The Rosenblatt family tree roots itself in giving back

by | Sep 23, 2021 | Trending News

In  the 1950s and 60s, two Norfolk streets where Wexford Terrace turn into Colony Point, served as an enclave for Jewish business leaders and community builders raising families. Close to Wards Corner and the Norfolk Naval Base, the legacy location attracted many Jewish families who formed a tight-knit community tethered to the Jewish Community Center.

Seated: Trudy and Sam Rosenblatt and Judy Rosenblatt. Standing: Alan and Barbara Rosenblatt and Chuck and Nancy Rosenblatt.

Their offspring’s commitment to Jewish values today can be traced to what was absorbed in this small, but mighty Hebrew hotspot.

Community engagement was high among most members of these families, and particularly active for a group of guys who left Ghent synagogues to fund and found Temple Israel on Granby Street. The Jewish Community Center followed when it moved to Newport Avenue in the mid-1960s.

The slice of hamish heaven was home to Trudy and Sam Rosenblatt, and their three children: Judge Alan Rosenblatt, builder/developer Chuck Rosenblatt, and Judy Rosenblatt, an attorney in private practice.

Rabbi Joseph Goldman led Temple Israel’s congregation for the first 30 years of its existence. Sam Rosenblatt was a founding member who also served as the third president.

“Rabbi Goldman’s wife taught me to read. She was my kindergarten teacher. I’m looking at the book she inscribed for my birthday. I remember memorizing Now We are Six word for word,” says Judy.

There were times back then when being Jewish was hard, Judy recalls, referring to deed restrictions against Jews and Blacks. “There have been times in my life where it’s hard to say outwardly ‘we’re Jewish,’” she says.

As a teen, Judy was president of Virginia Council BBG, as a young adult, she chaired United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Young Adult Division, and today she is actively involved in UJFT’s Women’s Cabinet.

“The Yom Kippur War in 1973 affected us all,” says Judy. During those worrisome weeks and while she was BBG president, she attended community rallies and ran errands to help raise funds for Israel. In 1974, Judy participated in the Summer Institute for Jewish Living, spending a month in Israel with area teens—a trip that included time spent at a Gadna Camp, on a kibbutz, and touring throughout the Jewish state.

Four years later, Judy travelled again to Israel, but this time on a Federation Mission with her parents and Chuck and his wife, Nancy. “My mom was the bus captain on that trip and I think that solidified our commitment to Israel and Jewish causes,” she says.

In 1974, Sam became president of the Jewish Community Center. In 1984, Chuck took a turn at the job.

“When I became president of the JCC it was truly the beginning of the next generation stepping into a leadership position. Prior to me, all of the presidents had been my father’s generation. I began the next generation of JCC leaders and I was followed by my peers, Linda Samuels, Marshal Bonnie, Jeff Kramer, Cheryl Sloane, and others,” says Chuck.

Asked about accomplishments during his tenure, Chuck recalls one of the biggest as presenting Itzkah Perlman to a sold-out concert at Chrysler Hall. “As a little antidote, Mr. Perlman was supposed to attend a reception for our sponsors after the concert. He decided he didn’t want to,” says Chuck.

“So, I asked the JCC executive director where the check was for Mr. Perlman and he told me he had already given the check to him, where upon I told the exec the check was no good as it required my signature as president for that amount of money. My exec had to go tell Mr. Perlman the check was no good and Mr. Perlman could find me at the reception for my signature. Of course, Mr. Perlman had a change of heart and came to the reception and was very cordial and gracious during the event.”

Chuck Rosenblatt and Nancy Rosen lived two houses apart on Millbrook Road in Wexford Terrace. Married for 47 years, they raised daughters Amy and Barbara in a traditional Jewish home, with both sets of grandparents, and several close relatives nearby.

“Family is everything to my father,” says Amy Rosenblatt. “No matter the situation, he does whatever is needed to be done. There is nobody I want on my side more than my dad.”

Growing up, Nancy and Chuck were immersed in tzedakah culture in their respective homes. In the Rosenblatt house, lessons on giving back were modeled early and often. It was a lifestyle practice, like health and wellness, not a one-and-done diet kind of deal.

Amy, Chuck, Nancy, and Barbara Rosenblatt

Amy and Barbara both went to Hebrew Academy of Tidewater. “We grew up Jewish,” says Amy. “I always loved the idea that holidays were about family getting together. My grandparents lived close to us growing up. It was very normal to see them on a regular basis. I always felt extra fortunate for that. My cousins on my mom’s side didn’t get to see their grandparents that often. I knew all of mine well into my adulthood.”

Amy is engaged to be married in 2022 in South Florida where Nancy and Chuck now live year-round. “It’s important to my fiancé and me that we’re married by a rabbi who knows us,” she says. “For us that was non-negotiable. We’re very happy that Rabbi Panitz is able to come to Florida to be with us for the wedding.”

Rosenblatts are tough and strong—and tender.

“We get it from both sets of our grandparents, says Barbara. “They were all strong in their own way, but how they showed caring was different.”

Judy and Barbara are attorneys who practice very different areas of law. “Barbara and Judy have so many similarities,” says Amy. “They both fight for what they’re passionate about. I’ve always been impressed by that.

“The joke was we get together and the topic would turn to law and politics. As young kids, ages eight and five, there was nothing we could do about it. My uncle was a judge; my father and grandparents had strong convictions. Barbara would say, ‘can we talk about anything but law and politics? Now, she spouts her legalese, but always takes the time to explain and translate. I’ve learned a little over time, it’s not my arena.”

Find something you’re passionate about is the Rosenblatt rule for giving back.

Barbara worked for 10 years in an emotionally charged field of law as a public defender. Winning a case can be disarming when faced with an understandably hysterical family whose son was killed. Now his alleged murderer is set free.

A North Star, rooted in justice, guides Barbara through this fragile terrain.

“My supervisor took me out to lunch one day and helped me realize that the system will take advantage of people without someone doing what I do to make sure checks and balances are in place. I needed to be one of the people who kept the system in check.”

“Our upbringing taught us tzedakah,” says Chuck. “As a family, we’re heavily involved in Jewish and non-Jewish causes that help the disadvantaged, particularly causes focused on children’s needs and children with special needs such as Sweet Dream Makers and various other foundations.”

“My parents had a summer home in the mountains near Appalachian State University where they saw a need for Holocaust education,” says Nancy Rosen Rosenblatt. The Martin and Doris Rosen Summer Symposium at Appalachian State University is a Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies. Nancy’s parents founded it in 2002 to develop new educational opportunities for students, teachers, and the community. The center originally was meant to “teach teachers in North Carolina’s public school system how to teach their students about the Holocaust,” says Nancy. “The program has grown and now extends beyond North Carolina.” She and Chuck have continued and expanded this and other related programs.

Branching out in multiple directions, the Rosenblatt Family Foundation finds infinite value in funding medical research.

“Tzedakah was such a big part of our life growing up,” says Barbara. “Now, in addition to giving to the Jewish community, we have expanded to other areas including supporting specific interests that might impact our family members’ medical issues.”

For years, Lancome has joined the fight against cancer with their support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When Amy was a sales trainer for the cosmetic powerhouse, she became a sort of powerhouse herself, discovering her talent for fundraising. “I hated hospitals. Never wanted to go to one. But I was raising money for St. Jude’s for work and said, ‘I’m going to raise a lot of money.’” Meeting her goal put her in the top 30 and placed her on a tour of the hospital. “It was the most unbelievable place I’ve ever been. Bright and cheery. So bizarre to think about. The children, parents, doctors, and families were all smiling. There are no words to describe it, but I get chills every time I think about it. What they do is unbelievable and how they go about it is unreal. I can’t imagine not supporting it.”

“Kids have all kinds of options today. But, Nancy and I grew up in the JCC, which was very tight knit in a location densely populated with Jews,” says Chuck.

Barbara now lives in Richmond. “I’m always looking for that opportunity to get involved in a day-to-day leadership role. I have not found it yet,” she says.

Accustomed to assuming leadership commitments, Barbara held several leadership positions during her teen years in Tidewater, serving as her BBG chapter’s Nisah (president) and as MIT (Member in Training) Mom for the entire Virginia Council. “It was one of my favorite jobs…introducing new ninth graders to BBYO and showing them how they could get in touch with Judaism and meet new friends.” Barbara even ran MIT/AIT conventions.

Judy welcomes her bothers, their wives, and her nieces into her Virginia Beach home for Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Barbara and Amy make it a point to drive in from Richmond and Charlotte.

“Both of my girls feel their Judaism,” says Chuck. “That identity shaped them into the people they are today.”

“Family has always been important to me. It’s the tradition that I like,” says Amy. “It started with my grandparents. We’d go to their house after services at Temple Israel. When my grandparents moved to Florida, my mother took over the responsibilities of the Jewish holidays and now that my parents have moved to Florida, my Aunt Judy has taken on this responsibility. Different ages and locations, but the tradition is the same.”

“It’s really important to be with our family and celebrate the holidays,” says Barbara, mentioning their tradition of having certain parts of the Haggadah automatically assigned to the same person each year. “For the past two years, we did a Zoom Seder—we couldn’t miss celebrating together.”

“I overdosed on Jewish activities as a teenager,” says Judy, “In college, I didn’t go near a Hillel. But I reconnected after law school. I’ve been fortunate in my professional career and want to give back and acknowledge that I’m Jewish, especially now. I feel very proud as a Jew that we have never accepted racism as a reality and fought against it. When I walk into the Sandler Family Campus, I always feel like I’m home.”

This is part of a series on generations of families in Jewish Tidewater.

Lisa Richmon