Shabbat Shalom: Be Kind
By: Renée Rockford
President & CEO
Chances are, you own a piece of this man’s artistic Judaica.
He dedicated his nearly 50-year artistic career to creating Jewish ritual objects – instantly recognizable by the use of colorful fused glass and welded sculpture — from candlesticks to tzedakah boxes and from mezuzot to ritual wedding glasses.
My family knew Gary Rosenthal not only through his art, but through his heart. He personified kindness and generosity. He donated the money he made from his artwork to help Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005 and those affected by the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. He hired autistic people and former Soviet refuseniks to work in his studio. He helped young people, including all three of my children, create Hiddur Mitzvah projects.
Participants in the projects created mosaics of tumbled glass pieces on precut glass templates. Those mosaics were sent back to Rosenthal’s studio where they were fired in a kiln and incorporated into a part of a finished piece of Judaica. One child made candlesticks for a reemerging Jewish community in Ukraine, one created candlesticks to be given to Ethiopian Olim moving to Israel, and one created hanukiah for Jews in Cuba. As part of the last two projects, our family was able to hand deliver the objects to recipients. While my children learned from Gary the concept of Tikkun Olam, they learned from his life the concepts of kindness, righteousness, and humility.
According to Rosenthal’s son Rueben, “These were simply ways of doing the right thing, one of the main principles of his life.”
As reported in Washington Jewish Week, Ruben said at his father’s funeral, “He taught me the most important lesson one can learn in life — in fact, the cornerstone to a life well lived — and he did it in two words only totaling six letters: Be kind.” In fact, even after Rosenthal was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was shipping pieces of Judaica to JEWISHcolorado to be distributed to those who lost everything in the Marshall Fire near Boulder.
Again, as reported in Washington Jewish Week, Rosenthal’s final art project was what his son called a “reverently irreverent Judaic innovation” — a mezuzah affixed to Rosenthal’s coffin:
“The artist had come up with unconventional places to attach a mezuzah before. He had once placed a mezuzah next to the door of an airplane for a charity Jewish skydiving event. There was no rule about putting one on an airplane, Reuben said at the funeral. “And if you’re going to jump out of an airplane to help the needy, yes, you need to have all the divine support you can get.” The subject of the mezuzah came up again a week before Rosenthal died.“ Can you even put a mezuzah on a coffin?” Reuben recalled asking his father. “I doubt there’s any rule expressly forbidding it,” Rosenthal responded. Reuben tried again. “Aren’t Jewish coffins supposed to be unadorned?” “This is not an adornment. It’s a mitzvah,” his father said. “That’s what I want. I want a mezuzah on my coffin.” He asked his son to make it.”
In this week’s parsha, Shoftim, man is compared to a tree. We are taught not to settle for just our own growth, but that we must endeavor to have a positive influence on those around us, children, family, friends, and our community, so that we can all learn and grow. May Gary Rosenthal’s memory be for a blessing, and may you each have a Shabbat Shalom.