June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Remembering Joe Rotenberg, z”l

The following is the full text of a speech delivered by Teaneck’s Barbara Rotenberg at Moriah this past Tuesday. She spoke at the Siyum Shloshim in memory of her husband Joe Rotenberg, z”l. Barbara is the Middle School Coordinator at Moriah and a longtime Moriah faculty member.

Hi, everyone. Thank you for sharing this moment with me.

As many of you learned during the shiva for my husband, he was a writer, mostly of short stories. One of his stories, which is included in the book he published a few years ago, is titled, “Jerusalem Tale: A Modern, Mystical Moment.” It’s the true story of a Shabbat in Yerushalayim in 2001, during a visit to Israel that my husband made on his own. On Friday night he chose to daven in the small beit midrash near the Great Synagogue, next to Heichal Shlomo. When he arrived he randomly chose a siddur from the shelf and took note of the inscription on the inside front cover. It said: “In loving memory of our son Gedalya Rosenbaum who fell in battle to protect Israel, by the Rosenbaum family.” It was a sad and painful inscription that touched my husband’s heart, but soon he was caught up in Kabbalat Shabbat and the inscription became a memory.

Sunday morning, my husband went on a tour with a family friend. She took him to see the newly established IDF Museum in Latrun. She warned him that the museum was still under construction and was not officially up and running as yet, but she thought he would enjoy seeing the armored tanks that were on display there. After viewing the vehicles, my husband wandered into a dimly lit room with several computer terminals. He had been told that the computers hadn’t been powered as yet, but out of curiosity, he approached one of them and pressed the ENTER button on the keyboard. Eerily, the terminal shook slightly and came to life. On the screen appeared the story of Sergeant Gedalya Rosenbaum, a young soldier who had dragged five of his comrades to safety while under fierce enemy fire and had paid the ultimate price so his fellow soldiers would live. My husband was stunned. On these terminals, which were supposedly not running, had appeared the story of the very same young soldier memorialized in the siddur he had used the previous Friday night. This was truly a mystical moment.

The dedication in the siddur gave meaning to the information my husband saw on the computer, and the fact that his tefillah on Erev Shabbat was now linked to this moment in the museum couldn’t have been random. It reinforced what we all know—that there is a reason for everything that happens in life. More often than not we never discover what that reason might be, but in this one mystical moment that my husband experienced, it became almost magically clear. While he never again held that siddur in his hand, the tefillah he had davened from that siddur took on greater meaning for him forever.

We also had a mystical moment here at Moriah. We’ve needed new siddurim in our middle school for a while now, but it was only this year that Rabbi Alter was able to make that happen. The siddurim arrived around Chanukah time and stubbornly and curiously sat on a cart outside my office for two months. I asked to have them moved multiple times, but they remained where they were—on a cart outside my office. We finally had new siddurim, but we weren’t using them. Everyone asked why, but no one was sure. Rabbi Alter had an idea that perhaps someone would come forward with a dedication for those siddurim, and so those siddurim sat in the boxes they had come in…waiting. And then suddenly, sadly, there was a dedication opportunity, and overnight those siddurim were dedicated in my husband’s memory thanks to all of you and your most generous and very kind parents.

The dedication in that siddur in Yerushalayim many years ago made a lasting impression on my husband. I don’t think that there was ever a Kabbalat Shabbat when he didn’t think about the young man he had never met, Gedalya Rosenbaum, and the sacrifice he had made for his country. Going forward, may we all find ever greater meaning in the tefillot embedded in our new siddurim, with their new dedication, as my husband did in Yerushalayim, in the mystical moment he lovingly described and that remained with him for his entire life.

By Barbara Rotenberg

 

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