Dina Rosenfeld: (Age)nt of Change
Survival is built into Dina Rosenfeld’s DNA. Dina was born in Romania, post-WWII where both of her parents survived tremendous loss of family and livelihood during the Holocaust.
While acutely sensitive to her parent’s past and to the tragedy of her own father’s death at age 5, Dina figured out very early on, that her job was to rally her mother to maintain connection to the outside world despite its reminders of their immediate loss. The little family moved from Romania to Israel and from Israel to NY, all as Dina’s mother supported the family as a seamstress earning just enough for their basic needs. They landed in Boro Park in a modest apartment, and Dina began to make her mark.
Dina believes that her survival and thriving hinges on “a dose of good luck and the right combination of attitude and ability. Voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by her New Utricht High School classmates and “girl-leader of ARISTA” by her instructors, Dina went on to study sociology and psychology at Brooklyn College, collecting prestigious scholarships along the way. She earned her MSW at Yeshiva University and also her Doctorate in Social Work. Her first job was at JASA, and she also worked at the Downstate Child and Adolescent and Sex Therapy Clinic and taught at Dominican College before she began a position on faculty at NYU.
While her work, community involvement and activism bring great satisfaction and a sense of purpose to Dina’s life, she finds her time with family - her husband and their two children and grandchild, to be a tremendous source of joy. Dina and her husband have a loving partnership and often host meals and cultural events in their home, where family and friends have hatched plans for how to improve the world for the last 40 years.
Dina’s early feminist activism spurred great change in the Jewish world. She and several second-wave Jewish feminists pushed against the patriarchal exclusion of women from religious observance. In 1971, they founded the group Ezrat Nashim, whose goal was to create inclusiveness in Jewish life for girls and women. Soon after, the group showed up in protest at a major gathering of Rabbis, and it was this moment that galvanized one of the major branches of Judaism to accept women in the Rabbinate, a hard-fought and tremendous achievement!
Dina also played the lead role in coordinating and writing the book Living After the Holocaust, which is an edited volume of essays and memoirs written by second-generation Holocaust survivors about their experiences growing up with parents who had witnessed unspeakable horrors during the war. The book was the first to explore and validate experiences of the second generation of Holocaust survivors, and opened this generation and those after to greater examination of their own experience, validating and focusing on coming to terms with their own feelings and acknowledging the intergenerational impact of their parent’s experiences and their own need to heal.
As a social worker at JASA, in the 1970’s, Dina and her many socially minded friends created a home visiting system and social groups for the older adults they worked with who were otherwise alone on the weekend. These intergenerational programs grew in frequency and out of these programs grew the nationally recognized social service agency Dorot, which now serves thousands of older adults on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
At NYU Silver School of Social Work, Dina is currently a master teacher and Associate Clinical Professor, Lead Instructor for Practice course work and involved with the NYU Prison Education program in upstate NY. Dina has also served as Field Work Specialist, Director of the Undergrad Social Work Program, Assistant Dean and the Coordinator of Service Learning Program. She helped create seven different Service Learning Programs for undergraduate students at NYU, and three different undergraduate minors for NYU undergraduates including Social Work, Poverty Studies and Interfaith Studies. During her time in academia Dina has also maintained strong connections to the field: she consults with families on adoption services, end-of-life care and on the effect of chronic illness on families.
Dina continues her involvement in her community, supporting members and their families through providing meals and arranging services upon the death of a loved one.
She acknowledges that one of her most important life experiences has been to accompany two of her friends throughout their illnesses and to death. Dina says “I was present and did not look away”. And indeed, this is the theme of Dina’s life, thus far.