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Rosengarten and Prensky; Obama or Hillary

March 22, 2008

It was an unlikely meeting of the minds

At the time I was standing in front of my hotel in Antwerp looking at a dramatic window display of chocolate. Before me, riveting my attention, was a chocolate Easter egg 8-9″ in length, itself filled with more luscious looking little goodies. And it could be mine to bring home to a household of chocolaholics for a mere $90. And yes I was as impressed with the price as I was with the artistry – it was genuinely a culinary masterpiece – but couldn’t justify the purchase (at $90 with the dollar dropping every minute it wasn’t a hard decision).

So….I did the next best thing. I took out my trusty little digital camera and decided to immortalize the thing in a jpg file, including if it could be done, the hardly visible price tag. Working as best I could to position myself for the shot, my attention was distracted by a man passing by, mumbling something, apparently at me, under his breathe in Flemish.

Enter Rosengarten. (pictured above)

He was a little man, short, dressed in a dark suit, a dark hat to round out his outfit. He wasn’t so much walking as shuffling along and it was clear that the act of walking was not easily accomplished for him, but that he persisted all the same. He was elderly, in his mid 80s, maybe older than that I thought.

I decided to engage him, and not knowing Flemish I simply turned to him and asked in English `Are you talking to me?’

He understood me perfectly, spoke good English as do many people in Belgium (and the Netherlands) and an exchange followed. It seemed that Rosengarten distrusted my motives for photographing the over-priced, but stunning Easter egg. He was convinced that I was not just trying to photograph the egg, but to steal the patent so that I too could make a financial killing on overpriced Belgium chocolate. I insisted this was not the case, that mine was an existence rich in real life experience, little of which had been, is, or will be marketable, that I didn’t care because money was both the blessing and curse of all humanity and that I wasn’t an agent for a competing Belgium chocolate company nor had I any interest whatsoever in either starting my own chocolate company or selling my photo for a handsome profit to Godiva (you know that nude lady who used to ride around town on a white horse who somehow got into the chocolate business).

`Oh’, he said, as my answer had adequately explained the situation.

I had this feeling about Rosengarten, this before I knew his name, that he was Jewish. It wasn’t so much a `feeling’ as an impression. It was Saturday morning around 9 am. The evening before in the neighborhood of the hotel (near the city park) – before it got dark of course – a number of orthodox Jews with locks and broad black hats were riding around on bicycles in the diamond district nearby. And I figured there must be an orthodox synagogue somewhere in the neighborhood.

And so I asked Rosengarten where he was going and if I could walk with him a couple of blocks. Yes, he was going to the synagogue and yes, I could, if I wanted, accompany him, as if it were something of a great honor he was bestowing on me. (For an article on the Jews of Antwerp click here)

After a brief silence of about two minutes, he began to talk. We covered a number of subjects in our 8 minute relationship, human greed the first among them. Rosengarten was sickened by the financial crisis unfolding before the eyes of the world and I do think he got immediately to the heart of the problem. He understood that the sub-prime crisis was triggered in part by the desire to up profits as those low interest payments became high interest. The proverbial `they’ are never satisfied, he said, their greed insatiable?

Both agreed that insatiable greed was the underlying cause of the financial meltdown in the USA, I had to hear how he’d been to the USA many times, but not to Colorado, and why was I living there, what is in Colorado anyway? and how his son had gone to Harvard and was now with some big financial firm and not a lowly teacher like me. To which I responded `so…is his firm going under?’…`No not yet…you can’t help being a little stupid with an mba from Harvard, but he’s not that stupid’, he said with considerable pride. I liked the man’s choice of words.

After telling me that he was a survivor from Auschwitz, how the Belgian civil authorities had turned him in to the Nazis, how his family had all died there and how he’d written a book about it all published by Cornell University Press, … all this said very casually, making it all the more moving…he turned to me and said,

`So…now to the most important question. Obama or Hillary? What do you think?’…this on a street in Antwerp, Belgium on a Saturday morning!

How could I tell him I didn’t like either of them, had preferred Edwards who was now out of the race. I couldn’t see much difference between Obama or Hillary on major policy questions but was impressed by how many young people were becoming involved in the political process because of Obama’s candidacy. So, I simply said,…`I don’t know, what about you?’

Oh he was for Hillary and hoped she won.

It really wasn’t fair for me to ask `why’ I had a pretty good idea of the answer, but I did anyhow. Rosengarten, who had not shown himself to be particularly shy during the first 7 minutes of our relationship, appeared a little sheepish, embarrassed even, but finally very softly, but honestly, said `the Ismaeli thing, I worry about Israel’. `What do you think?’ he asked. By`Ismaeli’, he was referring to Moslems.

`Rosengarten’, I began (by now we had exchanged names and he had asked how anyone with a name like `Prince’ could be Jewish), `the difference between the two on Israel is rather small. Obama is 98.7% for Israel, Hillary is 102%. What are you worried about?’..Besides, we have to settle this thing (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) fairly, it’s gone on too long.’

He looked at me, smiled, held out his hand and said, `Maybe you’re right, I don’t know. Where will it all end?’…and then he turned and opened the door to an unmarked building which I assume was his synagogue. Oh yes, and he let me take his picture.

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