My father passed away on Dec. 13,
2013. Alan M. Rosenberg was 85 years old. He was married to my mom for 54
years, had three children, seven grandchildren, and lived a life devoted to
intellectual pursuits, his vocation, the Jewish community, and, among other
things, a vast array of plants he tended to in his home. He made creative
birthday, anniversary, and Valentine's Day cards for members of his family, was
his own search engine on any topic, and was very precise and particular in how
he lived his life.
In the months that have passed since he died, I have
done what any son or daughter would probably do in that time: balancing my busy
life at work and home while trying to think about my dad, process what his life
and death have meant to me, and attempt to put it all in perspective. Along the
way, I have said Kaddish in a variety of places, kept my beard from the Shloshim
mourning period (it was, after all, the kind of winter to keep a beard), and
have had moments where I came across a photo of him with my kids which made me
As I look back on the weeks following his death, two thoughts kept
popping into my head during those days and continue to this day.
think about my own Jewish DNA. My dad was a former president of the Young
People's Division (YPD), which today is known as the Young Leadership Division
(YLD). Not only did he meet my mom during their YPD days, but his involvement
in Federation at the time helped define who he was, what was important to him,
and provided him with lifelong friends. And while my own journey in the Jewish
community played itself out over the years through various means, from summers
at OSRUI camp to trips to Israel, my professional path in the Federation world
is not a coincidence. My dad never pushed me in this direction and frankly,
early on in my career while working at the Jewish Federations in Detroit and
then Cleveland, I didn't reflect all that much on his past Federation
involvement. But I gravitated to this line of work and I have to think that I
was programmed to do so, in no small part because of what he did and stood for
over the years. It rubbed off on me somehow and I'm glad it did.
second realization relates to the first. As we prepared for Shiva, we naturally
pulled out old and recent photos of my dad and the family. Of the photos that
we laid out on the dining room table, the ones that struck me the most and that
my mom was particularly interested in having out were the photos (and speeches
and event programs) from those old YPD days. There were photos from the late
'50s of my dad with other Federation volunteers, some of whom ended up being
well-known leaders in our community, and all who did their part to build our
community and raise the dollars necessary to help those in need. As I looked at
these photos, I began to wonder what other photos and papers from our Jewish
community's history are sitting in boxes in homes throughout Chicago and the
suburbs. While our Federation, its agencies, and other communal institutions
showcase plenty of important documents and photos from our shared past, the bulk
of the community archives can probably be found in our basements. After seeing
the photos during Shiva, we all wondered why we hadn't spent more time looking
at them, particularly in my dad's final years.
And that is, perhaps,
the lesson that should be learned, and it is especially timely as we prepare to
join with family and friends to observe the Passover Seders. Just as we tell
the story of our Exodus from Egypt every year, we also have an obligation
throughout the year to tell the story of those who came before us and what they
accomplished to make our Jewish community what it is today. Those photos are
not meant to collect dust or be stored in boxes. Rather, they need to come
alive and be shared. And whether they are items from historic community events,
newspaper clippings, or just old summer camp photos, we are who we are today
because of what took place many years ago. Our Jewish community has flourished
for decades and today is stronger than ever. We need to take a moment, look at
what we have, and remember how we got here. By doing so, we honor the past and
continue to build for the future.
Jim Rosenberg is Chief of Staff of
the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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