September 21, 2022

Before It’s Too Late: Eric Rozenberg

Imagine having to leave the only home you’ve ever known because of rising prejudice against your ethnicity. Eric Rozenberg grew up in Belgium, surrounded by rising antisemitism. In 2013, fearing for the safety of their children, he and his wife Elsa chose to leave everything behind and immigrate to the United States. 

Before It’s Too Late is Eric’s love letter to his daughters. It details European events since the 1980s, the rise of antisemitism, the Rozenberg family’s history and how all of this led them to decide to leave Belgium for the future of their girls.

It’s also a love letter to America, well-researched, compelling, intimate and moving. This legacy book shares why Eric and his family consider their adopted home the greatest country on earth, and why they are concerned about what they are witnessing in the United States today. 

Here’s my conversation with Eric Rozenberg.

Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Benji Block and I’m excited to talk with Eric Rozenberg today. He’s just authored a new book titled, Before It’s Too Late: A Love Letter to My Daughters and America. Eric, thank you for being with us today.

Eric Rozenberg: Well, thank you for having me, Benji.

Benji Block: So man, your resume includes time organizing projects for Fortune 500 companies in over 50 countries, which is maybe a conversation for a different day but very impressive. Also, volunteering to protect the Jewish community in Brussels, you’re passionate about geopolitics. So walk me through, you’re a busy man, why this project, why write this book right now, Eric?

Eric Rozenberg: A very good question. I spoke a lot when I was in Belgium about what I was seeing, dangers I was seeing and I wanted to inform people and after a while, I realized that probably was not having the impact I hoped it could have had, and so when we decided to move finally to the US, I had this huge mind map in my office for years because I wanted to tell the story to my daughters. 

I wanted them to understand, and the next generation in my family, why we took them from a very easy life, from seeing their full grandparents every week, from the classical, traditional life that you would look at. Why did we decide to remove them from that and to come to America? 

I think that’s really a legacy project that I wanted to leave for my kids and the more I was speaking about it with friends in America, everybody, regardless of their background and religion, they would say, “Oh, I wish my ancestor would have done that when they first came to America.” So that’s the genesis, if you want, of the project.

Benji Block: Well, I’ll be another one that would raise my hand to go, I would love to have read that book from my ancestors. So great work doing this actually, putting it together and it’s so compelling reading it not as someone in your family, Eric, but just as an onlooker into your story and giving so much context and history here that it brings you right in.

So I love that. Talk about that a little bit more as to who’s your ideal reader? Because you’re writing for your daughters, that’s very clear from the title but I wonder who else you’re hoping is going to pick this book up?

Planting The Seed

Eric Rozenberg: Yeah, thank you for saying that. Definitely my daughters. Second, probably the next generations in my family that are not born yet and that I will never meet, when I’m thinking about third, fourth, fifth generation later on, that’s the first thing. Second group I would say is, people that are living in America and especially those who believe that they’re criticizing all the time and yes, there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed and it is the greatest country on earth and I want them to understand that from our perspective. 

And third, really, it’s anybody and everybody. Whether they’re Jewish or not, that I want them to understand what happened in Europe. I’m not trying to convince anyone but at least I’m planting a seed. This is what happened in Europe, this is what we witnessed, these are the decisions that we took and why and hopefully, this will not be duplicated in America.

Benji Block: We’ll get to all of that but I think you’ve mentioned Belgium a little bit here. Obviously now, you’re here and we’ll talk about America in a few minutes. So we need to jump into some of your history. I think that background is obviously vital. So line up for our audience, just your family history and what brought Belgium, obviously to become home, that’s a crucial piece of all of this.

Eric Rozenberg: So all my grandparents came from Russia, Poland, Romania, the cities depending on the war of one border to another. My grandparents came to work and my grandparents came to study as well in Belgium. When my grandfather on my mother’s side, for instance, lost hist citizenship after the revolution in Russia, having a Belgian passport was an amazing honor for him. 

And it’s also the same from my grandfather on my father’s side, who was a blue collar in my hometown in Shalawa and for whom Belgium was the country of opportunities for them, for their children, and the history that they faced while being in Belgium. So my grandfather on my father’s side, enrolled in the arm partisan of the beginning of World War II by the Nazi and my grandfather on my mother side jumped out of a train that was going to Auschwitz on November 1, 1942, and survived.

So there was always this love of the country but also this awareness of being alive and being grateful for having a Belgian passport and basically, maybe I’m jumping to the conclusion but after two generations, my wife and I came to the conclusion that the country for which my grandparents had fought and loved so much was not able to protect our children anymore.

Benji Block: It’s interesting because we’ll jump to your kids in a second but even in your upbringing, you experienced several antisemitic moments. It’s complicated when you’re a kid, right? Because it takes an emotional toll, you don‘t have all the words for it. This is just speaking directly to your childhood. You say, “For six years, I put on a brave face in public and I cried regularly at home, begging my parents to let me change schools, but to no avail.”

“On one hand, we were not celebrating any Jewish holidays but on the other, my father wanted me to learn what it was to be a Jew.” So this very complicated situation. Take me inside your upbringing, Eric, because your parents, your grandparents experience one thing and then you are dealing with this mix of emotions as well.

Eric Rozenberg: So after World War II, for my grandparents, God doesn’t exist. If it does, how can he or she for some people, allow this to happen? So I was raised in a very secular family. Although, I remember that one occasion, I was in the synagogue with my grandfather and my mother’s side and we were doing what we always do in the synagogue, which is talking with each other.

And suddenly, he interrupted me and turned to the Hassan, the person was singing the prayers, corrected that person and went back to our conversation, and I was stunned because obviously it was there in his mind, and so having been raised like that, when you turn 12 and you have kids that are calling you, excuse my French but, “A fucking dirty jew” and telling all the antisemitic joke that they know, obviously at that age, it doesn’t come from the children. 

It comes from the parents. A few years later, that coming from the children themselves but that’s what we were faced with. I was the only Jew in my year and although, again, very secular and I knew they were Jewish, through the eyes of the others and the insult and the fights and that’s what I experienced for six years.

Benji Block: What does it look like at home, Eric, for you to learn what it was to be a Jew? Was it taught by osmosis and just the way that your parents were bringing you up or do you remember some specific things that like, your father wanted to instill in you? Because I could see the negative effects of kids at school or those outside but I wonder the flip side of that coin and really learning what it means to be Jewish?

Learning What It Meant to be Jewish

Eric Rozenberg: Right and so a great question. Basically, being faced with that, that’s really when I actually start asking questions and starting to learn, but also we celebrated every year on the 1 November, my grandfather jumping out of the train and so there was this work of memory that was always there. One thing I clearly remember, there was this TV series call Holocaust with Meryl Streep and she was acting on it.

You know, that time you couldn’t binge a series on Netflix. So every week, on the Wednesday, you’re watching one episode. I remember crying every time I was seeing that and then hearing my grandfather said, “Ah, it’s nothing compared to what really what happened” and then obviously, with learning at home what it was but also, facing what I was, facing outside, I kind of started to identify to what was happening in the movie. 

So it was very complex. Now, I can tell you that years later, but in the moment, I was just confused and it was very hard having those insults and fighting, physically sometimes, fighting with people. It’s what life is. I guess, they always say, what doesn’t kill you make you stronger and then again, it’s not something by choice. 

Those were the cards I was dealt and, quite frankly besides that, I had no complaint. A loving family, going on holidays, you have a nice roof, a nice meal, everything that you could hope for was there but the emotional part was extremely challenging.

Benji Block: Yeah. What doesn’t kill you either winds you up in therapy or maybe you write a book.

Eric Rozenberg: Right.

Benji Block: Here we are with the book that is contemplating all of these things and I think that that’s a beautiful way of saying it. Okay, so let’s skip a little bit forward here, we’ll hit fast forward. There is a rise in antisemitism in Belgium that you highlight. Obviously, it had been there but from 2002 to 2009, and I was unaware because I am not a historian, let alone, I didn’t know much about Belgian history. So walk us through the conditions and what led to sort of this rise because that then triggers your ultimate decision to move.

Eric Rozenberg: Right. It actually started earlier. It really started at the 80s and you know, I speak a little bit in the book about the terrorist attack at the Jewish Synagogue obviously and the Jewish in Brussels in 1982, but there was a big shift in the 1980s and 1990s and that was the socialist party that clearly identified that its traditional borders were not voting for them anymore. 

The blue collar, like my grandfather and they shift to the immigrants and 95 if not more, percent, of the immigrants were from Muslim countries and unfortunately, there was a lot of control of the population by the Islamist and that’s something that I also mentioned in the book, which is extremely important to understand. There is a major difference between a Muslim person and an Islamist. 

But unfortunately, the socialist party played a card with the Islamist, starting to give them a lot of power, a lot of resources and in the meantime, there was something else that was happening. It was the narrative from Yasser Arafat and the PLO, which was all about anti-Israel and when you put those two things together, you had an alliance between the socialist party, the leftist party and the Islamist and the PLO and that created an environment in that I detailed with a lot of reference as well in the book. 

But it ended up with the rise of that antisemitism and up to the 1980s, we were always concerned by the fascist, the right extremist and since then, it was really from the antisemitism coming from the Muslim population, the Islamist population and by the way, you will see also in the book, that has been praised by the Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, the presidential conference of Imam. 

So, he’s talking about it better than I do but the result was that every single time you would hear, “Oh, that is bashing against Israel” people identifying the Jews to Israel and creating an environment where Jews were being killed, and there’s a lot of examples unfortunately and friends as well in the Jewish schools because of what those people saw in the media, and it’s like, it doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s like you’re lobster cooking or frog cooking, whatever you call it. It’s five degrees by five degrees and you get used to it and then, another five degrees and then you get used to it and so on and so forth. Up to the point that on one hand, I was speaking with all the politicians and the head of the media company that I knew because of my business and my company in corporate events. 

And on the other hand, I was speaking with the law enforcement and the service, due to my volunteering for the Jewish community and I’ve always trusted law enforcement much more than politicians or media people, and that’s when we came to that conclusion that in the future, there will be no space for Jews in Belgium and in Europe, and we took a decision to come to America. 

Benji Block: Interesting. Yeah, you talked about leaving Belgium and deciding to disassociate with anything and anyone associated with the socialist party, and I wanted to highlight that for a second because you did have friends. You joke about arguing loudly in like a pub or a restaurant and allowing there to be political difference in those conversations and loving those times when it wasn’t an end in political correctness, and going, “Okay, we agree to disagree” but it was just a disagreement but we’re still friends right?

So what switched for you, Eric, in your head to go, “Okay, I can’t associate with this anymore and I need to make like a hard line in the sand.”

Eric Rozenberg: Well, there’s two things that I’d like to share with you for that question. The first one, I do miss those moments where you can argue with someone and we would shout at each other, we would give insult to each other and then we have dinner. Today, as soon as you disagree with someone, “Woah” you’re being canceled and nobody wants to talk to you anymore.

Well, that’s unfortunate but hopefully that will change with time but that’s something I miss. The second thing really, the more I thought about it, the more I said, “Listen, you always have the choice” and those friends that decided to do this political career, they knew what was going on but they made a choice. They made a choice for their career, they made a choice because they wanted to keep their job. 

They made a choice because of ideology but at the end of the day, to me, they were all co-responsible of the rise of antisemitism in Belgium and I just didn’t want to associate with them anymore.

Benji Block: So it’s less about having different political views, because conversation can still have there, but when you’re complicit, that’s going to be obviously a hard line in the sand because you know what’s happening behind closed doors and you’re still not doing anything about it.

Eric Rozenberg: Absolutely, absolutely. There’s an amazing picture that I have seen many times on social media. When you see a Nazi rally, when you see everybody is rising their right hand and doing the Nazi salute, except one guy in the middle that has his arm crossed and that to me is really always have a choice, but I do miss that conversation and to your point, I love sitting in a room with people that have different opinions. 

I really do, but it doesn’t mean that you have to cancel everyone or you have to shout at each other names because they’re stupid or whatever. I really love the fact that you can bring people from different opinion and sit down and that’s what I’m seeing here and what I want to do really, in America. I don’t care if you’re democrat or republican, I don’t care if we agree on issues or not, we first are Americans and we first lucky to be living in the most amazing country in the world and yes, there’s a lot of things to be fixed but first, let’s focus on what are the commonalities and why we’re living here. 

Benji Block: I think something I’ve become more and more aware if is in situations like this, I want to always follow the money because I wonder if, and this is would be just a question towards you as what you saw happen in Belgium, it seems like politics gets into this game of, “Well, if we do this or we stand up against this, then we lose our funding. We lose this constituency and so well, we need that.”

“So for the greater good, we’ll just continue to include these groups that are antisemitic or are…” and you see that on both sides of the political spectrum in America for sure, where it’s like, “We can’t lose this constituency, so how we do appeal to them? Appease them?” Is that what happened in Belgium, to then in extreme where all of a sudden it’s antisemitic, this Islamism that you speak of, is that what you saw some of them, is finance involved there? 

Eric Rozenberg: Totally but it is not—to me, finance is the second reason. The first reason is power.

Benji Block: Right, always. 

Eric Rozenberg: It is power. I tell a story in the book, this friend was very high ranking in the socialist party and as I was telling them what is going on and your boss is the prime minister of Belgium right now, I mean, at that time and he has all the power. He doesn’t do anything against the Islamist and he looked at me and he said, “Eric, my job is to keep the socialist party in power” and I’m like, “Okay.” 

That day, I understood two things. First, whoever they are, all those nice words about, you know, values, human values and everything, they just want the power and second, it was time to leave, but you said something else in your question as well, which is stunning to me and probably go larger than the book but very current, you are talking about appeasement. Appeasement never worked and we saw it in Europe. 

That’s what’s extremely frustrating to me is that we know history at like 80 years ago. We know what happened in Munich when Chamberlin-Daladier, the French and the British basically gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler in Munich and we know that appeasement didn’t work, and what we’re doing today with Iran is absolutely appalling to me. I don’t get it. 

This is the country, which is the roguest country on earth, which is sponsoring terrorism, which is bitching at America and Israel all the time, which is supporting the killing of—trying to kill Salman Rushdie, who is trying to eliminate opponent that’s living in New York and we still want to give billions of dollars to those people. I don’t get it, and that’s what I saw in Europe, people want to keep the power at any costs. 

Left or right by the way, and I just don’t want to be associated with that. So I am very interested in politics and geopolitics but that is the last thing I will do in my life, is doing politics. 

Benji Block: Well, it is. It is fascinating thing to look on and wonder where can we find ourselves as part of the solution without just jumping into politics, and I do want to maybe end our conversation there in a few minutes, so we’ll come back to that but I want to jump to having seen what you saw in Belgium, you start to layout, I’ll go back to that example, the five degrees that we just kind of get used to, right? 

The heat kind of getting—so what are you seeing in the US that causes some level of fear that we’re headed in the same direction?

Antisemitism in the US

Eric Rozenberg: So I am seeing the same narrative. I am seeing the same, “If you disagree with us, you are a fascist or you are an extremist or you’re racists.” I am seeing the same political correctness, which basically is not helping society at all. I am seeing the same arguments against Israel and against the Jews. 

I am seeing the same alliance between the leftist party and I would say, the left of the Democratic Party and I am talking about Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders and the alliance with the Islamist, and we can talk for hours about somebody like Linda Sarsour, who was an organizer of the Woman March and who was advocating for Sharia Law, which is how can you become the poster child of feminism by speaking for Sharia law. It is something that it’s out of my mind. 

So I am seeing all of those similarities and I am very concerned with that, including in the universities, you cannot disagree with the narrative or you’re being canceled or kicked out and that’s very worrying and in the same time, at least there is a lot of reaction here. There is a lot of organization that are fighting to inform people. There is a lot of organization that are exposing the narrative and the lies of all of those people and there is a lot of organization that have a lot of means as well to fight that, where in Europe, there is absolute nothing in front of those extremists. 

Benji Block: So the organizing has given you hope. I do think that is one of America’s advantages, right? There is that ability, hopeful, you speak of political correctness, that does complicate things but the hope would be that you can put something together. You can organize something in a way here that maybe isn’t replicable in other places in the world. 

Eric Rozenberg: Absolutely and that to me, my hope and my optimism if you want, it is in the DNA of America. I always tell my friend in Europe, I say, “Okay, if America is not fighting for freedom, who is going to do it?” The cowards leading Europe? No way. The Russian the Iranian, the Chinese or the North Korean? So that to me is in the DNA of America, it is in the DNA of people here. 

We have a love for freedom, we have a love for free speech, that I think is very important. But free speech means, as well, letting people that disagree with you speak up and that’s the whole purpose for me living here, writing this book for my daughters, is that I am very optimistic on the long-term for America and for this country and for the world because of that. 

Benji Block: So let me ask you a question because I see what you are saying on like the far left of things. My fear also comes in on the far right of things because I think context clues are such a big part of things and in America, we are seeing a rise of Christian nationalism and because of the Christian background of America, and it’s complicated on how that people think about it, but what do you see? 

Belgium has some sort of strong like right wing counter to the socialist side of things, what did that look like and how do you see that being the same or different here?

Eric Rozenberg: Well, the right wing part in Belgium, Belgium is divided in Flemish and Donor and the Wallonia in the south and so it’s different from one region to another, and I would say, to your point, and don’t get me wrong with that, I am not only focusing on the left extremist and you are absolutely right. The right extremists are as equally dangerous. 

The thing is, the left extremist today, and I am talking about the Islamist, that alliance, is much more dangerous in terms of their means. They have much more means, they have much more spread into society. You take an organization like Student for Justice in Palestine, it’s in over 200 campuses in America. So that to me is when I hear always people focusing only on the fascist and the right extremist, I said, “No-no-no.” 

It’s you know, the left extremist and the right extremist is like if you are fighting cancer and AIDS, if you cure one, you’re still going to die from the other. You need to fight both and as much as I have read books like Liberal Fascism from Jonah Goldberg or obviously, what is going on with the right extremist, I think that focusing on one is a bias just because of a certain narrative, a dogma that you want to follow. 

But to me, it’s not one or the other, you really have to fight both and today, the most dangerous for me is really the left extremism that—I am just going to give you an example. If I speak with some Christian friends, and by the way, we are from a Judea-Christian culture. I don’t have any problems with that but when I speak with Christian friends that are very conservative and I am telling them that my three daughters they will make their choice for their body the way they want and nobody on earth will be able to direct their choice. 

It is their body, they make that decision. They don’t agree with me but they’re not going to cancel me. They are not going to call me names. They are not going to avoid me. They are not going to keep me out of business or university, whatever. They disagree and they let me know and we have a conversation and we have a relationship. I am seeing less and less that part when I am speaking with people that are extreme left and that is very unfortunate. 

Benji Block: Man, there is so much that I would love to ask follow-up questions on there but I think that’s a good way of explaining. I think often of how many of us will think of politics as maybe a spectrum or a pendulum swinging and in reality, when you swing up high enough to circle, you get to the crazies on both sides and they almost meet in the middle and they don’t realize they’re meeting in the middle. 

Eric Rozenberg: Absolutely. 

Benji Block: So okay, let’s hear real quick, you point out six lies. You tell readers to watch out for these six lies about Israel. I wonder if there was one that you are hearing more often than others that you wanted to highlight and address here. 

Eric Rozenberg: One I want to address is that what started with the Jews never ends for the Jews. We’re kind of the canary in the coal mine and we have seen that throughout centuries and throughout the history of mankind and I would say that today, Israel has become the Jew of the nation. All those lies that if you look at democracy, if you look at different genders being free to live the way they want. 

If you look at people from different colors, from different religions, that is everything that is happening in Israel and I am not even talking about the research, the health, the agriculture, all the discoveries that they’re making that we are benefiting. Do you know that every infantry soldier in America now can be protected thanks to a drone technology that was invented in Israel? 

All those things that we don’t know about, my point is, people should learn about Israel, about the country, about what they are really doing there and nothing is perfect ever but quite frankly, it’s probably one of the light of the world and they’re fighting a fight that the first post of the fight that we are fighting here as well, but in terms of democracy and freedom, and so every lie that is told and repeated, it is something that I think we need to speak up against that. 

That’s really the message that I wanted to give to my daughters and to people in general. Again, I love America. There is not another country I would like to live with in the world, but when it comes to the lies about Israel and about the Jews, people should pay attention and you know, my favorite question is always how many Jews do you think there are in the world? People think and they give me numbers. 

There are actually about 16.5 million Jews in the world and I hear numbers like hundreds of millions or a billion and it’s like 2% of the US population and you know, we are not going to restart on that conversation but the last thing I want to mention about what is going on today, a lot of people talking about DEI. You know, DEI is very important. Diversity is very important, absolutely. 

My question is, why are Jews and why is anti-Semitism excluded from DEI? Does 2% of the US population doesn’t qualify as a minority? You know, there is so many examples like that. So it is just common sense going back to the facts, and I know that facts don’t care about your feelings and that is something that people don’t like. That is really the message to me, don’t listen to those lies. Just look at the facts, look at what Israel is doing and that’s also one of the part of the book that I wanted to transmit to my daughters. 

Benji Block: So for those listening and they’re going, “All right, Eric is compelling me to dive deeper into some history” where should people start? We want to push them to read your book, Before It’s Too Late, it is going to give some context and also some great stories but what else can we be reading to give us a view and some good perspective? 

Eric Rozenberg: Well, I guess that it was all idea in the book is that I have over a 175 links and reference to books, to blogs, to videos, to text, to posts on one hand and on the other hand is also a list of suggested books that I suggest my audience to read and whoever wants to learn a bit more about the topic that are listed as well in the book. It is a vast topic and I try to, you know, plant the seed. 

As I said, I am not trying to convince anyone and I want to give the information. It is not the truth, it is my truth. It is what my wife and I, my family went through it and that’s why I wrote the book to my daughters, and I am publishing it for whoever wants to read it and that’s why also I put all of those reference within the book. 

Benji Block: All right, let’s end with this question Eric. So you said several times America is the greatest country in the world but when you see all the issues, the problems that we’re facing, the heated conversational battles that we’re in and different ways of looking at things, what still gives you hope for the future and yeah, paint that picture for us. 

Hope for the Future

Eric Rozenberg: So I think that media and social media, in general, is emphasizing the extreme and dividing the country, there is no question about that. I do believe, sincerely believe, that the majority of Americans are kind of in the center. On the left, on the right, but kind of in the center and understand, and want to speak up and fight for freedom and making sure that we keep this country. 

There is a lot of things to be fixed, absolutely. My hope is looking at the next generation, when I see the generation of my daughters, you know, I remember some friends that are from the LGBTQ community, the challenges that they had growing up being a teenager in my time, and when I see my daughter and their friends that they have from different backgrounds, it’s just normal, their choices and it’s fine and they’re still friends. 

I do have a big hope for the future, then again, people have said it before me, it’s always a constant fight whether it is the rights for women, the right for democracy, there’s this always one generation after the other. We need to keep on fighting for it, we need to speak up for it and we need to expose those who are using democracy for their extreme objectives, but at the end of the day, I don’t see and again, as you mentioned, I’ve worked in over 50 countries in the world.

I don’t see any other country in the world where people are so open to speak up and to defend democracy and freedom. 

Benji Block: Well Eric, it’s been a pleasure to get to chat with you today. The book again is called, Before It’s Too Late: A Love Letter to My Daughters and America. It is going to be a great book for people to pick up, a great resource for so many. So besides the book, is there a website, Eric or how should people stay connected to you and your work? 

Eric Rozenberg: That’s my work, that’s it. 

Benji Block: Perfect, then that’s so easy. Everybody go find, Before It’s Too Late, on Amazon. That is Eric’s work, that’s his mission, so go give it a read. We really appreciate your time, man, this has been a fascinating conversation. 

Eric Rozenberg: Thank you very much.