Rabbi James Rosenberg

Rabbi James RosenbergRabbi Andrew Klein began his Rosh Hashanah morning sermon at Temple Habonim in Barrington with the following true story:

“When our youngest niece, Jesse, was 6 or 7 years old, she came to spend a few days with her uncles in Rhode Island. On one of our evening walks, Jesse was telling us about the important happenings in her life … her friends, her time at camp, her art work, her annoying big brother …

“At one point, (her uncle) Adam noticed that we were approaching a squirrel lying on its back with its feet up in the air, and he said something like, ‘Let’s cross to the other side of the street; that squirrel up ahead is taking a nap.’

“Jesse said, very matter of factly, ‘… he’s not sleeping; he’s dead, and death is a natural part of life.’

Rabbi James RosenbergMy undergraduate years at Columbia, 1962-1966, corresponded with the height of the folk-singing craze which, centered in New York City’s Greenwich Village, spread throughout the land. Armed with my guitar and my long-neck 5-string banjo, I was a regular performer at the on-campus Post Crypt, an intimate student hang-out directly behind the crypt of St. Paul’s Chapel.

Rabbi James RosenbergIn March 1973, Rabbi Samuel Korff delivered a eulogy for Charles Shumrack, a longtime member of Congregation Kehillath Jacob who was murdered in his first-floor apartment in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan. In the course of his remarks, “Korff then challenged future historians to determine ‘how it was possible for a Jewish community of 40,000 souls to be emptied in the course of two years and how so much crime was concentrated in the short space of 40 blocks.’ ”

Though not cited till near the end of the book, Rabbi Korff’s question haunts almost every page of Hillel Levine’s and Lawrence Harmon’s “The Death of an American Jewish Community, A Tragedy of Good Intentions” (The Free Press, 1992). Korff’s question sits at the center of a circle of additional questions. What happened collectively to the 90,000 Jews of Roxbury, Dorchester and, finally, Mattapan, the last of Boston’s contiguous Jewish neighborhoods to disappear? At one time Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan constituted the vital heart of Boston Jewry, with Blue Hill Avenue calling to mind the Bronx’s Grand Concourse.

Rabbi James RosenbergThis past Sept. 18, AT&T Connect Event Services sent the following confirmation to my inbox: “You have registered to attend Annual POTUS High Holiday Call with Rabbis on Sept. 22, 2014, at 3 p.m. Eastern time.” POTUS: President of the United States. Such power, such potency in the acronym.

On the Monday afternoon before Rosh Hashanah, I was one of about 900 American rabbis who spent 30 minutes on the phone with Barack Obama in what was his sixth annual non-partisan High Holy Day conference call with American rabbis.  Once again, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C., coordinated the complex logistics.

As was true of a similar POTUS call for which I was registered two years ago, only four rabbis were given the opportunity to speak: leaders of America’s Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist movements.

Rabbi James Rosenberg“I didn’t think he’d do it.

“I really didn’t think he would.

“I thought he’d say, whoa, hold on, wait a minute. We made a deal, remember, the land, the blessing, the nation, the descendents as numerous as the sands on the shore and the stars in the sky. You said: through Isaac you’d make my name great. I have kept my word. Don’t you go back on yours.”

James Goodman begins his book, “But Where Is the Lamb? Imagining the Story of Abraham and Isaac” (Schocken, 2013), by imagining Abraham’s thoughts after hearing God’s command to slay his son Isaac. The story, known in Jewish tradition as Akedah Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac), is told in Genesis 22:1-19 and is read year after year in synagogues throughout the world on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.