Farm Workers Honor Jewish Woman

LOS ANGELES, CA.—Nuestra Senora de La Paz. A most improbable name for a yahrzeit ceremony. This is the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America AFL-CIO in the Tehachapi mountains in central California, not far from Bakersfield.

Yet here a memorial candle from Israel flickered at sundown on January 25, 1982, before a “congregation” made up of Mexican and Filipino farm workers, Catholic and Protestant clergy, women religious, and assorted UFW staff members.

It was the tenth annual memorial service for Nan Freeman, 18 years old when she was killed on a UFW picket line in Florida before dawn on January 25, 1972. Rabbi Sidney J. Jacobs, long-time liaison between the Southern California Jewish community and Cesar Chavez conducted the memorial service, which included tributes by those who had known Nan Freeman during her days as a UFW volunteer.

Freeman was raised in Wakefield, Massachusetts and was very active in her Temple youth group. She was a shomeret (observer of) Shabbat and Kashrut. As a student at New College in Sarasota, Florida, she did volunteer research work for the UFW. When the farm workers at the Talisman Sugar Company near Belle Glade went on strike and asked for help, she was one of the first students to join the picket line at the plant’s gate.

That’s where she was at 3 A.M. on January 25th. Loaded trucks, many driven by strike-breakers, had made a habit of speeding by the picket lines and splashing the workers with mud. Freeman and other pickets were near the highway, aiming to talk to the drivers and get them to join the strike. She was hit by a loaded truck and knocked unconscious. She was declared dead on arrival at the hospital at 4:19 A.M.

At the national UFW convention in August of 1975, Nan Freeman was officially named a “Martyr of the Farm Workers.” A residence building at La Paz, California, the farm workers national headquarters, is named Nan Freeman Hall.

Cesar Chavez, founder of the UFW, called Freeman “a sister who picketed with farm workers in the middle of the night because of her love for justice.” He continued: “To us, Nan Freeman is a kadosha, a holy person, to be honored and remembered for as long as farm workers struggle for justice.

“God has given Nan Freeman one life and now that life is ended. Think on that, all who cherish our farm workers’ union: Nan Freeman, our young sister, has poured out her one life so that farm workers everywhere might be more free….”