducted by students.

How does a school reach this milestone? Yaffa Schuller, Vice Chair of Recruiting for ten years, and Jerry Gordman, twice President and long-time Board Member, look back.

“When I moved to Omaha eleven years ago, I discovered this small Jewish Day School of 17 kids. Diane Baum would call me to ask “have you come? Have you come, yet?”

“I did come, and I fell in love immediately. I fell in love with the school’s homey feel and the way students felt engaged. I fell in love with the sense of joy from the teachers and their students, a quality unique to Friedel.”

“From the beginning I knew I needed to bring more kids into the school building and into the classrooms. I also needed to bring this treasure, this gem out to the community.” Friedel developed tours, a new brochure and brand, and an annual open house touting panels of teachers, students and alumni telling first-hand about what the school meant to them. Yaffa Chaired a 40th Anniversary Gala to raise funds and awareness.

Internally, the school developed its programs in art, music and physical education. Friedel invested in the internationally recognized TaL Am curriculum for Hebrew and Judaic studies. Former Principal Cookie Katskee established connections with area educators so Friedel teachers enjoy the many learning opportunities offered to Omaha Public School teachers.

“I thought it was awesome when we got to 20”, glowed Yaffa. “Then 34 was a huge milestone, doubling the size of the student body. Then we reached 40 students. Today, we consistently have over 50 students, and we have 40 students of pre-school age on our waiting list.”

With growth came a demand for more space as classrooms were full and even the commons (the courtyard) was small for all-school gatherings. The search for new space began. Jeff and Daniel Gordman led a successful capital campaign to ensure a secure financial foundation.

Jerry Gordman put his extensive real estate experience to work on Friedel’s behalf. First, he brought together a Building Committee led by Co-Chairs Nate Schwalb and Jerry Kohll. Joshua Gurock, Ron Giller and Pam Cohn all joined him.

The committee selected Mark Sanford as architect. Jerry credits Mark, saying, “He did a very good job. People might not realize that Mark was also involved in the design and construction of the new Riekes Museum.” Friedel leadership worked closely with the JCC, efficiently picking up two classrooms by moving the Friedel library into the existing Kripke Library, and by moving the Riekes Museum to the front of the JCC for all to enjoy.

The Gordman history of nurturing Friedel began over 25 years ago when Margo Riekes called and asked Jerry to demonstrate his (unparalleled) shofar blowing at Friedel. “I came to the school, and I demonstrated, and I fell in love with the kids. I offered to serve on the board”.

The building is named for its donors, Jerry’s parents, Dan and Ester Gordman of blessed memory. “I’d had conversations with my dad about Friedel’s facility and the shape it was in”, Jerry reminisced. Dad was a forward looking guy. President of Beth Israel, and involved with their historic humanitarian awards when Harry Truman, Al Jolson, Jonas Salk and others came to Omaha.”

One day my dad called and said, “Look, I’ve never been in the building, may I come and see for myself?” Jerry unlocked the facility for a father-son tour on Sunday afternoon. “He understood that we needed a new facility for the school to prosper.” His parents did not live to see the completed structure, but Jerry handled the original building and construction. Marty Shukert was the original architect.

Now the building is again poised for growth. “I’m pretty proud of it, Jerry said. Friedel has become an important part of this community. It attracts Jewish professionals to Omaha. If you have a growing Jewish community, a successful day school is a pretty important part of the package.”

Come see and celebrate at the Sixth Annual Tribute Celebration Dinner. Tickets are $118 for dinner and program, or $36 for dessert reception and program only. Please make reservations by contacting Debbie Kricsfeld at 402-393-2714 or