This week, West Newsmagazine talks with Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, who is the first woman to be named senior rabbi at United Hebrew Congregation in Chesterfield. Before joining United Hebrew in 2004, Rabbi Rosenberg worked as the regional director of admissions and recruitment for Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Ohio. She is passionate about Jewish youth programming and has served on various boards including the Central Agency for Jewish Education, Nishmah – The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project and the St. Louis Hillel Foundation. Rabbi Rosenberg is married to H. Lee Rosenberg, and they have three children.What are some small things that make your day better?
Something that’s always nice is when I walk into the synagogue building and am greeted with a big hug from one of our preschoolers. I get a big smile, and they’re so excited to see me. It also makes my day better when I wake up in the morning and see my kids are in a good mood. Certainly, I’d say, especially for St. Louis, it helps when I wake up and the sun is out … Also, when I can wake up in the morning and remember to think about all things for which I’m thankful. That will often set me in an appropriate mood, or at least remind me of why I’m getting up in the morning and just living.
What are some of the events in your life that have made you who you are?
I would certainly say that, as a kid or maybe even more so as a preteen or teenager, the experiences that I had at sleep-away camp and youth groups. I’d say those experiences I had coming into contact, especially with, looking back, what I would refer to as “awesomely cool” adults who took the time to want to hear from us teens and actually listen to us. That definitely shaped who I am and … what I’ve chosen my profession to be. I would say that I was profoundly touched by that, and so it’s something I wanted to continue to do myself. I can probably also say the first time, for all of my kids but definitely for my oldest, the first time I heard them speak. I’ll say this as a religious leader. Every night, we would put her to bed [and] we would do bedtime blessings and prayers. So, the first time she actually said them, she was just randomly in her bed with us [and] we were saying it, and then she started doing it along with us. It was a moment of, “Oh my gosh, she gets it.” She had heard it and was repeating it back. It was just a moment, as a parent, when you’re like, “Wow, they’re getting it.” I still remember that to this day as just an eye-opening moment.
If you could have an all expenses paid trip to see any famous monument, what would you choose and why?
I think I’d want to go see Mount Rushmore. It’s a place where I’ve never been, or in that part of the country. Also, the fact that someone actually sat and carved faces into a mountain for me is like, “Wow!” I’d want to think about what inspired him to want to carve presidents’ faces into the side of a mountain, but also just to stand there, see it and go there. From what I understand, it’s just a beautiful area of the country anyway. There’s so much you could see.
What songs immediately take you to your happy place?
I don’t know if I have a song that takes me to my happy place, but it’s funny because I do have songs for when I’m in an angry mood. I can easily tell you that is Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” album. I do have a song I go to in moments where I just need to remember what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It’s not going to be a song that people know. It’s a version of Psalm 23 and it’s done by a Jewish artist, Dan Nichols. When I get into those moments and I need to be reminded, it’s such a beautiful song. The words of it remind you, “OK, I can do this. This is why I’m here.”
What’s some insider knowledge that only people in your line of work have?
I would say one of the things – and I don’t know if it’s insider knowledge, but … I think we [rabbis, ministers, imams] sometimes are able to see the similarities between us more easily and recognize those things that really bring us together, as opposed to other things. Yes, there are definitely theological differences in our faiths, and yes, those theological differences can, and unfortunately, do divide us. But I think when we truly understand a little more of what it’s about, understand the history and move past just the basic understandings, we can sort of appreciate and get a better understanding of those things that actually are similar or the common grounds between us that bring us together. We may not agree and believe the same things, but [we can say] “here are the things where we can agree and do believe the same things. Let’s start from there, as opposed to starting from those places that divide us.” I think in the world we’re living in, we so desperately need to think from that place instead of from our divisions. I think it also gives us an opportunity to understand someone else, and to take a moment and say, “Let me understand why you believe this way or why you think this way.” Even on social issues, if I understand that it’s your faith that’s driving you, it’s my hope to understand that we’re in a different place [and] that you understand how my faith drives my understanding as well. Even though my goal is not to get you to believe or think the same way, it’s a point of common ground of understanding.