Rabbi James Rosenberg

Rabbi James RosenbergAt the end of January, not long after returning from viewing an exhibit of 42 black-and-white photographs by Gordon Parks (1912-2006) at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, I had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for Parks’ work with my friend, Phil Rosen.  Rosen, a professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown, suggested two books – both classics in the field – to deepen my appreciation and understanding of photography:  Susan Sontag’s “On Philosophy” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977) and Roland Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” (Hill and Wang, 1982), translated from the French by Richard Howard.  Neither Sontag nor Barthes is primarily concerned with the methods of picture-taking; rather, each of them, in distinct but overlapping ways, focuses upon what the photograph means to those who view it. 


Rabbi James Rosenberg“SHE: What happened to Psalm 88?  Why did you skip it?

“HE: I don’t think you could take it tonight.  I am not sure I could.  No: I am sure I could not.

“SHE: Please read it, for me ... I need that kind the most.”

This dialogue begins the preface to the second edition of Martin Marty’s “A Cry of Absence” (Harper San Francisco, 1993), which appears about 10 years after the original publication.

The HE is Martin Marty, prolific author and, until his retirement in 1998, professor of the history of  modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The SHE is Marty’s first wife, Elsa, whose battle with terminal cancer is the unspoken tragedy that runs through the pages of the first edition of “A Cry of Absence.”

Marty’s book is an extended personal commentary on selections from the 150 Biblical psalms. During the course of Elsa’s illness, she needed to take certain medications at the midnight hour, at which time husband and wife took turns reading a psalm: she would read the odd-numbered, he the even-numbered. Marty comments,  “The medicines were pain relievers, fighters against nausea, palliatives. Half the psalms were not.”

Given the circumstances that gave rise to “A Cry of Absence,” it is no surprise that the author has chosen to focus upon those dark places in our human experience; he subtitles his book “Reflections for the Winter of the Heart.” Drinking deeply from the writings of Karl Rahner, S.J. (1904-1984), a German Jesuit priest and theologian,  Marty explores his own “wintry” spirituality; his type of religious faith puts him at a marked distance from those who express their “summery” religious postures through their ever-present upbeat smiles and their nonstop Praise-the-Lords. Marty sides with those who eschew the “ignorant immortality” of Eden and embrace the “informed mortality” that has to some degree darkened our lives ever since you and I were expelled from the Garden:    

Rabbi James RosenbergH. Philip West Jr., executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island from 1988 to 2006, is a prophet in our midst.  Like such Biblical prophets as Amos or Isaiah or Jeremiah, West is not so much a “foreteller” as a “forthteller.” That is to say, he is a man who “tells it like it is,” a man who is not afraid to afflict the comfortable even as he comforts the afflicted.

An ordained Methodist minister, he has devoted the last several decades to speaking out against the social ills of contemporary American society – with special attention to our home state of Rhode Island – while warning all who are willing to listen of the consequences of our continuing tolerance of widespread political, social and economic injustice.

Rabbi James RosenbergAlan Metnick’s photography exhibit, “Silence and Stones/Captured by Memory,” continues at gallery (401) at the Dwares JCC through Thursday, April 16. If you haven’t had a chance to visit, it is a must-see. If you’ve already been there, it’s worth a second or even a third look.

As you step into the gallery, there are five photographs on the wall to your left – each a peaceful forest scene, a picture of tranquility...and then you read where these trees stand: Auschwitz, 2004; Treblinka, 2005; Belzac, 2011; Sobibor, 2011; Chelmno, 2011. Five of Poland’s six major extermination camps; only Majdanek is missing from this notorious lineup. The sublime forest beauty captured in the photographs now seems an obscenity; but Mother Nature – in her amoral, nonjudgmental grandeur – knows nothing of our all-too-human capacity for depravity or of our heroic quest to remake ourselves into the image of God. 

Rabbi James RosenbergHoward Jacobson (b. 1942), the well-respected British author, begins his speech at the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem in the fall of 2013 with three succinct and depressing sentences: “The question is rhetorical.  When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust?  Never.”

He goes on to quote the Roman historian Tacitus (56-117) to support the contention that victimizers have a deep-seated need to blame their victims: “It is part of human life to hate the man you have hurt.”