Jonathan Fried has been an active member of the CBE community in many different capacities since his childhood. Notably, Jonathan served as CBE president from 2014 to 2017.
Photographed and Interviewed by Nate Jaffe, Communications Associate
“As a place … as a community … from birth to death… CBE has meant everything. I can’t imagine my life without CBE.” – Jonathan
Nate: Where are you from? If not NYC, how did you get here?
Jonathan: My dad was in the service, my mom went with him and they were stationed in Okinawa, where I was born. They came back to the city when I was one and a half, and lived in Manhattan. And then my dad got a Fulbright Scholarship to assist with westernizing the Korean legal system so we went to Korea. After two years there, we moved here to Park Slope.
Nate: How long have you been connected to CBE?
Jonathan: We joined CBE right around the end of Rabbi Sack’s tenure. I was involved as a kid in the sense that I went to After School, youth group, all the way through confirmation. As a teen I worked as a student teacher and then a junior counselor here in the day camp. My mom got more involved as I got older, and so I kept going here after college. There weren’t many members of my age, but because Rabbi Weider knew me, he asked me to get involved more. I served on a search committee as a representative for my generation, and then I was on another search committee, and then Rabbi Bachman came here. At that point I was married and had kids, so there was really a more organic reason to get involved. I joined more committees, and it was just an exciting time, there was a lot going on. I was happy to be part of bringing CBE from a place that was centered more around people in my parents’ generation into a congregation to being more inclusive of my generation, and responsive to those needs as well. That led to me doing more, like going on the nominations committee, the board, the executive committee and eventually serving as president.
Nate: Who inspires you or who is someone you look up to?
Jonathan: I’ve found Barack Obama to be incredibly inspiring. With the whole economic meltdown, he became president in a moment of intense crisis. Also, in my view his approach was really to try and reach out to different sides based on strong sense of principle and didn’t get enough credit for that, but got subjected to just a whole lot of criticism from all sides. I wouldn’t say he is without flaw, but I think he’s an inspiring person.
Nate: What in your life are you most proud of?
Jonathan: With my wife, we raised two daughters who have a real, strong understanding of who they are, have deep and lasting friendships, a strong Jewish identity, and I would say, personally, that is something I take a lot of pride in. I also take a lot of pride in the work I did with CBE, especially when we were in a time of transition.
Nate: Describe a past experience, from any point in your life, that defined or impacted who you are today.
Jonathan: My sister-in-law died suddenly in 2008 when she was eight months pregnant, and their baby didn’t survive. It was probably the single most devastating thing I had been around. I can’t really articulate the ways in which it changed me, but it certainly impacted me greatly. The funeral was held in the Sanctuary, and for me that funeral transformed the space from a meaningful prayer space to a true place of life cycle. Since then, I know there have been other funerals in the Sanctuary, like my grandmother’s and two funerals of young people that really impacted this neighborhood, and there is something very right about making that space available for the community to come together. There’s something meaningful and healing about bringing the community together, and I’m grateful that we as an institution have the facility to do that.
Nate: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jonathan: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” To be honest, I didn’t really follow that advice, myself. But from my perspective now, when I look at other people in their lives, I think that’s very true. Do something that you’re passionate about as opposed to letting worrying about how you can afford that choice. Like I said, I didn’t really follow that. I’ve been fortunate professionally, and I find myself now in a job that I find very interesting and rewarding. But when I reflect on people I’ve known over the years, I feel like when they were motivated by something that really interested and motivated them, rather than just a paycheck, they still found themselves able to afford to have a comfortable life.
Nate: Where is the most interesting place you’ve ever been to?
Jonathan: I have to say I love New York City. It’s crazy. It’s too big. It shouldn’t work. But it works!
Nate: Where in the world have you never been to but have always wanted to visit?
Jonathan: There’s something about the sheer physical expanse, historical significance, and biodiversity — in terms of plants and animals and all that — of Africa that’s evocative to me.
Nate: What motivates you?
Jonathan: I try to pay attention to what G-d’s plan is for me, and just to be open to it. Just letting life come to me a little bit more than I used to.
Nate: If you had to eat one meal, every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Jonathan: If I had a caesar salad, and then a simple, decent plate of pasta, maybe with some pesto sauce, I’d be good with that.
Nate: What’s your favorite quote or mantra?
Jonathan: As an English major, I’m a pretty text-based person so it’s hard to pick just one. My yearbook quote from high school, which I did on a whim, was “Let Them All Talk.” It’s an Elvis Costello song, and I look back on that and kind of like it. I’ve definitely found “Carpe Diem” to be a good one. I taught school for a year before law school, and every morning before going to work I’d look in the mirror and tell myself “that which does not kill me makes me stronger,” and that really helped me get through that year. There’s a lot of comfort in the Serenity Prayer, too.
Nate: How do you define success?
Jonathan: I’m okay with asking and answering that question in the context of jobs or projects or those kind of discrete things. But I don’t think the word “success” is applicable to life. It implies the opposite, that you can “fail” at life, and I think that’s a brutal way to move through this world. You can certainly succeed or fail at professional endeavors, relationships, living up to your principles, being kind to people. But collectively failing at life? That’s a crazy concept to me. I guess I would say I define success as rejecting the notion of success.
Nate:What is your favorite movie, TV show, or book of all time?
Jonathan: M*A*S*H* is like a building block for me, in a way. It had pathos, comedy, absurdity. I’m grateful to have been exposed to as a child. I would say the same for the Lord of the Rings trilogy because those books set so many things in motion for me. They sparked my love of reading and that led to the whole world of fantasy literature, which was an important escape for me when I was young. That led to D&D, which is ultimately the source of my hobby now playing board games. I have a weekly board game night with a group of friends, and I own over 500 board games. I think all of that, in some way, stemmed from reading those books as a kid.