Joy Bernstein broke barriers, delved into her Jewish tradition and carved out a wonderful life.
Bernstein was a native Brooklynite who lived in Cedarhurst for more than 60 years. Shed died on Nov. 13 at 93.
Born Feb. 29, 1929, Joy Rosenfeld was the middle child of five. Her daughter Ronnie Gerber called her mother “beautiful and smart.” “She had a wonderful childhood,” Gerber wrote. “I was always amazed that she went to sleep away camp back in the day.”
At Brooklyn College she met Julian Bernstein, who Gerber said was “the love of her life.” Julian had come over to the Rosenfeld house and was playing cards with Joy’s brother Herbie, when he noticed a photograph of her on the piano.
“The rest is history,” Gerber said, noting how times have changed. “They got married before graduating from Brooklyn College.” Wedded in 1949, Julian and Joy were married for 63 years and had three children: Susan, Ronnie and Steven.
In 1960, the family moved to Cedarhurst. Gerber said her mother made family life wonderful and was involved in the community with charitable organizations. “She was very philanthropic financially as well as giving of her own time,” Gerber said.
At the service for Joy, Steven recited the words “dignity and grace, “class and compassion, “respect and commitment,” “philanthropic and enduring” and “beautiful and loving.” “These are the words that come to mind when I think about my mother,” she said. “These traits imbued her and molded my life. Mom showed me how to show up for life and give back to others what was freely given to me.”
Joy was the first woman trustee at Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst. She was allowed to sit on the bema on Saturdays, another first for the Conservative Jewish synagogue. Joy was involved with the temple’s Sisterhood and served as president. She was also active with Hadassah, a woman-based Jewish volunteer organization.
Gerber said she ran the Sisterhood’s bazaar and using Julian’s garment center connections she persuaded every manufacturer she could to donate new merchandise. “Our basement looked like a department store,” Gerber said. “She would pre-sell the clothes before the actual bazaar took place, making great profits for the temple.”
At 50, Joy learned Hebrew and studied to be bat mitzvahed at Temple Beth El. She also used her teaching degree to work as a substitute teacher and be home with the family. “Family was always first,” Gerber said, adding that Sunday dinners were a familial tradition that included one just before Joy died.
Mah jongg was also a huge part of Joy’s life. She played the game like it was her job. “I used to ask her, ‘If you don’t play one day, do you need a doctors note?”’ Gerber said.
When invited to a party, Joy would write a poem or song for the occasion and either recited her poetry or sang.
“Mom showed me that family comes first no matter what, as she took care of her ailing mother for years ’til the end of Grandma Lena’s life,” Steve said.
Joy Bernstein was predeceased by Julian and Susan. She is survived by daughter Ronnie Gerber and son Steven Bernstein, and grandchildren Lindsay and Daniel Gerber and Jordan and Bradley Bernstein.