Former sports writer and current contributor Joseph (or Joe, as he prefers to be called) Rotenberg of Teaneck has attracted a widespread readership with his first compilation of 60 short stories titled “Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment,” published by Gefen Publishing House of New York and Jerusalem. IndieReader, a reviewing agency comprised of independent reviewers sponsored by Huffington Press, included the book as one of the top 24 fiction selections of 2017.
Rotenberg pointed out that literary works are very much like living organisms. “They follow the Piaget model of nine months of gestation followed by nine more months after birth to get on steady feet.” Rotenberg’s first literary compilation is in the second stage currently, that of getting on its feet. In meeting that goal, Rotenberg is very much enjoying the ever-growing opportunities he has been afforded to talk about his book on radio stations across the nation. Most of his interviews are aired on morning talk shows in cities including Miami, Pittsburg, Cleveland, Omaha, Lexington, Chicago and Minneapolis. He particularly enjoyed an in-studio interview in Toms River, feeling much like a “Johnny Carson guest waiting to go on stage.” He hopes as well to be invited to speak at synagogues, JCCs and book clubs.
Born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Rotenberg and wife Barbara moved to Teaneck in 1974. They raised their five children in Teaneck, sending them to Moriah and Frisch. Barbara has served as a highly valued staff member at Moriah for the past 25 years. Of their three sons and two daughters, four are lawyers, the other a special educator. Their 10 grandchildren range in age from 6 months to 11 years and afford the Rotenbergs great joy.
Rotenberg began his professional career as a tax lawyer but currently is employed by a financial services firm in Paramus. He shared that writing has been an underlying passion of his from an early age. He recalls writing his first stories with pencil on sheets of construction paper. Most of the stories composed at the tender age of 8 were Westerns in which he depicted elaborate shoot-outs in storyboard form, a style typical of famed director Alfred Hitchcock, one of his earliest inspirations.
His career with The Jewish Link began with a series of reviews of local TBO All-Star baseball games. Earlier, in 1991, Rotenberg had initiated the first floor hockey team at Frisch Yeshiva High School; his three sons later starred for the team, with his son Yoni becoming one of the Yeshiva League’s best goalies of all time. In 2014, Rotenberg began submitting short stories to the paper, which to date has published more than 30. These initial stories and essays plus an additional 30 make up “Timeless Travels.”
Rotenberg’s stories of irony, humor and pathos stem from the author’s observations. Many of the characters in his stories carry the initials JR, which hint at their autobiographical origins. Whether writing about people we all know from Teaneck, characters in a Jerusalem hotel, simple people from bygone European communities and even historical figures, they are all viewed through Rotenberg’s lens.
Rotenberg has divided his book into six distinct sections dealing with different times and climes. Part I, for example, is titled “The Promised Land” and presents inspirational stories from past and present Israel. The story titled “Jerusalem Tale: A Modern Mystical Story” recounts one of the stories of near-miraculous coincidence that many of us have experienced on our visits to the Holy Land. A JR character relates how he davened from a random siddur he picked up on a Friday night at the beit midrash of Heichal Shlomo. The siddur contained a page of “hakdasha” (dedication) to a fallen soldier who perished while heroically defending his troops during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Through an eerie “only in Israel” sequel, at a subsequent visit to Latrun, the account of this very same heroic soldier appeared on the screen at a yet-to-be opened online archive of fallen soldiers at the museum.
In a message to his readership, Rotenberg wrote, “Hopefully this format has helped me to portray accurately the modern American Jew who today is as much at home in the halls of the Ivy League, the corridors of power in Washington, the corporate boardroom and the theater as he is in the beit midrash and shul. Aside from entertaining and informing the reader, it is hoped that “Timeless Travels” will contribute to the general public’s deeper understanding of the American-Jewish experience.”
Timeless Travels is available at Jewish bookstores as well as at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
By Pearl Markovitz