The books shown on the left are by Joseph Rotenberg. Click on the cover to order.
I'm here today interviewing Joseph Rotenberg, the immensely talented author of Timeless Travels, a collection of over 60 tales taking place over a period of 150 years,
Doublas R. Cobb: Hello, Joseph -- it's great to get to talk with you and learn more about Timeless Travels! The Foreword of your short story collection mentions that the tales collected in the volume are "the texts of a present-day maggid's encounters with the modern world." For any of our readers who might not be familiar with what, or who, a maggid is, would you please give an explanation?
tales full of, as the subtitle states, "Mystery, Intrigue, Humor, and Enchantment." Joseph graciously agreed to make time to talk with me awhile about his short story collection, his inspiration to write it, and a bit about his interesting life. I highly recommend for anyone who loves reading captivating tales of wonder and enchantment to check out Joseph's book and add it to your personal libraries.
Joseph Rotenberg: Sure! Historically, over hundreds of years a maggid was an itinerant preacher who would go from town to town in Europe seeking out Jewish audiences to whom he would address folk tales. He would spin these stories in such a way to captivate his listeners. Often the stories he told would have a moral or lesson behind it, thus making the maggid sort of a Jewish Aesop.
Doublas R. Cobb: As a follow-up question, Joseph, would you please relate how the tales are similar or different from tales that have been told by traditional maggids?
Joseph Rotenberg: Stylistically some of the stories in my collection are quite similar to the tales that have been told by traditional maggids. Others are presented in a more modern and classical American short story or essay form. The substance of the collection covers both the historical and modern Jewish and Jewish-American experiences in a way no maggid has yet done so. So the collection is a fusion of both the traditional and the modern.
Doublas R. Cobb: Timeless Travels is made up of six sections, or parts, each with tales related to specific themes. I was wondering, as I read the fascinating tales in the collection, if you decided on the titles of each of the six parts, and the themes, before or after you began writing Timeless Travels?
Joseph Rotenberg: I decided on the titles of the six parts and the themes after I began writing Timeless Travels. In reviewing the stories and essays I had composed over a period of two or three years, it became clear to me the stories could be divided into the six sections I chose to aid the reader in better enjoying the work as a whole.
Doublas R. Cobb: It was apparent as I read that you are quite the student of history, Joseph! You include a multitude of history in the tales, as a whole, and it struck me that you knew quite a bit about military history, as well, when it comes to the history of Jerusalem and israel. Would you say that the history of Israel is also, basically, the history of the people who live in the country? Who are a couple of the characters you have written about in Timeless Travels who also are interested in military history?
Joseph Rotenberg: I spend a lot of time reading and my interest in history is pronounced and eclectic. I believe that you can only understand a people if you know where they came from and what set of circumstances brought them to this place in time. The history of Israel is unique in that it is intertwined with the history of many ancient and modern civilizations and with the plight of the Jewish people around the world, not only those in the Jewish State. To the extent that Jews have been at odds with the dominant powers of any particular era, knowledge of the the military history of the time becomes increasingly important. This is reflected in several of my stories such as “On the Road to Jerusalem,” “A Letter from Lisbon” and “The Petrovs Speak” and characters such as Quintus Varus, Thomas Homolka and Alexander (Sasha) Petrov.
Doublas R. Cobb: For anyone who has never been to Jersusalem, but who longs to go there to visit, would you please tell our readers a few things that make it a special place?
Joseph Rotenberg: First of all, Jerusalem is an ancient city. For anyone who appreciates history, it’s spellbinding as it offers the opportunity to see structures that were built thousands of years ago and visit places that we read about in the Bible and in many other ancient texts. Jerusalem is a crossroads of the ancient world and holds secrets about numerous civilizations. As a religious Jew, Jerusalem stands as the spiritual core of my existence and of everything I believe in. It’s a city that weaves ancient with modern and carries one across the generations and into the future.
Doublas R. Cobb: Joseph, I was curious as I was reading Timeless Travels which of the tales took you the longest time to write, and why?
Joseph Rotenberg: Two stories come to mind: First, it took me some time to complete “A Letter from Lisbon” largely because it was based on my father’s experiences during World War II. I wanted to make certain in my mind that I told the story in its fullest form. Second I think “The Petrovs Speak” was more difficult for me to complete as it contains many of my beliefs concerning Russian culture and involves the interplay between that culture and other European nations, including its Jewish population.
Doublas R. Cobb: What books and important people in your life, Joseph, have inspired you the most and influence you to write Timeless Travels?
Joseph Rotenberg: I’ve had a very rich life filled with countless memorable experiences that became the core of many of my stories. My parents and friends were my earliest inspirations and the indviduals who afforded me those early adventures. My friends and community have offered the basis for much of my material. Finally, my rich Jewish education inspired me to tell the tales of my life.
Doublas R. Cobb: If you could be more like one of the characters you wrote about in Timeless Travels, which one would it be, and why?
Joseph Rotenberg: My father, in the Lisbon story. His dedication to family, selflessness and faith in spite of all challenges are traits that I hope I’ve incorporated into all facets of my life.
Doublas R. Cobb: What advice would you give to a person just starting out to become an author, Joseph?
Joseph Rotenberg: Be an observer of life and try to see the mulitple layers of every event and interaction you have.
Doublas R. Cobb: Okay, one last question for you -- what are your future plans, Joseph, and are you currently writing another short story collection or novel? If so, do you have a working title fo rit yet, and could you say a few words about it?
Joseph Rotenberg: I continue to write short stories and essays so in time there may be a second collection to consider. At the same time I am working on two writing projects, one involving a Michener-like study of a famous, but little-studied geographic region in the Near East and a separate story of two little known giants of America media (sounds like a contradiction in terms---but that’s why their story is so interesting to me!)
Doublas R. Cobb: Thank you very much for doing this interview with me, Joseph, and I am looking forward to reading more from you in the coming years! It has been a pleasure chatting with you, and also reading Timeless Travels!
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