Friday, April 18, 2008

Frank Rosner, z'l

This is a day that none of us ever believed would come. Sure we KNEW it would come – but we never believed it would come. Yes, the two things that are inevitable were death and taxes – and tomorrow is tax day, so Frank needed to affirm the first part. HE never claimed to be immortal – we just wanted him to be. He never vied for the title of Mr. Beth El – we just wanted him to be.

His self effacing selflessness, his kindness, his strength, his smile, his humor and yes, his stubbornness.... He got a little more impatient in his later years, but he remained ever indefatigable. What people don’t always recall is that Frank for a long time was really rather the introvert. He was one who preferred to be in the background to sit and listen… and the back of the room was where he ended up – the back of the chapel or the back of the sanctuary… yet amazingly, the back suddenly became the place where the real important things were happening – it became the center of the action. Frank didn’t chase down the spotlight – it followed him – because he knew the most important thing of all – how to touch people.

Frank sold insurance – but here he was really selling eternal life insurance – helping us all to find meaning by finding community – he was the glue that held our community together – and at times he was thrifty – but the glue was always top quality – and without him, we will now all have to find a way, each of us, to replace just a little bit of what he brought us.

He would be telling me to stop speaking right now – I never took it seriously because he said that to all the rabbis. And we’re not going to let him off that easy. Frank Rosner was 95 years young – a hero to generations, beth el trustee for life –and now, we might add, even after death, he will still be pointing to his watch somewhere in up there, whenever a meeting goes off track.

We all loved Frank – and all of us for different reasons. I loved him from the first night that I met him, on a warm night in the spring of 1987, when Mara and I had scheduled to come down and have a tour of our house. Frank was the tour guide, not only of the house but of the entire temple building as well. He gave us the complete, and I mean complete tour. I was especially interested in the boiler room. Only at the end, after a good solid couple of hours, did it become clear to us that Frank had literally just gotten up from Shiva for his beloved Rose to come out that night and help us.

From that point on he was a rock of all the support and encouragement for me and my family – and he fixed the toilets too. He loved Mara’s brownies and her latkes and never failed to mention it.

He never missed a birthday party for one of my kids – not one - and for them while they were young he was the closest thing they had to a living grandfather.

Frank and I had a series of signals, a whimsical language that enabled us to communicate from opposite sides of the room. ... When we walked around with the Torah, we had a ritual of touching each other with the ends of our tallises. For me it was a show of respect, that he was a living Torah for me, the living embodiment of tradition, Jewish values and love. I have no idea what it meant for him. It was a special thing that was uniquely ours.

But my story was hardly unique. Everyone felt that they were special to Frank, especially children. Many people commented to me about that. Incidentally, I thank you for all the anecdotes and comments that you’ve sent me, all of which have been sent on to Eileen and Joyce.

Now Frank wasn’t always Mr. Nice Guy in the back of the sanctuary. An entire generation was terrified of him in the days when he was instructed to maintain decorum at all costs. But once he was freed to let his sweeter side through he became known as that warm man with the hugs and smiles. He loved children. Ask any number of them about the cat in his pocket.

One congregant mentioned - "When I was joggling my daughters' memory's earlier today about "Which one is Frank?" (my daughters being 9 and 13), I said, "You know, the nice man whoalways greeted you with a "Hello, pretty girls. It sure is good to see you today." "Oh yeah," they chorused, "We know Frank. He is so nice." What better legacy than to be remembered fondly for being nice, by two children, and to carry-on in their memory as the complimenting, friendly man from their youthful days at the synagogue."

Another person wrote, If there is such a thing as "judging one's life," in Frank's case the yardstick would be how many lives he touched and how well he was loved, and there's not a tape measure long enough for Frank! What more is there than that? Some people really should live forever...

Frank had a thing for the women – when he was kissed he would say “Yummy” as if every one were the best he’s ever had. He had trouble accepting the new roles women had in Jewish life, but he was actually rather liberated in his own way – Rose would not have had it any other way.
He was earthy, he was real – he was…well.. frank … his humor reflected that frankness.

The Talmud states, “A person’s character can be judged by the way s/he handles three things drink, money and anger. And some add: by the way he jokes also.” (Eruvin 65b)."

He was not a born jokester – it was an acquired taste. He had his tryouts all those years when he was giving out those bar mitzvah gifts on the bima – always telling the parents to take a deep breath. Then, when I began to end the morning minyan with a philosophical thought for the day, Frank got the bright idea that maybe people preferred a smile for the day. Let’s just say that the smile won – even when that smile caused some of us to cringe – the smile won. Even on Tisha B’Av, he had a smile. Hey, even on Yom Kippur last year – he had a joke – a good one too, which I have now on my iTunes.

I don’t know if Frank would have appreciated that remark. He wasn’t a big fan of technology or change. Considering I was the rabbi brought in to make changes, I got to find that out in several different ways. Right after Ethan’s first birthday, my family joined the TBE discussion group on its first retreat. Frank came along and little did he know what he was in for.

We had services…outdoors. This was the man who was used to standing in the back by the door – and there was no door – we were OUTdoors… so what did he do? While we prayed, he went inside.

And then, maybe 10 years ago, Gail Trell had the wonderful idea that perhaps we should reconfigure the pews upstairs in the chapel – put them at an angle so that the room would be slightly rounded and people would be looking at each other. Frank didn’t like that. After a few weeks, the experiment was abandoned.

A few days later, I walked in and noticed that the pews had been bolted down to the floor.

He fought change tooth and nail, but he was always still able to thrive when taken out of his element.

He got used to outdoor services eventually, and all the other changes that have been implemented here – like being a bit more tolerant of children in the sanctuary – and Frank was, above all, a trooper. When we took him to Israel on our 1994 family tour, there was frank, swimming with the fishes in the red sea and crawling through the flour caves in 100 degree heat. The photo I have of Frank coming out of those caves is an all time classic.

We all know how important this temple was to Frank. But his family came first. And we all know that Joyce and Lew and Eileen were for him such a source of pride and love, just as Rose was during their wonderful marriage. We all know that , and we know how many sacrifices they had to make because their father made so many sacrifices for others. Because he could never say no.

And he loved to teach kids right from wrong – he cared enough to instruct them – that they be independent, just like the way he taught Eileen and Joyce to ice skate on local lakes, to roller skate and to ride bicycles.

He felt that people shouldn't have to ask for help. You should just give it. That is how he lived his life.

Eileen mentioned that when she was a child, she thought all fathers were able to paint, and build and do electrical work and nearly any job around the house. Whatever needed doing was something he could do and would do. He probably attended more shiva minyans and funerals than any other non clergy member because he felt people needed people.

And Eileen and Joyce have both followed him into this life of service. It will go down in the annals that Frank was never TBE president, he was its mayor. But his last vote on the board was the one that would place Eileen in line to be our next president. He discouraged her to the hilt – partly out of a father’s love, and partly because he was just being Frank – contrarian to the end – and partly because the meeting was edging past 9 o clock.

But there is something fitting in her decision to follow in his leadership path and take it one step beyond, as he too reaches for that which is beyond.

And finally, a note about Frank’s list, like Schindler's, is a legacy that will long outlive him. Ever since he initiated the morning minyan along with Rabbi Goldman, forty years ago, he wrote down each day who attended. That first book of names, the book of life, as it is called, was donated to the Jewish historical society. His last book, assisted so wonderfully by Peter Weissman and sometimes Eileen, that book is still a work in progress.

Before minyan each morning, Frank would sound the shofar - with no one present. It might have been his way of reminding himself of the power of one voice, his voice, and of the blessed gift that is each breath. From my office I could hear it, every day, and for me it was a reminder of the unnuanced, piercing commitment that he always showed for Beth El and for Judaism, and our need to hear that call to come to daily prayer, to keep the minyan strong.

May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.

5 comments:

hersh libo said...

I will always remember the friendliness and cordiality Frank showed me whenever i came to a Minyon. He was a gentleman in the true sense of the word.Hersh Libo

Barry Kanarek said...

Michele and I remember how Frank embraced us the first Friday night we wandered onto the Temple grounds for the first outdoor service of the Summer.

Frank was a true "Mensch"!

Barry & Micheke Kanarek

Anonymous said...
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Joshua Hammerman said...

ASSORTED COMMENTS AND ANECDOTES SENT TO RABBI HAMMERMAN BY CONGREGANTS:

Many years ago, when our daughter was in Sunday School, she came home one day and told us that Mr Rosner owned the Temple. She was probably in either the lst, 2nd or 3rd grade and of course she saw Frank there all the time.

We thought it was a cute story that you might want to use.

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Among the memories that trigger the warmth, familarity, affection and comfort of having had a lifelong religious home at Temple Beth El (including my confirmation and wedding, my children's namings and b'nai mitzvot) is Frank Rosner's constant presence, perceived affection and the following few simple words: "please return your siddurs to the back of the sanctuary before you leave."

What a quiet, unassuming and lovely man.

Please convey my most sincere condolences to Eileen, Joyce and Lewis.
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A couple of years ago several members of the Temple were gathered in the lobby during the break between services on Yom Kipper just talking. One member mentioned he had an Aunt living in Fla who was 98 and doing well. Suddenly Frank stood up and asked " Does she eat a lot" We all couldn't stop laughing!

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We lived in NYC and planned to move to Stamford. We looked at houses but we also looked at synagogues.

One Shabbat morning, we came to Beth El. During the service, Frank came over to us and asked us if we would like to open the Ark for the Aleinu. He did not know who we were or why we were there.

It made us feel very welcome, even though we knew no one there. It was one of the factors that led us to join Beth El after we moved to Stamford.

Thanks Frank!
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Joshua, while we are unable to be with all of you tomorrow, I want to add our fond rembrances of Frank that go back to our earliest days at Temple Beth El. He was there in the back of sanctuary watching over everything and keeping it well organized for our two bar mitzvahs and our one bat mitzvah, and of course he was the one who kept us on schedule for our aliyahs for so many years. For those morning minions when I would come for yartzeit for both of my parents, Frank was quick to extract the card and you could always count on him for a joke at the end of the service. The jokes really were ok up through and including last year. Like everyone else we shall miss Frank sorely but remember him dearly.


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Rabbi, Frank is the person who got me engaged in Temple Beth El activities. I was at services one Shabbat morning as a relatively new Beth El congregant, kind of struggling with the service, when Frank tapped me on the shoulder. "Would you like to help out in the kitchen?" he asked. Of course! Thanks to Frank, I met some terrific women who were chatting, and busy chopping and dicing fruits and vegetables in preparation for Shabbat lunch following the service. Because of those women, and Frank, Temple Beth El and Beth El Sisterhood is like family. And, always, on the occasions I attended weekday morning minyan or Shabbat services, Frank always welcomed me. I shall miss him very much.
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Coming to TBE meant a visit with Frank, When I was chairman of the buiding committee, it was Frank who could show me every corner of the building. When we came to morning minyon when women were counted it was Frank who greeted ___ with a kiss and hug and would remember that she was a levi. We remember when Frank was running thin on his Reader Digest jokes, he was very pleased with the large book of Jewish Humor we gave to him.

We loved him, we will miss him and we will always rember what he symbolied as a man who loved his Temple and its members.

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Well, of course, his jokes. But especially climbing the steps on the High Holidays to tell his joke! My daughter remembers he always told the girls how pretty they are. Not being greeted by Frank on Shabbat mornings is unthinkable, right now. If there is such a thing as "judging one's life," in Frank's case the yardstick would be how many lives he touched and how well he was loved, and there's not a tape measure long enough for Frank! What more is there than that? Some people really should live forever...

Very sad.

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Dear Rabbi...One morning at minion I spied a kipah from my daughter's wedding in the basket and started to lunge for it...for some reason we had neglected to keep a few for souveniers of the wedding...Frank saw what I was doing and raised his eyebrow...I felt it was necessary to offer an explanation...after all, how many women steal kipot???...when I told him what I was doing, he laughed, told me to proceed, and walked away...he returned a few minutes later with a smile and over a dozen of the prized kipot and told me to take them...I think he enjoyed being part of my mission!!...Beth-El will not be the same and we will all miss him...

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Of course Frank was always one to tell or listen to a good story. I could always depend on him to be a backup in case someone did not show to blow the Shofar. He will be missed.

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Dear Eileen,

I was very saddened to hear of your father's passing.
To me he was always a key person in the congregation.
In particular, I remember a period of time when I went to morning minion in the upstairs sanctuary. Your father was always there and made me feel very warm and welcome. Since I had no religious training, I was often unsure of the proper protocol. Frank would aways help me in a kind, non-judgmental way. He was also
there for me and my family on the high holy days as a gentle leader.

He will be a key part in my happy memories of Beth El. I wish you and your family all the comfort that a wonderful man like Frank would wish for you.

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Dear Rabbi Hammerman,
We were soooooo very sorry to hear the news about Frank.
He was AMAZING and lived a long life, never failing Temple Beth El. We shall all miss him as he truly was a cornerstone at Beth El.

We would like to add this to your request of comments to share with the family.

Frank Rosner,
A man who could bring a smile to anyone's face.
His love of humor and life was an inspiration to each of us.
He NEVER gave up and always kept on giving of himself and caring deeply about our temple.
We shall think of him often with great fondness and a smile.

Anonymous said...

Yes, dear Frank always had a joke to tell and a smile on his face, but what I noticed most of all was the twinkle in his eye. He just loved to make you laugh. When he came into the office, his face lit up. He always wanted to know what was going on so that he could be part of the activities, so that he could help out, if he could. He never seemed to mind waiting to get his ride home after minyan because he seemed to just enjoy being at TBE. It was his second home. He was also meticulous in the performance of responsibilities he accepted and was engaged in at TBE; as meticulous as he was in the performance of mitzvot. I will miss this very special man.