After Max Rosenbach died on March 19 at the age of 97, he was remembered by friends and relatives as a man who made tremendous contributions to the Jewish community.
“Dad was a fervent Zionist,” said his son, Rabbi Simon Rosenbach, in the eulogy he delivered four days later at Menorah Chapels at Millburn.
Simon Rosenbach, the religious leader at Ahavas Sholom in Newark, noted that his father “spearheaded” UJA and State of Israel Bonds campaigns in Plainfield in the 1950s and ’60s. In addition, the elder Rosenbach was on the board of the city’s Jewish community center and president of the independent after-school Plainfield Hebrew Institute.
He also played a major role in the founding and operation of The Jewish Horizon, a weekly newspaper that covered the Jewish community in central New Jersey from August 1981 to June 1997, when MetroWest Jewish News acquired it, resulting in a new name for both papers: New Jersey Jewish News (see separate story).
Max Rosenbach was born in 1920 and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side before the family moved to Plainfield in 1953, then later to North Plainfield and Watchung. He was a resident of Boca Raton, Fla., at the time of his death.
He earned a master’s degree in social work at Columbia University, which his son called “a great achievement for a guy who had flunked out of lowly Brooklyn College in his freshman year for playing too much pinball.”
“I think he studied social work so he could give back to the community,” said Simon.
Max spent two or three years as a social worker before becoming a salesman for “the quintessentially WASPy” New England Mutual Life Insurance Company.
“He was a really small Jew in a really big pond of WASPs,” said Simon — that is, until Max was appointed the company’s executive vice president in 1975. The job required him to commute from New Jersey to Boston, a routine that lasted only six months. After the rabbi’s mother, Rhoda, objected to her husband’s work/travel situation, Max Rosenbach quit his position and came home.
“He was a no-nonsense guy,” said the rabbi. “Not necessarily strict, but he was a Depression-era baby, and until he was well situated financially he really didn’t have time for luxuries and frivolities. Work, the Jewish community, and family were the things on his radar.”
Both Max and his wife were raised in strictly kosher Orthodox households with two sets of dishes and silverware. “But by the time I remember, they were comingled,” Simon said.
It was in Union County that both of his parents became heavily involved in Jewish affairs. Rhoda, Simon said, was “a real presence” in the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, which merged with the MetroWest federation in 2012. She chaired the Central federation’s Women’s Division and was a life member of Hadassah.
Max attended Seton Hall Law School at nights between 1959 and 1964 “so he could use it as an adjunct to his life insurance business after returning to work in New Jersey,” said his son. “Four years of nights, every night after work; my mother was a saint.”
“My father was very interested in Jewish education, but there were limits. When I told him I had been accepted to rabbinical school, he said, ‘The rabbinate is no place for a nice Jewish boy.’”
Despite his serious nature, Max “was not closed to the idea of fun,” said Simon. He recalled spending summers at a bungalow colony near Saylorsburg in the Poconos, and going on family vacations and outings to Yankees games. Sometimes the elder Rosenbach mixed business with pleasure.
“There were a lot of after-dinner parties at our house, and he did a lot of entertaining of agents and clients,” said Simon.
Rosenbach was predeceased by his first wife Rhoda. In addition to Simon, Rosenbach is survived by two other sons, Philip and David; daughter Marsha; wife Sylvia Fendel; 11
grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
He was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge.