Rabbi Kenneth D. Roseman leaves a legacy of love and learning
By Deb Silverthorn
Rabbi Kenneth David Roseman, the beloved rabbi emeritus of Temple Shalom, died in Corpus Christi April 26 after battling COVID-19 for nearly a month. He is remembered by his family and the three congregations he served as a giant of heart, a devoted patriarch, a compassionate rabbi and an intellectually curious scholar who never stopped learning.
Rabbi Roseman, who would have turned 81 on May 10, is survived by his wife Phyllis and his children with his first wife, Helen, of blessed memory: Allison (Ken) Kendrick; son Michael (Amy); and grandchildren Alexandra and William Kendrick and Henry and Robert Roseman. He is also survived by the daughters gained through the union with Phyllis: Julie (Michael) Bronstine and Jill (Murray) Davis; and grandchildren Max, Samantha and Taylor Bronstine and Danny, Ethan, Grant and Jake Davis. He is also survived by his sister Janet (Jeff) Bayless and many nieces and nephews.
Rabbi Roseman believed there were many pathways to God, and he believed it was his responsibility to strive toward godliness wherever he was, said family members, colleagues and congregants.
“Our dad was always helping others and always there for others, but it was important to him that he bettered himself too,” said daughter Allison Kendrick. “Every year, he’d dedicate himself to a goal: recording a video, reading or writing something and even, learning to play the French horn, a longtime dream. Most of those he accomplished, the horn — not so much!”
Michael Roseman reflected that his father took his calling seriously and responded with caring in any situation. The job always went beyond what was visible to the congregation. “In Wisconsin, he built a ramp for a congregant who had cerebral palsy and who couldn’t get into the temple. Another time, he built a casket for a newborn because the family was unable to find a kosher pine box that size.”
Grandson Henry Roseman, son of Michael and Amy, said that his generation was “continuously inspired by his kindness, compassion and the connection to humanity that we each have stories and stories to illustrate.” Even though all the grandchildren had tutors for their b’nai mitzvah, it was Bapa Ken they turned to for insights into their studies. They will always remember fishing trips and holidays, laughter and learning, he said.
“I remember going to a Dallas library and seeing his books on the shelves, and then my brother found them at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Who gets to say that? We do!” said the younger Roseman. “We remember fishing and we’ve all had serious conversations about our careers and life. He was always engaged, in the fun and the intellectual.”
Early life and career
Born in Washington, D.C. to Edith and Alvin, the young Ken and Janet grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and Athens, Greece, as their father pursued a career in foreign service.
The family returned to Washington, D.C. when Roseman was a high school freshman. He graduated from Oberlin College. While in college, he was mentored by the late Rabbi Balfour Brickner, a leading Reform rabbi, which led to his choice of a rabbinic career. He received his ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 1966. He was later awarded a Ph.D. in American Jewish history from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.
He served as dean at HUC-JIR for eight years. In 1974, he led the Institute for Jewish Life in New York.
In 1976, Rabbi Roseman’s 40-plus years on the bimah began at Temple Beth El in Madison, Wisconsin.
In 1985, the family relocated to Temple Shalom in Dallas. “We went to Madison to meet Rabbi Roseman and could tell he was beloved there,” said Paddy Epstein, a member of Temple Shalom’s 1985 search committee and past president who remained close to Rabbi Roseman after he left. “He was always a part of who we were, always involved, never ordering how and what to do. If there was a spaghetti dinner, he was in there cooking. When there was a holiday, he was all in. When the synagogue had issues, he was part of the solution and it was always about ‘us.’ ”
In 2002, Rabbi Roseman retired from Temple Shalom as rabbi emeritus, and took the pulpit of Temple Beth El in Corpus Christi with the intention of staying just one year. Instead, he helped forge the union of Temple Beth El with B’nai Israel Synagogue, to form Congregation Beth Israel. He stayed there as rabbi until 2014 and then served as emeritus rabbi until his death.
In his community roles, Rabbi Roseman served as co-chairman of the National Joint Commission on Jewish Education and chairman of the Committee on Family and Children’s Liturgy. While in Dallas, Rabbi Roseman taught Jewish history at Southern Methodist University, and served as an officer of the Attending Clergy Association of Presbyterian Hospital and chaired the Rabbinical Association of Greater Dallas. He also served in many philanthropic roles in Corpus Christi and was still enrolled as a student at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, where he’d taught for many years. Rabbi Roseman served as a camp counselor and later faculty at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute.
In addition to his rabbinic writings of sermons, curricula and programs, Rabbi Roseman wrote “Of Tribes and Tribulations” and the “Do-It-Yourself Jewish Adventure” series for young adults. He co-authored “Lone Stars of David: The Jews of Texas” with Hollace Ava Weiner of Fort Worth. He also co-produced with Maya Hiatt a YouTube series of 25 episodes called “We Saw the Lifted Lamp,” a history of American Jews.
A love of humor
In retirement, he and Phyllis loved to travel, and his most recent trip was a three-week journey to South America with his wife and nine friends.
“There wasn’t a day we spent together where I didn’t learn something and that I didn’t laugh,” said Phyllis.
His family recalled, too, his sense of humor and love of puns and one-liners. His children remember opening the door for Elijah during a Passover seder, only to find a cardboard cutout of the monk Brother Dominic, made famous in a ’77 Super Bowl ad and revived in 2017. And who can forget the Purim spiel roles he had over the years: Mr. P. a la Mr. T in the ’80s, Megillah Gorilla and Mac and Tonka Truck.
“He was always a good sport, whether it was he and Phyllis singing ‘Rockin’ Rabbi’ or God in our play on ‘Grease,’ called ‘Shmaltz,’” said Cantor Don Croll of Dallas, who shared Purim spiel stages with Rabbi Roseman for years. “He was a mensch and when he spoke, you listened. You wanted to … We were a team from the start.”
A trusted mentor
Other clergy and colleagues who served with Rabbi Roseman recall his guidance as a highlight of their careers.
Cantor Lisa Levine, a musical artist and now the religious leader of Seaside Jewish Community in Rehoboth, Delaware, fondly remembers working at Temple Shalom with Rabbi Roseman.
It was on a plane, shortly after Helen Roseman was diagnosed with cancer, that she wrote the song “Ruach Elohim.”
“Ruach Elohim, may God’s spirit be with you.
“Ruach Elohim, keep you safe from harm
“May the love of God be your shelter from every storm.”
“Rabbi Roseman mentored me, he was the first rabbi I worked alongside,” says Levine, also known as Reb Lisa. “We are all lost today, but we all have all that he gave us.”
Joy Addison, Rabbi Roseman’s assistant at Temple Shalom, treasures the bird feeder her former boss gave her one year. “He was brilliant and he was so humble,” she said. “And he was always there for the kids. He told teens to ‘call me at any hour if you need me, there is no too late.’ With the Confirmation kids, he’d role up a $20 bill to dissuade them from smoking. ‘It’s like burning money,’ he’d tell them.”
Rabbi Andrew Paley of Temple Shalom described Rabbi Roseman as “a beloved and revered guide, pastor and friend. Anytime he has returned to Dallas, it has been a gift and he has always had a place of honor.”
Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, who worked with Rabbi Roseman at Temple Shalom for two years, remembers “a man of pure kindness. He laughed deeply and he loved building long-term friendships and the years we shared were filled with allowing me the time to observe a man steeped in the rabbinic role.”
A full retirement
Greg Marks, president of Congregation Beth Israel, the Corpus Christi congregation that was merged from two existing temples, said that Rabbi Roseman continued in an active emeritus role. “His wisdom, leadership and stature in our community are why we were able to come together 15 years ago, and why the Jewish community here is able to thrive. He is our heart and soul.”
As rabbi emeritus, the title bestowed to him by both Temple Shalom and Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi Roseman remained close to congregants, and continued to advise and counsel rabbis and to teach. Torah study classes he began at all three congregations are continuing today with weekly Zoom sessions, decades after they began around synagogue tables.
“Indeed, Rabbi Roseman served as a most active emeritus, not just in our congregation but throughout the community. His intellect and warm personality were instrumental in the merging of our congregations and his involvement in our simchas and life cycles has always remained treasured,” said Rabbi Ilan Emanuel of Congregation Beth Israel.
Life and legacy
Dallas resident Faith Retsky’s experience with Rabbi Roseman echoes the love and memories of so many others. She well remembers her first rabbi after moving to Dallas. Rabbi Roseman married Faith and her husband, Jerry, in 1988 and was then there for the couple through a miscarriage, a preemie birth, the death of their daughter and so much more. “His words and actions stay with us forever. Such a kind, caring man. Ethics of our Fathers 4:1 teaches us ‘Who is honored? He that honors mankind,’” she said. “I pray his strong roots will forever be an eternal blessing.”
Even while battling illness, Rabbi Roseman appreciated and loved the life he had, said his wife. “Jimmy Stewart is famous for his ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ ” Her husband often spoke about how that is what he lived and how what mattered most was how they cherished “the best four children, with the best four spouses and the best 11 grandchildren a couple could hope to have.”
She says: “No regrets. Just joy of what has been. Many have said he left this world a better place, and he did.”
In Rabbi Roseman’s memory
• The Dallas community is observing shiva virtually at 7 p.m., Wednesday April 29 with Temple Shalom (https://zoom.us/j/9429672795
or by phone 1-346-248-7799 – 9429672795#) and at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 30 with Temple Emanu-El at zoom.us/j/7363885986 or by phone at 1-346-248-7799 -7363885986#. A private burial in Dallas is planned with a public memorial in Corpus Christi to be arranged at a later date.
• Anyone wanting to share photos, memories or condolences is invited to visit memories.net and search for Ken Roseman.
• Donations in Rabbi Roseman’s memory can be made to the Spohn Foundation in Corpus Christi, the Helen Hoodin Roseman Early Childhood Education Endowment fund of Temple Shalom, the Rabbi Roseman Discretionary Fund of Temple Shalom or the charity of your choice.-30-