Commercial Watch Part I: The Hebrew Ladies of Brooklyn


Much of my TV watching happens at the gym. I go to the Y. The Y, here in this princely town, barely grades a C-: 4 working treadmills on a good day, 3 or 4 bikes,  and a couple of elliptical machines are all crammed into a space roughly equivalent to that of my living room and set on a sweat-dampened carpet that should probably get Febreezed every so often. No individual TV screens. Magazines? There’s an Entertainment Weekly featuring Sawyer and a sneak-peek into the last season of Lost on the front cover. A Woman’s World promising the year’s best Christmas recipes. A 2009 New Yorker I’ve now read cover-to-cover at least 3 times. But no matter. The membership is relatively cheap; there’s a pool; and two lovely ladies watch the kids in a little playroom while mom or dad works out.

There are 3 TVs to watch at the Y, and no remote control. So here are my options: on the far left, CNN; in the middle, ESPN (and hence, my blindspot); on the right, which I generally end up in front of, Kathie Lee and Hoda. I have no idea what they’re actually saying, but I see them giggling, attempting to toss their shellacked hair, and clasping their hands together tightly on top of their legs also held together tightly. Perhaps with audio, I would find the show genuinely stimulating (is it possible?), but without, I can only concentrate on the movements of their high-gloss lips and flickering extend-a-lashes.

Ultimately, I’ve discovered something far more interesting than Hoda and KLG. The commercials.

Today I want to write about one I have watched numerous times, studying it frame by frame as I bounce along on the treadmill:

This MJHS commercial caught my attention for a series of reasons.

To begin with, it was the sepia. I am a sucker for anything that looks old. Then there’s the Mother of Exiles, the mighty woman with a torch, at the sea-washed, sunset gates. One year, my commute had me taking the subway over the Manhattan bridge every evening around sunset. How many times did I get all teary-eyed looking out at that Lady, glowing in the last light of the day, just beyond the Brooklyn Bridge (and I wasn’t even pregnant!)? There she is, offering refuge for the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse, the masses–whom we see–heads covered, indistinct, huddled over their belongings, also indistinct. Their new stomping grounds (my old stomping grounds) appear in bold at their backs: BROOKLYN.

From those immigrants, we move to the second set of women–elegant, established, hair dressed, necks adorned, American, contained in their frames of gilt and brass. These are not just any women: they are Jewish women. There is Webelovsky and Rosenthal, Berlin and Groden. And what did these women do from behind the glass? They “saw the despair.”

And here we have it again: Jewish women. The first set.

Both sets are Jewish women, but the women who appear in the first and third set, at the forefront, are not like those who keep to the safety of celluloid. These are old women, immigrant women, women adorned by babushkas and sheitels, arms weighted down with sacks and bundles. What is the story here? Is this a story of evolution? Are these indigent, religious women saved by the progressive American women who “saw the despair”? In the next generation, will their daughters, too, be able to retreat to their picture-perfect sanctuaries?

Is that the story being told by the series of sepia images for the Brooklyn Ladies Hebrew Home for the Aged?

Which no longer goes by that name. In a move made famous by Victor Fleming 72 years ago, the screen shifts from sepia to color, and a new name appears: MJHS (and in small, “Metropolitan Jewish Health System,” the name that was the transition-name between a locally-specific, ethnically-specific, gender-specific institution-specific name, and the acronym that means nothing).

The shift is to the present, and the new name indicates a new world.

From this:

To this:

And this:

And this:

Who are these people that are not Aged? Where is the Hebrew? Why have all the caregivers become people of color?

Except for this “Hebrew” woman–

who shares the “minority” status of the other 2011 women because she’s visibly frum.

I guess most Jewish women, particularly the secular ones, are above caregiving these days.

Except for these angels, who have found their places in our heavens–according to and on our gym TVs:


24 responses »

  1. yikes! maybe a little bit paranoid? it didn’t strike me that way at all. why so sensitive? is it possible you are reading way too much into it?

  2. Do you have more information about the four ladies who founded the Brooklyn Hebrew Ladies Home for the Aged, or a site that would have such information? I have a great, great, great, grandmother named Werbelovsky! And my sister-in-law has Berlins in her family tree.

      • I have checked mjhs site, spoken with people there – but have not been able to get specific information on founder Werbelovsky, such as her first name, husband’s name if married, where she might have lived…..
        Judy Cohen

    • Hi Judith-
      I am just seeing this post now-maybe 2 years since you’ve left it. Amazing that I happened on it. The founder is my great-grandmother, Sarah Werbelosvky (nee Lasky), She was married to Abraham Werbelovsky, who was a glass manufacturer in Brooklyn. I have quite a few photos, and also a beautiful plaque given to her from the Hebrew Home for the Aged. I wonder how/if we are related? I was contacted by a Rabbi from Washington, D.C. who was doing family research a few years ago. He directed me to a website (you can proabably “google” it-that traces all of us back to Russia and a man named Yohoash Webelovsky. You can probably get more info there or contact me if you can’t. So interesting. I am living in Baltimore but have family still in NY. Ellen Small

      • Ellen –
        Rabbi Arnie (Arnold) Resnicoff and I are 3rd cousins, If you are Sam Small’s granddaughter, we are 3rd cousins once removed. If he is your father, the we are 3rd cousins. Howard (Yehoash) married Mollie Phillipowsky and they had 4 children. Jacob, Keela Yehudit, Joseph and Chana. Jacob’s son Abe married Sarah, his first wife and they had 4 children, one of whom (whose name I do not) have married Sam Small, your branch no doubt? Keela married Simon Okuniewicz (Okonowitz and had 9 children, including Jennie Okuniewicz my grandmother, and Ethel, Arnie’s mother. e-mail me at and I will send you a copy of the 15 page family tree, which maybe you can add to with details of your branch with names; birth places and birth dates- same for marriages, deaths; and dates of any divorces. I have a piece of letterhead with the Werbelovsky Glass Co.

  3. Does anyone know the title of the violin piece that accompanies the MJHS commercial I hear on the radio? Thanks.

    • Did you ever identify the background music behind the “Brooklyn ladies” radio ad? I’m also trying to identify it. Sounds like Dvorak, but I can’t find it.

  4. Whats the violin piece for the ad if you know because I love it especially with the commercial running, it seems so peaceful. Please if you know message me. Thank You.

  5. My great grandmother was Flora Groden. She was the president of the facility when it opened. She was also an attorney (one of the first female attorneys in Brooklyn). My grandfather had a large poster size photo of her and one of her husband Morris (they were his parents) hanging in his bedroom. When he passed away in 1987 I took possession of the photos. I am giving it to MJHS.

  6. Thank you for your interest in Jewish individuals who are nurses.Jewish nurses are, fortunately, alive and well and growing in number. In the early 2000’s, it has been said that there were approximately 16,000 Jewish nurses in the United States (Benson, E.R. (2001). As We See Ourselves, Jewish Women in Nursing. Indianapolis, Indiana: Center Nursing Publishing. The Orthodox Jewish Nurses’ Association (OJNA) has a Facebook page and many members locally and across the United States and Israel. OJNA also runs an active discussion board on Yahoo. Hadassah’s Nurses Council has many activities and an active membership of Jewish nurses across the religious spectrum, educated both here and abroad. There are several nursing programs in the New York area niche marketing their recruiting efforts aimed at increasing the number of frum Jews, male and female who join the nursing profession. As nurses, we welcome all to our profession, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or class. So, please tell everyone you know who is looking for a tremendously rewarding career and wanting to make a difference in the world, that there is room in the nursing profession for all. Please join us. We await your arrival with open arms.

  7. Though neither Jewish nor a nurse, I too was captivated by the hospital commercial. I tried to look up biographies of the four Brooklyn ladies to no avail. We can only thank God that such people not only saw the despair, but took it upon themselves to right it. Hopefully, today’s generation has some of that spirit to pay it forward!

  8. My mother, Beverly Zipes Lieboff worked as a nurse there in 1953 and met my father Meyer, the switchboard operator and married in 1955; I was born in Caledonian Hospital in 1956 but the 1st 9 months we lived in Coney Island. I’d sometimes visit her at the “Brooklyn Jewish Home” as she’d say but as a swing-shirt OR nurse, I found the place, somewhat foreboding as a 5 year old. I vaguely recall long, dark curtains and couches in an waiting room/foyer. Wow.

  9. Since the four Brooklyn ladies are mentioned by name you would think that MJHS would have more info about them. I too have been trying to get info

  10. Please help in identifying the violin music. I have taped the commercial and have to resign myself to listening through the voice over.

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