Reviews

An eclectic assortment of essays and stories—both fiction and nonfiction—delivers a kaleidoscopic exploration of the Jewish experience.

Debut author Rotenberg begins this sundry group of pieces by examining the maggid, a peripatetic preacher and raconteur who regaled Jewish immigrants with tales that strengthened their sense of religious heritage. The author self-consciously emulates the maggid, producing more than five dozen stories gathered thematically into six groups. Some of the tales are autobiographical and related in the first person; in one the author discusses his first trip to Israel in 1967, and the historic opportunity for peace presented to the Middle East following the Six-Day War. Sometimes, the stories are about family: the author details how his father—as a 26-year-old private in the Belgian army in 1940—made his way from France to the United States by way of Morocco and Portugal. Many of them are whimsically comedic—Rotenberg provides a cheeky look at Jewish dating and the board games popular during Jewish celebrations. The chapters are rarely overtly political and never partisan—one story recounts the participation of Iranian Jews in the shah’s nuclear program in the 1950s, but avoids any judgment on U.S. diplomatic efforts to curb those aspirations today. While the collection is artistically diverse, the recurrent theme is the dual preservation and adaptability of Judaism across time and geography. For example, Part IV consists of an eight-chapter memoir about a boy’s early school days on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1950s and ’60s that illustrates how the iconic neighborhood provided unusual opportunities for both cultural assimilation and religious isolation.

Rotenberg is a gifted storyteller who shifts seamlessly from fiction to nonfiction, and drama to comedy. In addition, given the unspeakable hardships endured by Jews in the 20th century, his relentless optimism is astonishingly refreshing: “American Jews of my generation have been truly blessed by having the opportunity to visit and live in a united Israel and, more particularly, a united Jerusalem, for much of our lifetimes.” With buoyant lightheartedness, his stories exemplify a kind of middle ground between Zionist separatism and modern assimilation by identifying cultural elasticity as a signature characteristic of Jewishness. These lessons are never imparted didacticallyRotenberg’s rhetorical gift is to teach without sententiously sermonizing. But however endearing the author’s cheerfulness is, some readers might wish that he confronted the grim existential challenges to worldwide Jewry more explicitly more often. For example, in “Homolka Hesitates,” Thomas Homolka, a gifted baker in Prague, is so tortured by his failure to save some Jewish customers from abuse at the hands of German occupiers that he bakes poison into a cake served at an official Nazi dinner and kills himself. Heartbreaking stories like these challenge the possibility of “bending, without breaking” that Rotenberg repeatedly, and artfully, describes. Nevertheless, his announced focus is the American-Jewish experience in particular, and he captures this with all the rigor of an anthropologist and the vivacity of a poet.

A remarkably varied assemblage of tales that deftly portrays Jewish life.

— Kirkus Review

One of the more challenging aspects of being a novelist involves finding the right type of narration. Third-person allows the writer to cover events not just from the protagonist’s perspective, but also from the other characters’ as well. Hence, readers are granted a wide scope of what is happening in the novel. Such an approach does have pitfalls, however. Third person narration is not exactly hospitable to inner monologues, and can potentially, even with the writer signaling the reader about the shift to thought via italics, be a difficult task.

Long considered easier to manage, first-person narration does seamlessly allow in the inner thoughts of the narrator. But such narration can be limiting—we only see what the narrator sees. And what if the narrator, as is the trend today, is unreliable? The reader can thus lose their moorings. In TIMELESS TRAVELS, a well-done series of stories told from multiple points of view, author Joseph Rotenberg pulls off both types of narration excellently. We are given a first person account, as well as third, and, most remarkably, Rotenberg is able to get into the mindset of a child narrator.

As with many identity politics writers, the insertion of ethnicity into the stories can come off as heavy-handed, which slows down the story and tries the reader’s patience if they are not of the same ethnicity. Rotenberg is relatively light on his Jewishness, and as a result, the reader is not hit over the head with this theme. Even in a story dealing with Russian repressive policies toward their Jewish citizens, all of the characters debating never lose their cool. Rotenberg even has a remarkable approach to Hitler and Stalin, when one of the debaters “flips” or inserts them into the opposite countries. Characterizing the Russians as fostering an impression of being “wild men,” “out of control,” the character in actuality declares them to be quite rational, and “deliberate in their actions.” By contrast, the character asserts, Germans “cultivate a reputation of being in control, an educated, intellectual people;” but the reality is that they “have often in the past acted collectively as true ‘wild men’—an angry people who cannot tolerate ‘the other.’” From there, the character imagines what each country would have been like if Stalin had been the leader of Germany and Hitler Russia:

“It is easy to image Stalin with his controlling temperament using his notably loyal German-Jewish citizens” composed of scientists “to spearhead the German war effort and likely conquer the world.” Hitler, by turns, would have made Stalin’s goal possible, for the former’s “ungoverned passions and hatreds” would result in “wrecking any chances Russia had of victory.” With that goal achieved, “Stalin might have rewarded his loyal Jewish allies by eliminating them from German society.”

The above example, and quotes, showcases Rotenberg’s gifts as a writer; he is not afraid to think “out of the box” and use multiple means of narrating such thoughts.

IR Verdict: In this well-done series of short stories, Rotenberg displays that rare skill of being able to write convincingly in first and third person and avoids the temptation of showing off such skill to the detriment of the stories; instead the reader benefits from his examining ethnic identity from a variety of angles.

— Amy Edelman

As the publisher of a group of Jewish community papers, I always wanted to publish excellent and engaging Jewish fiction and help new Jewish writers and local writing talent be discovered. Joe Rotenberg introduced himself to me nearly 4 years ago at a local community event and our relationship has only grown as Joe reliably and consistently submitted quality works of fiction to our hometown paper – The Jewish Link of New Jersey – that drew me and my editors in. We always got – and continue to get – positive feedback on almost everything he writes. He represents one of our first local literary “finds.”

His broad range of interests – all infused with a uniquely contemporary and modern American Jewish sensibility and lens – shine through in stories ranging from the comedic, historical, and often, partly autobiographical. In all, Joe has published over 30 pieces in our paper and all of these gems are in this book, plus many others.

He has taken our readers to locations as far afield as the Sinai Desert and as close to home as Teaneck, NJ where he lives and has called home for decades. We hope he will continue to publish all his future stories first in our paper in the years ahead.

— Moshe Kinderlehrer – Publisher, The Jewish Link Media Group, The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Link of the Bronx, Westchester and CT Monsey.com Print edition

Travel in time with Joseph Rotenberg in Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment. You will be whisked away on a journey into the Jewish experience of life in stories, from satire and historical to non-fiction. In Timeless Travels, the journey consists of over sixty short stories within the eras of The Promised Land, Around the World, Only in America, Linked Tales of the Lower East Side, On Holiday and Observations of An Ordinary Man. Timeless Travels sets the stage from the beginning by introducing the backdrop of the short stories. The development of Timeless Travels began when Link discovered a vintage diary at a construction site. In Timeless Travels, you will not only learn a lot about Jewish terms and culture, but you will experience various types of emotions as you read through each short story while embracing the richness of the culture and spirit.

Through each short story, I felt like I was walking in the shoes of the characters where I was able to feel the essence of war, memories, family and environment as expressed by the story I was reading. A few favorite shorts were Jerusalem Tale: A Modern, Mystical Moment; Jerusalem Tale: David King’s Singular Journey; Samovar or the Magic Teapot – these were chosen for a variety of reason, but as you begin to read through Timeless Travels, you too will have your own favorites of timeless history. With learning history, your attention is immediately captured and you can never go wrong when discovering a piece of it.

— Vernita Naylor

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg is a collection of short stories centered around the Jewish faith and its traditions. Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment contains stories that are heavily inspired by Joseph’s own experiences in America and elsewhere. In fact, some of the stories have a distinct autobiographical feel to them and, in the author’s own words, a few can be considered as non-fiction creative writing or memoirs. The stories take place all around the world and are about the collective Jewish experience and traditions including the Nazi Holocaust, the migration of Jews across the world, their religious traditions, food, culture, festivals, history, and such.

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg is a good and enjoyable collection of short stories. A lot of these appealed to me because I felt like I was reading a travel memoir, especially in instances where Joseph travels to Jerusalem and recounts his experiences there, and in other places. The writing is engaging and the illustrations here and there throughout the book are beautiful and complement the book well. I liked some of the stories more than others and in fact the stories that touch on the Nazi occupation of Europe can be called a bit dark at times. Homolka Hesitates about a baker known for his cheesecakes is one such short story, although I did like reading it. Overall, this is a good book for anyone interested in learning more about Jewish history and tradition.

— Gisela Dixon

Timeless Travels (Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment) by Joseph Rotenberg is a fictional novella or short story collection. This is a book that would appeal most to an audience of adult and young adult short story lovers who enjoy stories on American-Jewish experiences. There are more than sixty essays and stories that take place in eighteen different countries, during a period of one hundred and fifty years. Each short story or essay comes with its own unique cast of characters, settings, and plot. They all share a common theme of characters that experience humor, pathos, and unexpected twists of their own fortunes or destinies.

Timeless Travels (Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment) by Joseph Rotenberg was a very entertaining book. I liked the element of mystery and suspense in not knowing what the next story was about or where it would take place. The book begins with the character Link finding an old book at a construction site that he saves, and creating a table of contents in order to publish it as Timeless Travels. The book itself is split into different sections with each section having multiple stories on the same topic or setting. I found the second section “Around the World” to be my favorite section and the first story in that section – “A Letter from Lisbon” – to be my favorite story. Maurice was an interesting character and I liked the fact that this story was about Maurice, but it was told by his child. Overall, I enjoyed the different places this collection of stories transported me to and the characters I got to meet!

— Sefina Hawke

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor, and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg is a collection of stories based on the author’s travel experiences through Israel, Europe, and the United States of America. He blends his teachings of the Torah alongside his travels where we get to feel the power and presence of the Almighty and about Jewish traditions and Judaism. We always question the meaning of life and we try to follow the guidelines set for us by our elders to achieve a certain position in life and at work. The book not only encourages us to do the best we can in our given circumstances, but also makes us remember our role to determine our actions and infuse them with morality and spirituality.

As the title suggests, the stories fascinate readers with their humor, enchantment, intrigue, and mystery. There is a thread of spirituality that runs through the stories and the author’s experiences as he tries to connect the lives of the Jewish people and Jewish traditions to the places he has visited and to his travel stories. The stories reflect an insightful and thought-provoking mind and many a time he gives readers a break from the routine of life with his travel stories.

I like the lessons of hope the author tries to convey through several themes in his stories. Readers get to have a deeper understanding about the American-Jewish experience after reading this book. The characters in the book have remarkable adaptability and courage to face challenges in life, and the author highlights the intrigues that color the lives of ordinary people, and the humor that livens up life so that we all face hardships and tragedies in a tolerable way.

— Mamta Madhavan

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg is a collection of short stories concentrating on Jewish/American history. If you like to read about history, but you don’t like long droning narratives, this book is the one for you. The writer, Joseph Rotenberg, very creatively details the nitty-gritty of Jewish/American history, rolls you into the folds of the story, teaching you and making sure that you are enjoying yourself. He does all of this at the same time, which is a big achievement for anyone! This book has six parts and all of them have their own stories spanning a certain timeline.

Joseph is acting very much like the ancient Maggid, he is sharing his intellectual property with the rest of the world in these short and snappy stories. In his stories, he is weaving characters from the modern day that you can relate with and understand where they are coming from, and why are they acting in such a way. Sometimes, these characters are fully developed and really appreciated, while sometimes these characters are trying to find themselves and find a place in their society where they will be welcomed. This is a wholesome little book that you can choose to read anytime and anywhere. One thing is guaranteed – you will not be bored with it at all, you can open any random story or you can read them in sequence. However, every single time you will have a complete story that will give you a sense of fulfillment.

— Rabia Tanveer

Take a journey with Timeless Travels and discover a route marked by faith, fidelity, fun, and even the fantastic. Rotenberg is a very worthy guide, his world one you’ll be reluctant to leave…an accomplished collection…an impressive piece of work…{an} assemblage of multiple short works into a greater body that forms a cohesive chorus but also allows for individual story voices to sing…

— Erin McKnight, publisher of Queen’s Ferry Press, Plano, Texas

Author Interview

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, 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.

Douglas 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?

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.

Douglas 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.

Douglas 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.

Douglas 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.

Douglas 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.

Douglas 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.Douglas 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.

Douglas 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. Douglas 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.

Douglas 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!)

Douglas 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!

Thanks,

Douglas R. Cobb

— Interview May 29, 2017 of the author of Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment by Douglas R. Cobb, noted author, for bestsellers.com

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor, and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg is a collection of stories based on the author’s travel experiences through Israel, Europe, and the United States of America. He blends his teachings of the Torah alongside his travels where we get to feel the power and presence of the Almighty and about Jewish traditions and Judaism. We always question the meaning of life and we try to follow the guidelines set for us by our elders to achieve a certain position in life and at work. The book not only encourages us to do the best we can in our given circumstances, but also makes us remember our role to determine our actions and infuse them with morality and spirituality.

As the title suggests, the stories fascinate readers with their humor, enchantment, intrigue, and mystery. There is a thread of spirituality that runs through the stories and the author’s experiences as he tries to connect the lives of the Jewish people and Jewish traditions to the places he has visited and to his travel stories. The stories reflect an insightful and thought-provoking mind and many a time he gives readers a break from the routine of life with his travel stories.

I like the lessons of hope the author tries to convey through several themes in his stories. Readers get to have a deeper understanding about the American-Jewish experience after reading this book. The characters in the book have remarkable adaptability and courage to face challenges in life, and the author highlights the intrigues that color the lives of ordinary people, and the humor that livens up life so that we all face hardships and tragedies in a tolerable way.

— Mamta Madhavan

Timeless Travels is a fascinating collection of interrelated tales that will appeal to readers of all ages. The subtitle of the book is very apt, as the tales contained in Timeless Travels, by Joseph Rotenberg, are full of mystery, intrigue, humor and enchantment. I highly recommend this page-turning collection of short stories — check it out, today!

— Douglas R. Cobb, noted author at bestsellersworld.com (excerpt from review)

Take a journey with Timeless Travels and discover a route marked by faith, fidelity, fun, and even the fantastic. Rotenberg is a very worthy guide, his world one you’ll be reluctant to leave…an accomplished collection…an impressive piece of work…{an} assemblage of multiple short works into a greater body that forms a cohesive chorus but also allows for individual story voices to sing…

— Erin McKnight, publisher of Queen’s Ferry Press, Plano, Texas

{Timeless Travels}…delivers a kaleidoscopic exploration of the Jewish experience…Rotenberg is a gifted storyteller…he captures the American-Jewish experience…with all the rigor of an anthropologist and the vivacity of a poet…A remarkably varied assemblage of tales that deftly portray Jewish life…

— Kirkus Review

Rotenberg’s broad range of interests – all infused with a uniquely contemporary and modern American Jewish Sensibility and lens-shine through in stories ranging from the comedic, historical, and often partly autobiographical.

— Publisher Moshe Kinderlehrer, The Jewish Link Media Group (NJ, Bronx, Westchester, (T)

Timeless Travels is an enjoyable and evocative read.

— Jeffrey S. Gurock, Yeshiva University Professor of Jewish History