The Freeman siblings then (at Heath's Bar Mitzvah) and now
The Freeman Center for Jewish Life is the hub of Jewish life at Duke University. The Freeman Family Program Fund is generously underwriting this yearâs Bar Mitzvah Program. Get to know the fund's founders, Danyelle (Tâ96), Amanda (Tâ98), and Heath (Tâ02), as they sit down with Tori Cohen (T'15) to discuss their parentâs legacy, Duke basketball, and âepicâ bat mitzvah hair-dos.
How did your interest in Duke begin? What made you all decide to attend?
Danyelle: As the oldest, I was the first to visit Duke, during my junior year of high school. I fell in love the minute I stepped foot on campus. It's such a wonderfully diverse school set in the South, which was so unique to me at the time. Not to mention the allure of the basketball team!
Amanda: I decided I wanted to go to Duke when Christian Laettner hit that crazy buzzer beater shot against Kentucky in 1992. My interest in the school was piqued. I was really drawn to the fact that it was a âwork hard, play hardâ school. I loved the combination of strong academics, strong sorority/fraternity scene and school spirit. Best decision I ever made.
Heath: Our family fell in love with the school [once Danyelle began attending] and the rest was history. The academics, social atmosphere, and athletics are truly unmatched. Oh - and the weather! And Amanda, I never realized that's what sold you. You know I own Laettner's jersey from that game ("The Shot")?!!
Were you active in Jewish life on campus when you were a student? What groups or activities were you involved with as a student?
D: When I was at Duke back in 1992, there was no Jewish centerâ¦. We had services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the basement of a church. There was no real Jewish community [at Duke] and no Jewish life to speak of, which is exactly why my parents took such an interest in creating one. It's truly amazing that Jewish life is thriving at Duke today and I'm so proud that my parents had so much to do with it.
A: I wasn't active in Jewish Life either. First, there really wasn't much opportunity to be active. Without a center, Jewish life was pretty non-existent. We grew up in a more culturally Jewish than religious home. I did as much as I could to carry that on while in school by attending services in the basement of the Bryan Center and holding at-home Seders with friends. My social life centered on my sorority, Tri-Delt.
H: The Freeman Center opened in the first half of my college career, so I wasnât super active in Jewish Life while at Duke. I played football (Field Goal Kicker) and was in a fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, and that took up most of my free time outside of academics.
Could you tell us a bit about your career and life now?
D: I'm a food writer. About 10 years ago, I launched a blog called Restaurantgirl.com, a website that covers the New York restaurant scene. Two years later, I became the chief restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. I was the first blogger to become a critic for a major publication and the very first non-anonymous critic in country. I also published a book called Try This: Traveling the Globe without Leaving the Table, with Harper Collins. Itâs like a cheat sheet to the world's cuisines, from British to Thai, Vietnamese, and everything in between. Right now, I oversee my food blog, consult with restaurants and food brands, and raise my daughter and stepson. I also invest in food and tech-related ventures, which is a huge opportunity nowadays.
A: I am the Founder and CEO of SLT (Strengthen Lengthen Tone). I own nine boutique-fitness studios in the New York City area that offer a challenging, sweaty, and fun workout that combines the best elements of Pilates with cardio and strength training. I am also the co-founder of Sweaty Saturday, a fitness industry non-profit that raises money for Partnership for a Healthier America. I'm a serial entrepreneur with a particular focus on health and wellness.
H: Iâm a founding member and President of Alden Global Capital, a $1.7 billion investment firm focused on opportunistic and distressed investing. [Right after I graduated] I worked for Peter J. Solomon Company, a boutique investment bank specializing on mergers and acquisitions, restructurings and refinancing.
Besides Jewish Life at Duke, what other ways are you involved with Duke as an alum?
D: Jewish Life at Duke is my primary focus at Duke for now. I want to devote all of my energies to it.
A: I heart Duke...a lot! I am always happy to do what I can to help out Duke. I am on the Duke NY alumni board, I host annual cocktail parties at my apartment for alumni to meet and mingle, and I've participated in relevant industry and women's focused panels.
H: The Freeman Center for Jewish Life is my main passion/focus/involvement. More recently, I have been working on ways to get more involved with Duke Football, its current players and alumni.
You recently established the Freeman Family Program Fund. What inspired you to create this?
D: We're very excited and proud to launch this program, so that we can really get behind specific programs that we're passionate about. As a family, we hope to effect change and make things better for generations to come. As a new mom, that's extremely important to me, and I hope one day my children will be a part of the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.
A: We wanted the ability to fund programs that mean a lot to us personally and those that we think will really benefit Duke students and alumni.
H: Our goal is that the programs weâre supporting will change the lives of the people who participate. In the coming year, we are supporting JFAM, which is a kind of buddy system for Jewish freshmen, the Bar Mitzvah program, and the student-hosted Seders. We plan to grow the number of programs considerably in the near future. Stay tuned!
In the spirit of the upcoming Jewish Life at Duke Bar Mitzvah, what was the theme of your Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
D: Truth be told, I hated my Bat Mitzvah! I had a cheesy carnival theme and my hair was epic. Oh how I wish I had the chance to do it all over again! What a wonderful idea the Freeman Center Bar Mitzvahs are!
A: My Bat Mitzvah theme was "movies." DÃ©cor elements included a giant marquee, lots of video cameras, film reels and lots of black and white. The tables were named after my favorite movies and the sign in board looked like old school film.
H: My theme was Heath Bar (not very original). I did have two of my favorite athletes at the time make appearances, Pat Kelly (Yankee Second Baseman) and Rodney Hampton (Giants Running Back).