How fortunate the Summer Olympics were playing in the background when I called a cousin in August of 2012, and asked about a long-lost grandaunt who had divorced from her husband in New York City and moved to Virginia in the 1930s.
After doing genealogy research for decades, I was set on finding the descendants of the siblings of my husband’s paternal grandfather who had not been heard from in many, many years.
While speaking with Isa, I could hear the familiar sounds of the Olympic rallying cries. What I had no idea would happen is that she would actually call her husband to the phone to tell me that his mother spoke of a second cousin or someone in the family from Virginia, who won the bronze medal for the United States, in the 1964 Summer Olympics, in Japan; Mike even remembered the champion’s name, Jim Bregman.* That was all the information this consummate researcher needed to fill in the final puzzle pieces of that branch of the family tree.
There’s so much more to this story but I’ll be brief for my blog post. I contacted a welcoming Jim and he, in turn, got me in touch with his first cousin Frane. Frane, being several years older than Jim, remembered her monthly rides by car and ferry, before the construction of major highways, to get to her mother’s aunt and uncle (my husband’s paternal grandparents) in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to freshen up en route to her paternal grandparents in New York and a visit to her maternal great-grandmother (my husband’s paternal great-grandmother), also in New York.
At the Cohen house in Elizabeth, Frane recalls that with her aunt and uncle’s 14 children, there was always someone awake and something cooking on the stove, no matter what time of day or night her family arrived. She marvels at the fact that even though it was wartime, and there was gas rationing, they always had sufficient fuel to make the trip. After her father’s untimely passing in January of 1951, she wondered for years whatever happened to the family in Elizabeth. An emotional Frane broke into tears when we spoke.
My husband and I spend a week in Florida in February, and since that first conversation we always make a point of traveling to visit Frane and her husband Joel in Lake Worth. This year, Jim and his younger brother Howard specifically arranged their visit from Virginia, where Jim and Terry live and Maryland, where Howard and his wife Barbara live, timing their visit to Frane and Joel to coincide with ours. What a memorable seven hours of intellectual conversation and nostalgia the day turned out to be.
As Jim saw in the Olympics and I learned with the games playing in the background when I asked the opportune question, timing is everything. Amen.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Bregman#mw-head
James Bregman (born November 17, 1941, in Arlington, Virginia) was a member of the first American team to compete in judo in the Summer Olympics. He is of the Jewish faith. He started Judo at the age of 12 and went to college in Japan.
In 1964 he won the AAU Senior National Judo Championship.
Judo was first in included in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and Bregman won a bronze medal in the under 80 kg category in those games—the only American to bring home a medal in judo in the 1964 Summer Games.
The judo world sometimes speaks with pride of the 1964 US Olympic Judo Team as consisting of an American Jew, an African-American, a Japanese-American, and a Native American (see Nishioka's book in the references, below).
In 1965 he won a gold medal at the Pan American Championships in the 176 pound division. He also won a gold medal in the Maccabiah Games that year. Additionally, in 1965, Jim Bregman became the first American to win a medal in the World Championships held in São Paulo, Brazil. He won another Bronze at that competition. Bregman has continued to be involved in the American judo community, serving three times as President of the United States Judo Association the organization which [he] helped found in 1968.
In January 2018, Bregman was promoted to the highest judo rank of Judan (10th Degree Black Belt) by the United States Judo Association.