Rabbi James Rosenberg

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.

Rabbi James RosenbergI confess that I am a liberal Zionist. I am proudly pro-Israel. Like almost all Israeli and American Jews, I am also pro-peace. Though I know that many of my fellow Jews disagree with me, I believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interest of the State of Israel, the world Jewish community and the community of the world at large.

It seems to me that only a two-state solution will ensure Israel’s survival as both a Jewish and a democratic state. By way of contrast, a one-state solution means that Israel will have to maintain its Jewish character by limiting the rights of its Arab citizens, who in the not-too-distant future are likely to become a majority in any proposed “greater” Israel bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Jordan River on the east. On the other hand, if the one state of Israel is to remain democratic – one vote for every Israeli citizen – then Israel will gradually lose its Jewish character since, under inexorable demographic pressure, Jews will ultimately be in the minority.

Rabbi James Rosenberg

This has been a sobering summer for all of us who care deeply about Israel and have been hoping for some progress toward Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation within the framework of a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers: Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach. The revenge kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager: Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir. An explosion of hatred and racist violence between Arab and Jew. A rain of Hamas rockets on Israel. A rain of Israeli bombs and artillery shells on Gaza. Israeli troops searching for rocket launchers amid the twisting tunnels and byways of Gaza. Collateral damage: the deaths of several hundred civilian men, women and children.  

Rabbi James Rosenberg

Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinovitch, 1859-1916), is best known as the man behind “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 1964 Broadway musical that – even after 50 years – keeps on keepin’ on.

Because of the worldwide success of “Fiddler,” Sholem Aleichem has been embraced as the Yiddish writer who almost single-handedly created a warmly nostalgic vision – I should say “version” – of the “Old Country” as embodied in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka in 1905 Tsarist Russia.

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..