By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD – Rabbi James Rosen and his wife Nancy were honored earlier this month at “A Chai Anniversary Tribute” at Beth El Temple in West Hartford.
More than 900 guests – including Beth El congregants, community leaders and well-wishers from throughout greater Hartford, attended the event, chaired by Judith Rosenthal, feting the Rosens on their 18 years at Beth El. The couple arrived in West Hartford with their three children Dani, Ariella and Adina, in 1992, from Baltimore, Md., where Jim Rosen served for nine years as associate rabbi at Congregation Chizuk Amuno.
“The decision 18 years ago to bring Jim and Nancy Rosen to West Hartford was spectacular,” noted Beth El President Gary Starr. “Their grace, their lives reflect the wisdom of that decision and this evening’s tribute is evidence of our good fortune.”
The accolades were numerous in both speeches and in a tribute book that honored the couple.
“It is an answer to a dream as well as a great honor and privilege to be on your teaching team as your co-teacher,” wrote Helen Schwartz, who teaches with Nancy Rosen at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford. “Thank you for your shining influence and for brightening up our classrooms, school and the world in general.”
In a tribute to his rabbi, former student Brian Lindenberg wrote: “Rabbi Rosen’s ability to always use the right words at the right moment transcends the generations of congregants who attend Beth El Temple services. He has a way of speaking to everyone but talking to the individual’s soul.”
The Rosens’ sensitivity to the needs of others was echoed by Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, rabbi emeritus of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore where Rabbi Rosen previously served, and by Kate Careb, vice president of advancement and Chris Renstrom, vice president of corporate development and special events for Special Olympics Connecticut, who presented the couple with the Special Olympics Connecticut Presidents Award.
“Their contributions exemplify the best of the human spirit,” noted Kate. Dani, the Rosen’s eldest child, is a Special Olympics athlete.
Other speakers at the gala evening included actor Charles Grodin, who spoke of his humanitarian work with prisoners and his mentoring of a teenager with autism. He lauded the Rosens for the work they have done for the community for so many years.
Rabbis Ilana Garber, current associate rabbi at Beth El and Rabbi Jennifer Tobinstein, former associate rabbi at Beth El, gave a humorous tribute in which they spoke of all they had learned from Rabbi Rosen over the years.
“As a mentor and a friend, he is very supportive of our personal lives, our professional growth, and our spiritual development,” the women noted. “Rabbi Rosen is someone we are so very proud to call our rabbi.”
The major honor was the presentation to the Rosens of the Stanley M. Kessler Award. Rabbi Kessler, who served as Beth El’s chief religious leader for nearly four decades, noted that “In all the years in my rabbinate I have rarely known a colleague as genuinely empathetic and caring of congregants – or anyone – as Rabbi James Rosen. Of Nancy he said, “Her students at Solomon Schechter Day School have been enriched Jewishly and intellectually by her masterful teaching ability.”
Touched by the outpouring of admiration and affection, Jim Rosen told those gathered, “We are overwhelmed at the kindness and graciousness that so many showed at Thursday’s program. It is impossible to adequately express our gratitude. Beth El has always been a special place of Jewish living and it is an honor to help lead this sacred community.”
Perhaps one of the evening’s more meaningful tributes came in the form of an action rather than words. Former Beth El congregant Haley Faust, who relocated to Sante Fe, N.M. from West Hartford several years ago with his wife Ruth Ann, made the trip back east for the sole purpose of joining in the Rosen tribute. Ruth Ann, who helped prepare Dani Rosen for his bar mitzvah several years back, was unable to make the trip but, said Haley, was with him in spirit. His reason for being in the room when Jim and Nancy Rosen were feted was simple.
“The Rosens have been good friends and a wonderful part of our family since we joined Beth El in 1993. Jim bar mitzvahed our younger son and confirmed and married our older one. He eulogized and buried my mother. Nancy and Jim gave Ruth Anne meaningful and heart-filled work preparing Dani for his bar mitzvah and encouraging her to teach other challenged children. During those four years of preparation we spent many hours together. It was an honor to return to West Hartford to attend the Tribute ceremony to good friends. How could I miss it?”