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Winnipeg mourns two noted community members

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Arnold Frieman, left, and Laurie Mainster

Arnold Frieman was a Holocaust survivor; Laurie Mainster was a lifelong Winnipegger. While the two had starkly different beginnings, both men – who died a few days apart from each other – left behind a legacy of community involvement.

Mainster, who died on Aril 9 at the age of 93, made his mark in the advertising world. He began working in the industry after serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War and retired as the executive vice-president of Foster Advertising in 1986. Over the past 30 years or so, Mainster used his advertising experience for the benefit of the Jewish community.

He played an important role in the development of the Asper Jewish Community Campus, which opened in 1997. The Jewish Foundation of Manitoba paid tribute to Mainster, noting that “he was a passionate foundation volunteer for over 30 years” and “helped to shape the foundation’s message and identity.”

Mainster was also passionate about Judaism and Yiddishkeit. He served for decades on the board of the I. L. Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust Foundation.

He was a supporter of Congregation Etz Chayom and its predecessor, the historic Rosh Pina Synagogue, and was one of the founders of the Hebrew Congregation of Winnipeg Beach, where he never missed a summer Shabbat service, until he became ill.

As Mainster’s daughter, Gail, noted in her eulogy, “Many knew dad as an extraordinary, inclusive community leader. It was important to him that people had opportunities to connect, to participate, each according to their gifts. Nobody got left behind – whether it was finding people for a minyan for a shiva, or apportioning aliyot at the Hebrew Congregation of Winnipeg Beach, or raising dollars for causes too many to count, or finding myriad ways to keep Yiddish alive, he could always be counted on to step up and help whatever needed doing get done – well and smoothly.…

“He believed that no one is more important than anyone else, even the leader.… He was a volunteer, organizer, fundraiser and mentor. Most of all, he was a mensch.”

Mainster’s son, Sam, said that, “My dad loved people and loved to help people. When he mentored someone, he felt that he had really contributed not only to that person, but to all the people who would benefit, because he was sure that those he aided would pay it forward and mentor others.”

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Arnold Frieman came to Winnipeg in 1951 as a penniless orphan of the Holocaust. When he died on April 5 at the age of 90, he left behind a legacy of giving. He contributed to nearly 50 different organizations encompassing everything from the arts, the military, hospitals, educational institutions and Jewish causes.

Born in Hungary, Frieman was one of six children in an Orthodox family who lived outside Budapest. It was while he was studying in Budapest that his family was rounded up and shipped to Auschwitz. He survived forced labour and a PoW camp.

After the war, Frieman, who was then a teenager, was selected to leave behind the displaced persons camp where he was living and go to Norway, where he studied electronics. In 1947, he was recruited to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. While there, he was reunited with two of his sisters who had survived Auschwitz and were living in Israel.

In 1951, seeking a new place far from the battlefields and camps of Europe to rebuild his life, Frieman ended up broke and alone in Winnipeg. He was taken in by a Jewish family who brought him back to the Jewish world and encouraged him to go to university. It was at university that Frieman met and fell in love with his wife of 58 years, Myra.

To help finance his studies, he started a business fixing and reselling car radios purchased from wrecking yards. In 1962, after he had completed university, Frieman bought a two-person television sales and service shop. Within 12 years, the shop had been transformed into Advance Electronics, a multi-million-dollar business with 170 employees. It remains the largest independently owned electronics store in Western Canada.

In his eulogy for Frieman, Rabbi Allen Green, the retired spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg who flew in from his new home in Iowa for the funeral, said that Frieman always treated his staff like family. He also recalled the many discussions they had about Talmud and Torah over the years.

In his later years, Frieman was recognized for his many contributions to the community. He was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2006. He was the 2007 JNF Winnipeg Negev Gala honouree. In 2014, he became the first inductee in the new Deer Lodge Centre Foundation Honour Roll. And last spring, he was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Manitoba, which cited him as an exceptional global citizen and builder of his community.