It is my privilege to nominate Gene Rosenberg for the Covenant Platinum Award.
A Knoxvillian since 1966 and always an active community volunteer, since his retirement from Markman’s Jewelers in 1996, Gene Rosenberg, 75, has become a dedicated and full-time volunteer who lives life to the fullest. His lifestyle includes a loving family (wife Pat and daughter Judith) who fully share his values; friends for whom he is always available when needed or just for fun; outreach to newcomers to our community; enjoyment of Knoxville’s cultural activities; a perpetual willingness to help provide support, friendship, programming and assistance for those in need, especially in assisted living homes; and, perhaps his most significant contribution, presenting the “Traveling Trunk” on behalf of the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group. Gene is the role model for living an active, positive, and productive life in retirement, contributing to our community in many ways.
With his considerable enthusiasm and energy, the diversity of Gene’s interest, concerns and priorities are demonstrated by his work in our community.
VOLUNTEERISM AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
Previous and pre-retirement activities included:
¨American Cancer Society, Knoxville Chapter -- board member; Chair, “Man to Man,” education and support program for prostate cancer patients and survivors; and volunteer driver, “Road to Recovery,” providing transportation to individuals receiving treatment for cancer ¨Arnstein Jewish Community Center/Knoxville Jewish Alliance -- board member, treasurer, committees ¨Child & Family Service of Tennessee – as a mentor to at-risk teens in residential programs ¨Knoxville Project Change (anti-racist initiative) – member ¨Heska Amuna Synagogue -- Board of Trustees, Board Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, & committees ¨Martin Luther King, Jr Celebration - planning committee for annual program celebrating life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ¨National Conference for Community & Justice (formerly National Conference of Christians and Jews) -- Chair & board member ¨United Way -- Allocations Committee ¨Volunteers of America (shelter for abused & homeless women & children) -- Board member & active volunteer
And somehow, he even found the time after he retired to become a full-time volunteer, to take up and enjoy the game of tennis.
With retirement, Gene continues to expand his contributions to our community with a variety of diverse volunteer activities, ranging from working one-on-one with Project GRAD Knoxville students at Maynard Elementary, an inner city school; to being there, when needed, for those in assisted living homes, to his synagogue involvement; and traveling with the Traveling Trunk, an interactive educational exhibit used to help teach acceptance and inclusiveness, sponsored by the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group.
His volunteer activities include:
¨Heska Amuna Synagogue -- Rabbi & Religious Services Committee, co-chair Sisterhood Kroger coupon sales, and Kiddushim chair (our Saturday morning after-services fellowship)
¨Knoxville Jewish Alliance -- Jewish Family Services Committee: Gene is always available to assist with providing religious and social programming for residents of assisted living homes, and help those in need in our community
¨Leadership Knoxville Class of 2003
¨Project GRAD Knoxville – Gene takes time each week to be a volunteer “listener” to inner-city elementary school student readers at Maynardville Elementary.
¨FBI Knoxville Citizen’s Academy Alumni Association -- Vice-president
¨East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group (established in 1996 as the Knoxville Hate Crimes Working Group), a networking group of community leaders, civil rights advocates, law enforcement agencies, and concerned citizens who work together to help detect and prevent hate crimes, as well as other civil rights violations such as color of law crimes and human trafficking in our community.
Gene can always be counted on when needed. He attends services at Heska Amuna Synagogue regularly, and assists with raising funds for the synagogue’s special events and programs. He co-chairs the Sisterhood’s Kroger coupon sales (yes, our Sisterhood, who recognized his support several years ago as their “Dollar a Year Man”) and is responsible for arranging for sponsors for our Saturday after-services Kiddush – helping to provide a pleasant opportunity for congregants and visitors to have a tasty lunch and visit with each other.
LESSONS IN TOLERANCE
If this were all that Gene Rosenberg did, one might say: “that is enough.” But possibly Gene’s most important, most significant commitment is that to The Traveling Trunk, sponsored by the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group. Gene helped to develop the curriculum, and to collect the many artifacts used in this innovative educational program. The Traveling Trunk is filled with multi-sensory objects representative of a variety of hate crimes, with both historical and more modern-day hate crime artifacts from law enforcement agencies (including the FBI) and other sources.
The Traveling Trunk became a large suitcase, and eventually grew to several suitcases! Currently, the exhibit features a piece of the bombed Oklahoma City federal building, leg irons, a noose, barbed wire, a piece of the Berlin Wall, street gang bandanas, segregation signs, Holocaust-era objects, photos from hate crime investigations, traditional Muslim apparel used to represent other groups of people who are victims of hate crimes.
Gene uses these items as he discusses and engages his audience in issues relating to hate crimes and racial and cultural diversity. Initially developed for middle school kids, who are at an age susceptible to bullying others who are different, these symbols of hate and intolerance are now being used to help teach acceptance and inclusiveness. By letting students actually see and touch these items, Gene generates classroom discussions about the consequences of racial, religious, ethnic, and other kinds of persecution.
Since Gene began presenting the Traveling Trunk to the core audience of middle school students, it has expanded to include younger kids (who are shown only age-appropriate items), older kids, and various community and church groups. Gene has received invitations from and presented the Traveling Truck to students and adults in Knox and surrounding East Tennessee counties; Cleveland, OH; Little Rock, AK; Milwaukee, WI; Northbrook, IL; West Wendover, NV; and Williamsburg, KY. He is frequently invited to return for additional presentations. Requests for the presentation continue to arrive from schools, community groups, and churches, in Knoxville, East Tennessee, and from cities across the country.
Said one teacher, "The children were touched by your presentation, and you caused them to challenge some of their own thoughts as well as analyze those of others." And another, "Your message planted an important seed and is an important part of educating and inspiring our youth."
For his work with the Traveling Trunk, Gene was presented with the FBI Director’s Leadership Award in 2001. And, last year he presented the Traveling Truck to the FBI at a national meeting in Arlington, VA.
Richard Lambert—the Special Agent in Charge of the Knoxville FBI office—said, "It sends a very powerful message about hate to anyone who sees it, and I think it will have a long-lasting and I think it will have a long-lasting and positive impact, particularly on students."
Since 1999, more than 16,000 students have seen the Traveling Trunk. With his work with the Traveling Trunk, Gene Rosenberg continues to make a difference in the world we live in.