That’s the message Tom Rosenberg wants to impart in his new memoir, “Everything’s Possible.” Subtitled “A memoir of assimilating, chasing the American Dream, and reclaiming Jewish identity,” the book begins with his family’s escape from Nazi Germany when he was 6 years old.
Rosenberg, a San Francisco and Sacramento resident, explains why he lived under the name Tom Ross for 60 years, before changing it back to his original family name, Rosenberg (a topic he originally tackled in a Newsweek “My Turn” column in 2000).
“What I wanted to do was write something entertaining that readers would enjoy,” Rosenberg said of his book. “[The genesis] comes back to changing my name, but there’s much more to it.”
He resolved to write without being negative, even though he has faced many obstacles in his life. “You can resolve anything you want to,” he said. “You can resolve conflicts by agreeing to find a solution.”
Rosenberg, a member of San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel, experienced a revival of his Judaism, which led to the name change back to Rosenberg and a bar mitzvah at age 65. Rosenberg said his former wife, a Methodist, helped him to stop running away from his past — one that was filled with anti-Semitism in his youth in New York after escaping Nazi Germany before the outbreak of World War II.
“My family had a lot of guilt for leaving before the Holocaust,” he said.
Rosenberg returned to Germany a few years ago for the first time, along with his wife, Hilary Abramson, a former Sacramento Bee reporter. He did so after receiving an invitation from Berlin for people who’d left the country because of the Holocaust.
“It was a terrific experience,” he said of the visit. “I was absolutely amazed.”
Rosenberg, 80, was steeped in politics and public affairs for decades, starting with a column for the Daily Commercial News (later picked up by other newspapers) that reflected his conservative views at the time. He also worked as a political consultant, and ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1967.
“I thought I was pretty hot stuff,” Rosenberg said of his current affairs column, which appeared in the now-defunct San Francisco Progress and other local weeklies in the mid-1960s.
That all changed after he and his first wife threw a dinner party for their friends at their home in Golden Gate Heights.
“We sit down, we have dinner, I pass out cigars and I opened up some cognac and I leaned back and asked, ‘So, what do you think of the column?” Rosenberg said, “and boy did they let me know it. They said I didn’t know a goddamn thing about what I was talking about. They said I was writing a lazy column, and they were right.”
He said that evening helped lead him to a better understanding of writing and language.
“I listened to what they said and began working with language,” Rosenberg said. “The more I started working with language the more I thought they were right [about my column].”
He later worked a number of different communications jobs, and helped with a campaign and ballot measure to get the American River Bike Way project built in Sacramento. He has been a frequent contributor to newspapers and public radio.
Rosenberg left politics behind after managing a campaign for John Kehoe, who was running for a seat on the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District. He said Kehoe was dissatisfied that he won with only 75 percent of the vote instead of 90.
“I quit politics right after because of that,” Rosenberg said. “I was sick of it.”
He said he preferred working for himself, and ran a number of bingo halls in Northern California for groups throwing charity events.
No longer a Republican, “by any standard I think people would call me a liberal,” he said, “but I consider myself objective. There’s a difference between being liberal and being objective.”
It was a sermon about happiness that he heard more than 50 years ago that has stuck with him to this day, he noted, even inspiring the message of his memoir.
He paraphrased: “The three things it takes to be happy in life are that you have love, you have to have a sense of accomplishment, and you have hope,” Rosenberg said.
“That’s what the book is about.”
“Everything’s Possible” by Tom Rosenberg (278 pages, Epoche Press, $24.95)