Rabbi James Rosenberg

I came to the “My Six-Word Memoir” exhibit at gallery (401) at the Dwares JCC about a week before it was scheduled to close on April 11. Within minutes, I realized that I could not absorb what was before me in a single visit; so I arranged to return just a few days later. Upon entering the gallery for the first time, I saw on the wall to my left the beginning of a sentence: “Everybody has a story to tell…” On the facing wall was the conclusion of that sentence: “…and everybody should have a place to tell it.”     I came to the “My Six-Word Memoir” exhibit at gallery (401) at the Dwares JCC about a week before it was scheduled to close on April 11. Within minutes, I realized that I could not absorb what was before me in a single visit; so I arranged to return just a few days later. Upon entering the gallery for the first time, I saw on the wall to my left the beginning of a sentence: “Everybody has a story to tell…” On the facing wall was the conclusion of that sentence: “…and everybody should have a place to tell it.” Tastefully displayed on six distinct wall spaces were 173 posters, 8.5 inches by 11 inches in size, constructed of card stock on foam core board, oriented in either portrait or landscape position – 173 unique life stories, each one told in but six words! A brief sampling – a mere taste of the variety, insight, intelligence, humor and spiritual power of these entries: “Hot sun shining on my sand” “Pain, sorrow, wisdom, smile, always tomorrow” “Good or bad, all is HaShem” “Cancer came. She kicked its ass.” vs. “Friends, family missing, lost to cancer.” A few of the memoirs made me laugh out loud: “Life is short, let’s eat chocolate” “Not Jewish? You’re breaking my heart.” While I happened to find these last six words extremely funny, others told me that they found them poignant, even deeply sad; such diverse reactions illustrate the insight that art is in the eyes, ears and soul of the beholder. The words themselves do not tell the whole story of gallery (401)’s six-word memoir exhibit. Each of the 173 posters is a unique work of graphic design, mounted upon a background of one of six solid colors: red, orange, dark or medium blue, dark green or yellow green. Among the more whimsical graphic designs: on the poster, “Passionate fundraising Jewess, tennis, bridge aficionado,” the artist circles the letters of the word “tennis” to form a tennis ball and arcs the letters of the word “bridge” to form a span. On the poster with the words “I am part of a whole,” the artist manages to squeeze the five words “I am part of a” into the O of the word “whole.” The idea of the six-word memoir is not new. According to certain literary sources – I cannot certify their veracity – Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in just six words. Hemingway’ alleged response: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Be that as it may, it is well documented that in November 2006, Smith Magazine asked its readers to submit six-word memoirs. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, several six-word memoir online sites and numerous six-word memoir books continue the concept. Jewish readers might be especially interested in “Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life,” one of a series of books edited by Smith Magazine. It includes the six words of such well-known members of the tribe as New York Mayor Ed Koch and author of the graphic novel “Maus,” Art Spiegelman. Although the six-word memoir project has been a fact of life for several years, Erin Moseley, the Alliance’s Director of Art & Culture and Next Generation Engagement, deserves enormous credit for envisioning the six-word memoir as a community event. Collecting all these memoirs in one place, setting them in a creative dialogue with one another, helps to illuminate what makes us a diverse, yet essentially unified Jewish community. Erin emphasized that the gallery (401) exhibit was a collaborative effort; she singled out for special mention Diane Cerep, Creativity Director, Michelle Cicchitelli, Director of Jewish Life, and Brian Sullivan, Director of Marketing. In addition, Erin was careful to state that a large number of additional volunteers pulled together to make this extraordinary event happen. Our local six-word memoir project tells us who we can be when we work together. In case you are wondering, my six-word memoir, printed on a background of medium blue, landscape orientation, was one of the 173 posters in gallery (401): “God is. I am. Thank You!” JAMES B. ROSENBERG, rabbi emeritus of Temple Habonim in Barrington, can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..    

Rabbi James RosenbergAlmost every Jew knows that we read the Megillah, the scroll of Esther, every year on Purim. However, while we customarily refer to Megillat Esther as THE Megillah, we read four additional megillot (scrolls) during our liturgical year: Ruth on Shavuot, Lamentations on Tisha B’Av, Kohelet on Sukkot and Shir Ha-Shirim, the scroll of The Song of Songs, is traditionally chanted on the Shabbat of the Spring festival of Pesach, which ended just days ago.

 

Rabbi James RosenbergWhen American, British, Argentine or any other Diaspora Jews visit Israel, they know that they are in a Jewish place since most of the people living there happen to be Jewish. The language most frequently spoken, read and written is Hebrew – a once dead language come back to life. Kosher food is readily available in stores and restaurants and, of course, in homes.

The rhythm of the week is a Jewish rhythm: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 … and, at last, Shabbat, the only day earning a name and not just a number. The calendar is Jewish, not Christian or Muslim. Businesses and schools are closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and nobody asks why. On Purim, the Mardi Gras-like carnival spills out onto the public square; during Passover, just about everybody is eating matzah, while leavened bread is hard to find.

Rabbi James RosenbergEver since it opened on Broadway in the fall of 1964, starring Zero Mostel as Tevya, “Fiddler on the Roof” has been part of Jewish consciousness here in America, throughout the diaspora and in Israel as well. Not wanting to argue with success, the 1971 movie version, with Topel as Tevya, sticks closely to the plotline of the Broadway version. What has maintained “Fiddler’s” popularity for the past 50 years is its warmly nostalgic vision of Eastern European Jewry – more particularly, the vision of shetl life in fictional Anatevka set in Tsarist Russia of 1905.  A memorable musical score, catchy lyrics and energetic dancing serve to reinforce the nostalgia.

 

Rabbi James RosenbergIn his much-discussed article in the June 10, 2010, issue of The New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” Peter Beinart, author of “The Crisis of Zionism” (2012), wrote: “For several decades the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”