Bronia Weiner’s big day approaches
By Deb Silverthorn
Bronia Weiner’s smile and the glimmer in her eyes is brighter than all 102 candles appropriate for the cake for her upcoming birthday. A century plus two years, Bronia has lived with spirit, gumption, good health and optimism.
“In life there is tragedy, and comedy, and you have to, you must find the joy and laughter,” said Bronia. “It’s the only way.”
Bronia is the mother of Marcel (Sue) and Sam (Marilyn) Weiner, and Roslyne Schulman; grandmother of Benjamin, Sarah and Rebecca Schulman; Danny Weiner; Jared (Carey) Weiner and Courtney (Justin) Villere; and great-grandmother of Simone and Vanessa Weiner and Griffin and Reese Villere.
Born in Storozhynets, Romania, to Chanina and Rosa of blessed memory, on April 16, 1919, Bronia was the youngest of four children. Her father and sister Ruchel of blessed memory died of the Spanish flu when Weiner was just an infant. Bronia’s grandparents came to live with them, with her grandmother helping her mom to raise the children when her grandfather died. Tickets were sent by family in the United States, and ultimately Robert, just 14, made the move.
“There were hard years, disease, loss and little money. There was so much persecution of the Jews,” said Bronia. “In my home we always tried, however, to be positive, to look for happiness.”
As a teen, for Bronia that happiness came on the stages of Yiddish theater, where her father had entertained. Performing in Chernovitze, she met her husband, Karl, of blessed memory, a castmate seven years her senior. The two were married on Dec. 26, 1939.
Within a few months, as World War II raged, Karl joined the Russian Army to fight the Nazis. Bronia, with other women and children, was marched to Bershad concentration camp in Transnistria.
She survived the camp and after the war ended, the couple reunited when a mutual acquaintance connected them through notes left on bulletin boards.
After the war, the couple lived in Timisoara, Romania, where both of their sons were born. Times were hard and food was sparse, but love endured.
More than seven decades later, Bronia chooses to focus on the dreams they rebuilt, the family that lives on.
“I’ve weighed my life’s successes and trials against what my parents endured,” said Roslyne, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Mom has faced adversity in so many ways and yet she remains a lioness with iron in her spine.”
In 1960, amid continued difficult times for Romanian Jews, the Weiner family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sponsored by Bronia’s brother Robert and assisted by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
“As hard as times were, Mom had lived through harder and she had the determination that brought us here,” said Sam, who lives in Wilmington, Delaware. “Our parents were courageous, and in making the move we were protected from the difficulties they faced.”
“Momma Bear,” as her children call her, has always been protective, and she never lost her flair for the dramatic. Once, after Roslyne complained to her mother about a tired brown coat she’d worn, Bronia picked her up in a ballgown and mink stole, also coloring her hair so she’d look younger, not to embarrass her daughter. Another time, Roslyne and her parents were approached by a car with its driver waving a gun. Bronia stood strong and the car drove away, Roslyne recalled.
“Mom’s always been our fiercest defender. She and Dad gave us a strong work ethic and an appreciation of our culture,” said Marcel, a member of Temple Emanu-El with his wife, Sue. “My dad went into Meyer and Sons kosher market every day for a week asking for work but was repeatedly told there was no job. He just picked up a broom, started helping and eventually was hired and paid in food for the family, later buying his own meat market.”
Years later, Bronia returned to school to earn her high school diploma and, after visiting a friend in the hospital and speaking with a nurse close to her age, decided it was never too late to start anew. She was nearly 50 when she began her nursing studies at Montefiore Jewish Hospital, where she then worked for 14 years.
“I wanted with my whole heart to become a nurse,” said Bronia. “I loved the people and that’s the most important thing. Sick people need a smile and when you can give that, you give everything.”
While Bronia’s life has had many trials, it is her strength of self, sense of humor and the ever-present twinkle in her eyes that now keep her going. Settled since December in Dallas, and as of the first of this year at one of the Manchester Care Homes, she’s happy to be close to family and has befriended her caretakers, now family too.
“I’ve only known Bronia for six weeks but it’s like she’s been part of me my whole life,” said Manchester Care Homes Director of Nursing Sandi Greenberg. “She loves to dance, laugh and smile and she engages in everything. She’s an incredible blessing to all our lives.”
While Bronia has no secrets to surviving a century-plus, certainly her favorite breakfast of challah with honey starts her day as sweet as she is.
“Smile,” she reiterates her mantra. “Make someone smile and you have to smile too.”