Jerry Rosenkranz: A Life

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My father’s middle brother Jerry passed away early the morning of November 14, 2023 at the age of 88. Alan, my father’s youngest brother passed away some 10 years ago. Another brother, Lenny, and a sister, Sis, passed away many years prior to that. My dad still has one brother, Pat, left who is 88. My dad has been the oldest living Rosenkran(t)z for a number of years.

To me and many others, Jerry was a very special person. Hopefully we all have special people in our lives, those who we’ve been able to develop deeper, more understanding connections and relationships with.  For me, Jerry will forever be a mentor and  elder, a person who was a very bright light in the world.  Full of sage advice and being very open to engaging on any topic, he was a person who truly is part of “my tribe.”

This light was confirmed as I read how others described their experiences with Jerry through emails, and also when sharing recollections and stories at his funeral in New York on November 17. He was a very caring, loving—even if he didn’t tell you directly that he loved you—person. It was easy to feel this not only in my heart but throughout my entire body. Both Jerry and his wife Sheila accepted me and my somewhat different perspectives on life.

One of the many things that I will continue to love about Jerry is his heart for others. Although he came from humble beginnings, Jerry never portrayed himself as being above others and always thought about how the world might be made better for all. Building his business with his partner and “brother” Joe and making it in life financially never translated into forgetting those less fortunate. This was one of the qualities that attracted me to wanting to know him more deeply. On some level it was about him being personally comfortable in his life, but on a much larger level it was more about others.

I was able to get to know more about Jerry through reading his memoir: Jerry Rosenkranz: A Life and then conducting seven hours of interviews asking questions that had come up while reading. The interviews took place during COVID between September 2020 and May 2021. I’m so glad that I did these as I will always be able to speak to and hear him wherever I might be.

Jerry was very much an intellectual, interested in the world, what makes it tick, especially politics. His passion for learning as much as possible about the Spanish Civil War was admirable. Jerry was always reading, learning, trying to understand more. I hardly ever saw him without a book and I try to mirror this in my reading about a myriad of topics. Jerry also loved movies, many of which he mentions in his memoir. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing many movies with him.

As Jerry aged, I felt him become softer, open to longer conversations, always interested in what I and others were doing. He and Sheila’s support for me working in the non-profit world is felt on a daily basis, as they both wanted to hear about what I was doing, always offering supportive words. I haven’t found many people who are really truly interested in hearing about others. I feel that Jerry and Sheila personify this.

In Jerry’s book he wrote the following about his dad:

Louis is the one who changed as he aged, and for the better. He made an effort to connect with each of his many grandchildren, establishing bonds that went far beyond the perfunctory; these were real relationships. Obviously, there was substance to him, and as a result, he became admired and loved and to this day remembered with fondness, somehow even by some who never met, but simply heard about him.

His stories contributed greatly to his appeal. It was obvious that he took enormous pleasure in the telling. I really appreciated and enjoyed these stories, even if I had heard so many of them before. What made these tales so attractive? I think that whether he was recounting growing up in his small Shetel (town) of Sniatyn, or discussing a current newspaper article, you soon realized that he was conflating the subject at hand with “the life of Louis Rosenkrantz.” The combination worked. What emerged was so much more: a richer, embroidered and more authentic story then existed before.

I think that some of this could also describe Jerry in the bonds that he had, not only with Sheila, his children, his grandchildren, and his business partner Joe, but also with many others, including me. They were real relationships. On the first night (November 18) of sitting shiva there were so many people attending who admired and loved Jerry. My cousin Wendy’s home was overflowing. The overwhelming thought that occurred to me was that Jerry will always be remembered with fondness by all who knew him and also by those who will be told stories about him even after his passing. Jerry was a very authentic human being.

My family lived in California while Jerry and Sheila, and their children Mark, Wendy, and Andrew lived in New York. As I kid, I saw them on occasion, mostly at family functions, usually joyful, but we didn’t get together that often and I was pretty young. After graduating 9th grade, I was still very much a kid, but I was able to spend a summer in New York with them. I have wonderful memories but they are more about being a kid rather than anything else.

Growing up I thought Jerry was a very scary man. He was this tough person from the other side of the US, a New Yorker whom I knew little about. But as the years went by and I matured I felt that he was much more approachable. Part of this also had to do with having a relationship with Jerry independent of my parents. 

Jerry, my dad Norm, Mark, and my son Daniel and I all share a love of professional sports. With Jerry, I attended a Big East tournament game at Madison Square Garden in 2011 when the UCONN Huskies with Kemba Walker “ran the table,” winning 11 straight games in post-season play. I was able to meet Craig Sager and took lots of close-up photos of the players; but also, one my favorite photos with Jerry. I don’t remember the full conversations but it was great to share this basketball passion with him. I also attended a NY Knicks-Orlando Magic game at Madison Square Garden where we sat about 10 rows up from the floor. It was memorable, just sitting next to him, watching a professional basketball game and talking sports and whatever else we discussed.

I felt as if I could discuss anything with Jerry and although he gave me his opinions, I never felt as if I was being criticized. Although Jerry was my father’s peer, he was more of, as I wrote earlier, a sage or friend with much more life experience than me.

Especially over this past year, as I could tell when talking with Jerry, he was declining in health. It was difficult for me as I always knew this really sharp, opinionated man. But this also led to his softening as I think that he realized that he would be spending more time in his home. Over the years, many people called and spoke with Jerry on a regular basis. This can be definitely attributed to his willingness to listen but most of all his caring about others. As one person shared upon learning of Jerry’s passing, “when talking with Jerry you felt as if you were the only person in the room.”

I last spoke with Jerry on Thursday November 9th, prior to his Friday operation to remove his bladder where doctors had found cancer. Removing the bladder was one of the options presented to deal with it. We talked about the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front, which I had recently seen. I told Jerry that when he came out of his operation and had recovered, I wanted to talk about the more recent versions.

There are people in our lives whom we really feel connected to and others who are just passing through. Maybe this has to do with connecting with souls in other lifetimes, maybe it’s happenstance, or possibly just taking the time to listen to one another and build a relationship. I don’t really know.

For me, Jerry was one of those people where there was a deeper connection, not instantly, but built over time. I feel as if we had a lot more to discuss on the earth. Unfortunately, it will have to wait but I’m sure that we will pick up with those other versions of All Quiet on the Western Front.

I’m already missing Jerry, knowing that he won’t respond when I talk. But I do take some solace in having known Jerry as well as I did, and feeling his love, but more my love for him and what he meant to me really as a friend.

In his memoir, one of the major themes was about his mother Miriam, who my cousins, Michelle, Mark, and I are named after. Jerry was seven when she died, leaving him, my dad Norm who was 14 at the time, and Alan who was only two months. Jerry said he didn’t have many memories of her, having been very angry when she died.

Towards the end of his memoir, Jerry talks about a fantasy of having Louie, Bella (stepmom), and Miriam come back for a day. He talks about how he would spend his time with his mom, asking lots of questions but mostly hugging. We all have varying beliefs about what happens when a body dies. Maybe Jerry is now with his mom, hugging, telling her lots about his life and learning more about hers.

The final question that I asked Jerry in the interviews that I conducted with him was: “How do you want to be remembered?” which is something he also wrote about in his book, writing about a “world without Jerry”.  When I asked him this question in the interview he said, “A person who cared about the family, who would help the family and friends; remembered as somebody you might like, you might want to be friendly with, who you knew you could depend on in given situations, cared for his wife, his children, cared for the world, cared for America, (and) made sure it survived. I don’t want to be remembered as a fast runner…..people would be appreciative of knowing me. A person who cared and tried to do his darndest to help his family and friends and his country.”

In his book, Jerry talked a lot about wanting to be a mensch (Yiddish for a person of integrity and honor). I would say that he succeeded, that he will always be remembered by those who knew him with fondness and a great deal of love.


Position: Lover of Life-Change Agent