Last Purim, when Tom and Gloria Golbert of Princeton, New Jersey, came to their daughter and son-in-law’s Purim seudah in Long Island, they did not know that they were about to experience their own personal Purim miracle.
“If I were a good mother, I would have been in the kitchen helping my daughter; instead, I stretched out on the couch and picked up a magazine on the coffee table,” relates Gloria. “It turned out to be Jewish Action, and as I was idly thumbing through it, it almost opened itself up to page 36, where I saw the words, ‘Peretz Scheinerman,’ and I shouted, ‘That’s my great-uncle!!’”
Gloria, was so excited to see the article, “Unbroken Faith: American Jewish Families Who Defied the Odds” [Spring 5776/2016] that she immediately contacted her children. When she spoke to her son, Bob, who lives in England, he told her, “Mom, I can’t believe this! I have never seen or heard of Jewish Action, but today it was in my mailbox. I saw the article and said to myself, Peretz Scheinerman is my great-great uncle!”
“I told one of my cousins that I wanted to put together a family reunion,” says Gloria. “She said, ‘Why bother? No one will come.’ But another cousin, Debra Goldenberg, said, ‘Let’s do it!’ I reached out to my cousin Yankie Dinovitz, who suggested I contact our cousin Fagie Rosen. Creating a reunion event became a full-time job for four people. The hardest part was tracking everybody down.”
“I didn’t get back to Debra until after Pesach,” recalls Fagie. “I told her it was a really a nice idea. I was just being cordial; I didn’t think it was going to happen. Knowing we were kosher, the first thing she said was ‘We want to do it how you would be comfortable.’ I won’t forget that! There are so many people in this world who wouldn’t have said that, but this is how our family is. Not everybody is exactly the same in our family, but there was never, ever any divisiveness.”
Sharing: from Family Photos to a Gefilte Fish Recipe
The invitation that Fagie composed was sent out on July 4 to over 100 relatives throughout the U.S. and overseas. The reunion was scheduled for Grandparents Day, September 11, at Ohel Yakov Congregation, and the invitation requested that each couple contribute a suggested amount to help defray expenses such as the cost of the several food platters.
When I walked into Ohel Yakov that day with photographer Esky Cook, in our roles as journalist and photographer, we experienced the thrill of a story that would be perfect for the Small Miracles series. There were about 90 relatives – some over the age of 90, ka“h! – who traveled from California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and throughout Maryland. They were very excitedly mingling and talking and making the most of every minute before the four-hour event came to an end.
Some posed in front of banners that proclaimed, “We love our family” and “There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met.” Others were busy perusing a family photo display and taking handouts of the Jewish Action article, the family tree, photocopies of their ancestors, and Grandma Rose Scheinerman Goldenberg’s 23-step gefilte fish recipe, which she painstakingly prepared for each Shabbos.
Celebration of a Legacy
All the relatives at the reunion are direct descendents of the three Scheinerman siblings. As Gloria noted in her welcome speech, “We’re here today to celebrate Peretz Scheinerman, Ruchel (Rose) Scheinerman, and Edith Scheinerman, who bravely left the pograms and anti-Semitism in Russia and, thanks to Hashem, were able to build a new life, a better life, a life without pogroms, in our wonderful U.S.A.!”
These sibling progenitors were the children of Yitzchok Aryeh Scheinerman, who emigrated from Russia in the 1880s and later brought over his wife, Chana (nee Nachlas) and children to America. In 1908, their son Peretz married Annie Sapp, and they moved to Washington, D.C., where Peretz opened a dry goods business. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Peretz’s successful business was lost, as was everyone’s. The family moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side to fulfill the need for a Torah environment for their growing family. The father of nine children, Peretz commuted from New York to D.C. weekly for 17 years, until he paid off his debts, coming home only for Shabbos.
Peretz Scheinerman was the father of Baltimore’s own Rebbetzin Gloria (Gitty) Dinovitz, wife of Ohel Yakov’s long-time rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin (Binyamin) Dinovitz, z”l, and mother of its present rabbi, Rabbi Peretz Dinovitz, and of Rabbi Yakov (Yanky)i Dinovitz.
Gloria Golbert, who started the ball rolling, is the daughter of Bella Fruma Finkelstein, who was, in turn, the daughter of Rose Scheinerman Goldenberg. Many of the participants had never met one another and were obviously and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.
By the way, I was told that three times the number of people would have been there had the reunion taken place before school started, as many of the relatives are either in the field of education or have children in school. Noticeably absent were Ohel Yakov’s Rabbi Peretz Dinovitz and his wife, Rebbetzin CV. They called Fagie from a lechaim in Monsey just as the last participants were leaving the hall to say that their son, Chaim, had just gotten engaged!
Moser Nefesh for Torah
The JA article that was responsible for bringing this family together started off by saying that many assume Torah Judaism came to these shores in the aftermath of the Holocaust. In fact, hundreds of our ancestors stubbornly and courageously fought to lay the foundation of Torah Judaism in America in the early part of the 20th century, exhibiting extraordinary mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) and devotion to Torah. The Scheinerman family was one of a few “illustrious families” that were profiled in the magazine for their loyalty to Torah Judaism, despite living at a time when there were few, if any, yeshivos or day schools or amenities like kosher food.
A family story in the article, told by Fagie Rosen (nee Scheinerman), a granddaughter of Peretz and Annie Scheinerman, demonstrates the Scheinerman family’s devotion to Torah:
An irreligious man who was friendly with my grandfather bet on a horse and told him if the horse won the race, he’d split the winnings with him. The horse won. When the man came to Peretz prepared to give him half of the money, Peretz asked him when he had bet on the horse. The man told Peretz he placed the bet on Saturday. Peretz told him he couldn’t take the money. My grandparents certainly could have used the money. Life wasn’t easy for them, but I think of them as the richest people in the world to have had such integrity.
As Judy Peres, a Sugar cousin from Washington D.C., shared with me: “The reunion was fabulous. The last time I saw some of my relatives, unfortunately, was at a shiva house. Being the baby of the baby, I remember seeing all these people when I was a little girl and hearing about all my mother’s cousins. It was really special to see them again and to look at the old photos we all brought. I grew up going to my Great Aunt Rose and Great Uncle Mutel’s home. The Sugars and the Goldenbergs lived just blocks from each other and were both very active in the Southeast Hebrew Congregation.”
Judy’s daughter, Anna, and her fiancé, Peter, also enjoyed the reunion. “Many of these people I have never seen before,” said Anna, who hopes to keep up with family members, perhaps on What’s App. “It’s nice being part of a larger community. My parents are both only children and my grandparents, unfortunately, passed away many years ago, so having all of these people in our lives is really special.”
For some cousins, like Lynn Neustadter of Brooklyn, New York, the reunion was a venue for family discoveries. “I found out at the reunion that my granddaughter, Monica, (a great-great-granddaughter of Peretz Scheinerman) is friends, “coincidentally,” with her fourth cousin Sam, Gloria’s grandson and a great-great-grandson of Aunt Rose. They found each other in Israel!
“We ate, we spoke, we mingled, we got to see people we haven’t seen forever,” Lynn continues. “We saw pictures of people from years and years ago, we heard stories about our ancestors and their ancestors – all the things my mother wanted to tell me that I didn’t want to be bothered listening to when I was a kid. And we got to exchange memories,” continued Lynn. “My son, Adam, used to wear a yarmulke that said, “Ani Ohev Kol Yehudi,” and that’s what this reunion was. We are all different kinds, but we are all Jews, and that’s the way it should be. I think it was very nice for everybody to see and be respectful of each other’s way of life.”
“It’s been an overwhelming experience,” shared Debra Goldenberg of Northern Virginia, one of the reunion organizers. My daughter, Kayla Phillips, came from New York, and my son, Dylan Phillips, came from Virginia. Both of them said that they never knew they had relatives who were this much fun.”
Soon after the reunion, Elaine Hall of Los Angeles (granddaughter of Rose), reflected on the event: “What an amazing day…. My favorite moment was when Cousin Gitty [Rebbetzin Dinovitz] embraced her brother, saying, ‘I never thought I would see you again.’
“With our Scheinerman mishpacha, I feel as if we knew each other already….With all of our differences, we are all the same in the qualities of love, energy, generosity of spirit, and kindness. I am both humbled and proud to have come from such magnificent stock. Everything I am today…is a result of my parents’ and grandparents’ legacy, handed down from our great grandparents and theirs, blessed by Hashem.”
As Gloria concluded, “At first I said it was a coincidence, but there are no coincidences; Hashem put that magazine in my hands and opened it up to that page. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
ã Margie Pensak-2016