Private Enterprise and the Creation of Community: A Tribute to Dr. Stephen Rozenberg, Z”l

Dr. Stephen Rozenberg, z”l

When scholars and practitioners think about what makes communities vibrant and healthy, they often think about a range of institutions such as schools and religious centers, along with public amenities like parks, playgrounds and other sites for gathering. Many also consider private quasi-public spaces like barbershops, bars or cafes as local spaces that help create social capital: the glue of social relationships, which promotes civility and helps neighborhoods and groups unite and make progress on a myriad of issues. While much has been written about these critically important and varied spaces, I want to talk about one private space, in particular, which has been, and hopefully will remain, an anchor of many communities: 10/10 Optics, an optical shop in midtown Manhattan whose co-founder and optometrist – Dr. Stephen Rozenberg – just passed away.

I met Dr. Rozenberg well over a decade ago, shortly after I moved to New York, after I had accidentally scratched my eye. Being new to the area, I did not know where to go or what to do at the time, but I recalled that this shop was not far away and ran over asking for some help. Within minutes and despite having no prior relationship, Dr. Rozenberg – wearing tzitzit and a kippah – took me into his office and thoroughly checked me out. He never asked me for remuneration, and we ended up talking politics and religion for quite some time after the examination. Over the subsequent months and years, I would stop by the shop to talk with him and his incredible staff, and they became like family — even closing the store briefly so they could all attend my son’s bris a few years ago.

Over time, very quietly and without any ceremony or expected acknowledgement, I noticed something unusual: Dr. Rozenberg and 10/10 sold stylish eyewear, but the shop was so much more than just a place that took care of people’s eyes – they took care of people’s souls. Dr. Rozenberg hosted minyanim and shiurim regularly and had real, meaningful relationships with hundreds of patients and friends who frequented the store. Customers would visit him from around the city and globe. People from all walks of life and backgrounds came in and felt  welcome and appreciated.

I loved visiting, and so did hundreds of others who also stopped by on a regular basis. The shop was a community hub for the religious and secular alike. Dr. Rozenberg regularly covered eye exams without charge and made sure that anyone who needed glasses or help received it. Most importantly, he did this subtly and with grace to preserve both one’s dignity and health.

Dr. Rozenberg’s shop became a community institution that touched an incredible diversity of lives and anchored many diverse networks. Neighborhoods need private spaces such as 10/10 Optics to thrive, and they are far too rare today. Thankfully for the community, the team at the shop intends to continue on without the good doctor, but the store will never be the same without him.

The Gemara in Meseches Sanhedrin discusses at great length the various prerequisites that must exist in an area for a scholar to live, and lists specific institutions such as a beit din and a teacher of children. The overall intention of the text suggests that a community must provide for all of its members’ physical, as well as well as spiritual, needs. Dr. Rozenberg, who lived in Fresh Meadows, Queens, committed much of his life to meeting both of these critically important needs and, in doing so, created a very special institution in Manhattan. He fulfilled the commandment of preserving the dignity of others and caring for both oneself and others. And he certainly inspired me and countless others. His impact was subtle but significant, and will be missed by thousands.

Yehi zichro baruch.

Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.