Some people reclaim the past, while others are reclaimed by it. Bernie Rosenberg has gone both ways. His connection with an illustrious forebear changed his connection to Torah learning. He then used his skills and motivation and paid back a debt of gratitude to someone he had never met, but who had become a key figure in his life.
Dallas, where Rosenberg lives, is today a Torah boom town, with day schools, boys’ and girls’ high schools, two kollelim, outreach organizations and a number of shuls built in sprawling Texas style. But in Rosenberg’s youth, it was a frontier town. Rosenberg’s family members were icons of an emerging Orthodoxy—and still are today, where two parts of the family are major contributors to various Orthodox institutions.
Growing up in what was then called a “traditional” synagogue, receiving a Mikraot Gedolot for his Bar Mitzvah was completely unexpected and unusual. David Lenovitz, an older gentleman who happened to be Rosenberg’s cousin, gave him the gift, along with an inscription, asking Rosenberg to become a talmid chacham like his illustrious great-great-grandfather had been. He told Rosenberg that he had been named after the Stropkover Dayan, Rabbi Shlomo Baruch Tannenbaum (1805-1867). For all the men of Lenovitz’s generation, Rosenberg ceased being “Bernie” after that and instead was known as Shlomo Baruch—or more accurately, “Shloima Booruch.”
The thrust of that inscription, and his continued association with Lenovitz, led Rosenberg on a very different path than most of his classmates. He continued his Torah education beyond the highest level offered at Dallas’ Akiba Academy. This took him first to Denver’s Yeshiva Toras Chaim High School, then to Mercaz HaTorah in Israel for a few years. He returned to the United States and spent four years at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, picking up a degree in economics from the University of Maryland while there. Moving back to Dallas, Rosenberg applied himself to family businesses operated by his father and uncle, and later branched off on his own.
He became an investor and an equities trader; he rescued a jalapeño business in Mexico and sold it off after turning it around.
His recreational interests are diverse. Musically, Rosenberg moves between guitar, drums and harmonica. He is an accomplished photographer and a competition-grade martial artist, specializing in Filipino knife fighting. (The last item, it is hoped, is unrelated to another skill set he picked up along the way—at one point, he believes, he was the youngest-certified mohel in the world.) He is as eclectic in his passion for Torah study as he is diverse in his hobbies. He more than holds his own in the Gemara-oriented Torah discussions at Congregation Ohr Hatorah, but he also finds himself pulled to other areas: musar, Likutei Moharan, the Sichot of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and, increasingly, the careful study of the plain sense of Rashi on Chumash.
Our forebear Yosef found guidance at a critical moment in his life from the visage of his father that he saw vividly in his mind’s eye. Rosenberg has similarly been guided by the vision of someone he never saw but who has been with him since his Bar Mitzvah. In his first year of yeshivah in Israel after high school, his rebbi and rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Halevi Prague, told Rosenberg about a Stropkov shteibel in Meah Shearim. He visited there, and found on the memorial plaques names that were quite familiar to him. When his parents went to Israel for Pesach, they too made a point of visiting the shteibel, and happened to run into the rebbe of the shul. Rosenberg’s father and the rebbe tearfully reunited—they discovered they had been in Auschwitz together. The rebbe related that he had heard from his gabbai that an American kid by the name of Shlomo Baruch had dropped by and had responded to the plaques on the wall. The gabbai’s interest was piqued by the name Shlomo Baruch, being quite familiar with the prominence of the Stropkover Dayan. Both the rebbe and his assistant were overwhelmed that a direct descendent of the Dayan was alive, and learning Torah in Yerushalayim. In fact, the rebbe had sent messages “to all the Litvishe yeshivos” in an unsuccessful attempt to find this young man, hoping to have him bake his matzot for Pesach.
The notion that a rebbe would seek him out because of the name he carried transfigured Rosenberg. It secured a relationship with the unknown parts of his family. On a trip in 2004 to his father’s hometown in Slovakia, he found the one Jew who had returned there after World War II. Together, they went to the cemetery, looking for the grave of the Stropkover Dayan. The site was overgrown with weeds. They searched, to no avail. Ready to give up, the elderly guide suggested they say Tehillim. They did, and immediately found the grave. Rosenberg resolved on the spot to find the Stropkover Dayan’s manuscripts and publish them.
He threw himself into the world of old sefarim and manuscripts. He learned about archivists, collectors and the many steps necessary to bring a work to press. Stropkov was an offshoot of Sanz and the Divrei Chaim. So was Bobov, which proved to be an invaluable asset. He was able to meet the famed Shmerel Citronenbaum, a legendary expert in the field of old sefarim. Rabbi Citronenbaum, not ordinarily the most accessible person, instantly warmed up to Rosenberg and his search, and gave him promising leads.
Unlike many who search for the family jewels in the form of old manuscripts, Rosenberg was able to go about the job as an insider. His decades of learning meant that he understood the works when he found them, could assess the scope of editing needed and could pass judgment on the qualifications of those who applied to help with the project. He believes that he has located all the works of his namesake that are still extant, and is actively overseeing their preparation.
“Any Torah scholar who has passed on, in whose name a teaching is related, his lips move in the grave” (Yevamot 97a). In the case of one Texan, an ancestor seems to have called to him from the grave to see to it that his Torah would be studied and related.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Affairs at The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a member of the Jewish Action editorial board and a founding editor of Cross-Currents.com.