David Baskin grew up in Evanston, and like a lot of kids who went to Evanston Township High School, got to know and admire Ross Freeland. Ross taught statistics, which David took in his senior year, and was the assistant coach on the Wildkit baseball team, where David played for four seasons.
They bonded over morning batting practice at school, David recalled recently while visiting his family in Evanston. Ross would come every day before classes to pitch to David. “Those practice sessions symbolized who Ross was,” David said. “He was quiet, sincere, and always there for you. He didn’t make a show of things; he simply showed up when you needed him. As we grew older, that took many forms – calling in times of need, being a true friend. He was always there, on time and ready to throw.
“He changed my life, gave me a confidence I didn’t know I was capable of. I loved him dearly.”
David carried that love and confidence with him to Denison University and then, a year after he graduated, to Israel, where he went to live.
It was while serving in the Israeli Army that he learned Ross Freeland had died of stomach cancer in March of 2016.
Traveling home on a two-day pass the following month, David managed to attend the memorial. The service was held in a jam-packed ETHS auditorium. Many people – Ross’s students, his colleagues, his wife, the head baseball coach – shared their memories and appreciation of Ross.
David did not speak, but he kept thinking about a philosophy Ross shared with his students. It was about putting other people ahead of oneself. Ross would say: “First comes the greater good, the welfare of others is second, and I am third.”
David had a chance to put this philosophy into practice back in Israel. He had served part of his Army stint along the Syrian border and participated in Operation Good Neighbor, helping Syrians in need of medical care. Working with the so-called enemy, connecting with them through humanitarian aid, was his first real experience helping others.
When David finished his Army service in July 2016, he started his own program, called Ani Shlishi, which in Hebrew means “I am third.” The not-for-profit collects items donated by soldiers, civilians, and department stores, and sells them at “pop-up” shops in markets and universities. The money collected goes toward trade school scholarships as well as donations of clothing, books, and school supplies for impoverished and at-risk youth, both Arab and Israeli.
“Everything we do is guided by the philosophy ‘I’m Third,’ and of giving other people opportunities,” says David.
Last year Ani Shlishi donated more than 40,000 pounds of clothing and raised more than $10,000 toward scholarships.
It is a fitting memorial to a great role model and a reminder of the good one person can do by putting others first.