Toni Rosenberg nervously scanned the passengers deplaning and flooding the gate at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport from a late Tuesday afternoon flight.
When a spirited 87-year-old woman with short Irish-red hair rolled toward Rosenberg in a wheelchair, Rosenberg lunged toward her and cradled her in a bundle of warmth and love.
At the ripe age of 72, Rosenberg was hugging her half-sister for the first time.
“You got hair like mommy,” Florence Serino, who flew in from California, said to her. “Oh my God.”
The words brought a swell of tears to Rosenberg’s eyes.
Adopted as a newborn on Jan. 1, 1945, with hardly any paperwork to recount, Rosenberg learned as a young adult that she had a family — and a mysterious history and sense of identity as she puts it — that she’d never met.
Even after Rosenberg, who lives in Boca Raton, learned that her adoptive parents supposedly paid $10,000 to adopt her in an undocumented and illegal exchange, she never gave up looking for her biological family.
Little did she know that some 2,500 miles away, Serino never gave up either.
“Wait,” Rosenberg abruptly said to Serino while they waited for a tote loaded with family photos to roll toward them at baggage claim. “Do we have the same eyes?”
The pair giggled like teenage sisters, with Rosenberg’s family and closest friends watching, occasionally tearing, and snapping photos.
Rosenberg found out as an 18-year-old that she had been adopted after her cousin, Terri Converse, overheard a private conversation between their mothers.
She’d always suspected that was the case. Rosenberg, raised by Jewish parents in New York, had blonde hair and bright blue eyes unlike her parents. And her adoptive mother, Betty Wiener, initially wouldn’t give her a copy of her birth certificate, even when she’d hoped to get a driver’s license.
“I always knew I was different,” Rosenberg said.
In 2002, a year before Rosenberg’s father, Rosenberg’s father, Jack Wiener, had died, he told Rosenberg that he’d given $10,000 to an attorney in exchange for a closed adoption.
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