The Women in MY Book…

The Women in MY Book…

I don’t usually give so much thought to the grandmothers and great-grandmothers I’m descended from….In fact, my knowledge of my family history is embarrassingly limited. At the old Nachlaot Rosh Hodesh parties, when we had to introduce ourselves as so-and-so bat so-and-so bat so-and-so, while there were women there who could go back 5 or 6 generations, I hit a wall after Chana the daughter of Gila the daughter of Chana.

But I was giving some thought to my female ancestors this morning after weeping over the ending of Moshe Hecht’s newly-released music video “Believers” when the waitress opens up HER book, with photos of her own Jewish grandmothers and great-grandmothers who dreamed of passing down belief in Hashem and the Jewish traditions to a Jewish great-granddaughter like her.

Which inspired me to run around my house and hard drive and gather together some photos of the JewishMOMs from MY book…

This is my great-grandmother Cecilia (whose nickname was Jenny, I was named after her). She lived in Brooklyn and was a bright lady and a devoted wife and mother who was famous for her incredible hospitality. Her husband, John L. Bernstein, was the founder of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which assisted many European Jews resettle in America, so my great-grandparents often hosted the newly-arrived HIAS immigrants in their home as well. My son's name is Yoel Elchanan....Elchanan is after John L. Bernstein's Hebrew name.

This is my grandmother, Florence Freedman (Cecilia's daughter) with her husband Joel Meyer. Grandma Florence was the only grandparent I knew growing up, since all my other grandparents had passed away by the time I was 3. Grandma was a brilliant, funny, shining, vibrant person with hundreds of friends. She loved being Jewish and was passionate about Israel and also was a professor of Education at Hunter College. My daughter Hadas is named after her, and my son Yoel is named after her husband (as well as my father-in-law's father, who was also named Yoel).

This is a photo from the wedding of my grandparents Anna and Jack Arak. This is the Chana I was named after, so it's pretty sad that I know nearly nothing about her. She and her husband and Chana's mother Tilly (Tsippe, who my daughter Tsofia is named after) were killed in a car crash in 1968, so I never met them. I know that my grandfather was a dentist in Queens and my grandmother was his secretary. I know she was a devoted wife and JewishMOM. The second woman from the right in the photo is my grandfather's mother, my great-grandmother Ida/Alte.

These are my parents, Gladys and Matthew Freedman. What can I tell you? They are the awesomest.

That's me on the right, and my cousin Noah on the left, being held by my grandfather Meyer Joel Freedman z"l.

In Moshe Hecht’s song “Believers” he says, “Sons of believers, brothers and sisters, who do you lean on? Our Father in Heaven…Now I don’t feel You all the time, You’re not always on my mind, but I’ve got You from time to time. And I know the Divine, yes I know the Divine…” What a great description of those fleeting moments of Divine connection we feel from time to time.

And the truth is that even though I don’t own a real-life leather bound book like the woman in this video, I’ve got one in my heart, with all the women photographed above and a few more too. All those proud Jewish women whose blood flows through my blood: Gila and Chana and Florence and Cecilia and Ida and Tilly, and their mothers and grandmothers whose names have been forgotten…

And for some reason, those moments I remember the great women who fill my own book are usually those same, rare moments when I feel Hashem whispering my name from behind the curtain.

Here’s Moshe Hecht’s new video “Believers”:


This cold cry for inspiration is constant
to get a glimpse of your glory for a moment
to be grateful, and to be faithful

we will do then we will listen
we will commit before we reason
in this fertile field where faith is nourished
where sons of believers flourish

believers, sons of believers
brothers and sisters
and who do we lean, our father in heaven
our strength and our reason

to believe is to sow, the seeds to grow
within your soul, within the world you know
and whose world is it
from nothingness you come for a visit
the most complete and most perfect form of existence
no room for resistance


I don’t feel you all the time
and you’re not always on my mind
but I’ve got you from time to time
and I know the Divine, yes i know the Divine
it all began at mount Sinai


My emunah planted inherently
so shepherd me, have faith in me and see what i can be



  1. sarah deitsch

    Thank you for this.
    Your article is touching and inspiring and his song is uplifting and truly deep.
    Really appreciate this.

  2. ruth cohen

    oh my your children look like you do here in the baby picture. oh incredible how similiar they are to you. love the picture of cecilia she looks so regal, special

  3. Menucha Chana Levin

    Thanks so much for sharing your fascinating family story.
    Each one is a treasure to be passed down to your children.
    I also remember saying my name at Rosh Chodesh
    gatherings as
    Menucha Chana bat Hoda Laya bat Frayda bat Rachel

  4. Oh my. How come I never knew you? My grandfather was John Bernstein’s brother – Dr. James. I went to many seders at Aunt Florence’s and Uncle Meyer was my dentist. I went to Brooklyn Friends School with your uncle Eric.

    Bill Benton

    • James Bloom-Scheff

      I too am related. James Bernstein was my great grandfather. I’m not going to post my email address online, I’ve sent it to the website owner. I would love to hear from William Benton and the website owner. I don’t remember Meyer freedman, although he was also my dentist for a while. I remember the train set in his office. Florence, I remember well and Johnny. My brother and I stayed with Florence a couple of times. She had this really cool music box that played metal phonograph-sized records. Anyways, please contact me.

  5. James Bloom-Scheff

    One other thing I forgot to mention. I have been maintaining a family tree for almost 40 years. I’d love to share it with relatives and get updates. I have a copy online at

  6. Robbie Siegel

    Hi- I think I am a cousin. Jack Arak was my mother Harriet’s (Bernstein) first cousin. I remember going to see “Uncle Jack” my dentist on Steinway Street. His wife Anne always gave us candy when we were finished. They had a cute beagle dog named Racky. I also remember the horrible crash that took their lives. My mother and Grandmother Jack’s Aunt Essie) were just devistated. Hope this finds you well. Best, Robbie Siegel

  7. Hello from Iowa! John was my grandfather, Arthur Benton’s, uncle. Arthur’s father was James, John’s younger brother. Thanks for the post and the great pictures. If you want to find me just do a Google, not a lot of Ofers in Iowa!

  8. james bloom-scheff

    Any and all related bernsteins who are not in contact with me on Facebook, please send me a friend request ( I have created a facebook group for cousins to meet and communicate.

  9. Mabel Miller

    Looks like I’m your 3rd cousin 1x removed! James Bernstein is my great great grandfather. My father is James Scheff (previous commenter)’s first cousin! My fathers name is also James! And my uncles name is John, I’m guessing after John Bernstein!

  10. Janet Benton

    Thank you so much for these pictures! I have never seen Cecelia or Florence. My dad is a nephew of James Bernstein, John’s brother.

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