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December 18, 2008 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-12-18

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Special Report


Keeper from page A13

A portion of a mural at the HMC depicts Jewish life in a pre-Holocaust shtetl. As a
The HMC's six illuminated skylights represent the 6 million Jews who perished. The
tribute, artist Anatoliy Shapiro included a portrait of an adult Rabbi Rosenzveig, left. stripes on the facade depict the concentration camp uniforms prisoners had to wear.

Sadly, Abe and his wife, Sima, were
unable to return from Florida for the
rabbi's quickly arranged memorial service
at Hebrew Memorial Chapel in Oak Park.
Rabbi Rosenzveig, 88, died the previous
afternoon, Dec. 11, 2008, in Royal Oak's
Beaumont Hospital. Sons Rabbi Eli of New
York and Martin of California accompa-
nied his body to Jerusalem after Shabbat
for burial at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery
on Dec. 15.
The HMC board plans to announce an
interim director soon and will conduct an
extensive search, perhaps taking months,
to find its next leader.
Judy Rosenzveig of Southfield, the rabbi's
older daughter, said he was recently diag-
nosed with lymphoma and had undergone
his first chemotherapy treatment. "He was
feeling fine during the day [Sunday, Dec.
7], but at night became nauseous;' she
When HMC Administrator Selma
Silverman asked the hospitalized rabbi
about returning Monday, "he responded,
Absolutely:" In truth, he was deteriorating.
An infection set in before his fatal heart
"We were stunned by the rabbi's death:'
Silverman said, echoing others in the com-
munity. "We didn't know, truly, he was so

An Early Scholar
Charles Rosenzveig was born Nov.
13, 1920, to Yente and Eliezer Lippa
Rosenzveig of Ostrovitz, Poland. Eliezer
died before World War II and the fam-
ily moved to the home of Yente's father,
Shamai Elving, a talmudic scholar. The
paternal grandfather, Vevel Rosenzveig,
owned a successful candle factory.
"My father had a strong intellect and a
loveable and strong nature — he was bet-
ter than your dreams',' Judy said.
Rabbi Eli Rosenzveig said that from
childhood, his father was considered a
genius: "By age 4, he had mastered Targum


December 18 2008

[Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible,
or Tanach]." At 11, Charles was a prize stu-
dent at the prestigious Bialystok yeshivah.
When Germany invaded Poland in
1939, Charles escaped to the Soviet Union.
Moving frequently, he spent time in a
Soviet Siberian labor camp. His mother
and younger brother perished during the
Holocaust, but an older sister survived.
She died in Israel.
The future rabbi met his future wife,
Helen, when he and other students set
up a temporary yeshivah in Jamboul,
Kazakhstan. They rented a but from Shifra
Damen, Helen's mother. Charles found
boots for Helen, a child of 11.
He went to Poland, Prague and France
after the war, arriving in New York in
1947. Eli said his father, while a rabbinical
student at Yeshiva University, was given
the "unprecedented honor" of being rosh
yeshivah [head of the yeshivah], teaching
before receiving his smichah [ordination]
in 1949.
Helen and her mother were in Poland
and a displaced persons camp in Germany
before joining relatives in Detroit. "My
father followed them here, and my parents
were married in Detroit," Judy said.
The Rosenzveigs were wed 57 years.
The rabbi became spiritual leader of
Congregation Mount Sinai in 1951; he
commuted to Port Huron until 1993. He
taught at branches of United Hebrew
Schools and the Hebrew High School in
Southfield as well as teaching until 1984 at
UHS' Midrasha College of Jewish Studies.
He worked with Selma Silverman, a UHS
administrative assistant, for 23 years
before their 24-year association at HMC.

Pursuing His Dream
The Rosenzveigs joined Shaarit Haplaytah
("The Remnant"), the Detroit Holocaust
survivors' organization. It had 650 mem-
bers at its height; now only 200 remain. In
1964, the rabbi shared his dream with the
group to establish a memorial.

Recalling the project's start, supporter
Fred Ferber of Orchard Lake said Rabbi
Rosenzveig "wasn't going to be derailed by
the people who were against his ideas. He
never got angry. He would express what
he felt was right. He overcame people's ego
problems in a masterful and beautiful way"
HMC treasurer Saul Waldman of Keego
Harbor said the rabbi approached him ini-
tially about adding a Holocaust memorial
to Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills.
"That didn't work out, so we worked
on getting property on 13 Mile, but it
was thought that the location was too far
removed from the Jewish community at
the time said Waldman, also building
committee chair. The Jewish Federation
saw potential in the project and "insisted
that it go on the Maple-Drake campus:'
assigning former Federation executive
Allan Gelfond to help Shaarit Haplaytah
raise $20 million needed for building.
The rabbi proved an outstanding fund-
raiser himself. According to Dr. Michael
Treblin of Farmington Hills, HMC board
president, "the rabbi could ask and get
a $50,000 donation — and the person
would thank him."
Eli said some felt his father was "overly
sure of himself, pompous. But he was a per-
son of extraordinary intellectual ability. He
truly believed in his dreams and his vision.
There was no self-doubt, no insecurities!'
Rabbi Rosenzveig encouraged survi-
vors to make videos of their experiences,
to teach about the Holocaust in a more
personal way. Yet, he never made his own
recording. The project was started in 1981
by Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, history profes-
sor at University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Bolkosky and Rabbi Rosenzveig disagreed
about accessing the interviews.
"No one could take them out, or special
permission was needed — that's when we
parted ways:' said Bolkosky, who directs
his university's Voice/Vision Holocaust
Survivor Oral History Archive.
The rabbi's "strong, aggressive, deter-

mined manner were good qualities in
terms of what he produced;' Bolkosky said.
Rabbi Rosenzveig liked his autonomy and
had no connections with the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.,
according to Bolkosky. He also heard com-
plaints from several internationally known
scholars about the rabbi's "authoritarian
direction" of the HMC.
The Zekelman family's gift of $10 mil-
lion in 2007 mostly retired the Farmington
Hills HMC's construction debt and
resulted in attaching the Zekelman name
to the HMC campus. Finance Committee
Chair Alan Zekelman of Bloomfield Hills
recalled his warm relationship with Rabbi
Rosenzveig, saying: "His eyes were pleas-
ing and gentle ... I consulted with him ...
he brought clarity and wisdom. What will
we do without our rabbi ... a true tzadik
[righteous person] of our times?"
HMC Executive Committee member
Abe Pasternak studied and prayed with his
friend, Rabbi Rosenzveig, at Congregation
Shomrey Emunah in Southfield. "Many
times I would ask him to explain if there
was something I didn't understand in the
Torah portion:' Pasternak said.
Rabbi Eli Rosenzveig said his learned
father's texts were "torn and worn and
weathered with markings on every page."

A Continuing Legacy
Dr. Steve Grant of West Bloomfield, chair of
the HMC Executive Committee, described
Rabbi Rosenzveig as "a force of nature
— tirelessly, tenaciously, ferociously raising
money, looking over architectural plans,
always thinking of the next project."
A project realized at the new HMC
— the rabbi's "dream within the dream"
— was the Harry and Wanda Zekelman
International Institute of the Righteous,
said its director, Professor Guy Stern. The
institute's purpose is to honor the thou-
sands of non-Jews who saved, or tried to

Keeper on page A16

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