Family ~ Community ~ Identity
The Legacy of Alan H. Cohen
I would be surprised if more than a few of the congregants at Temple Beth Abraham knew Alan Cohen. For the High Holy Days, Alan and I, and later our daughters Wendy and Maddy, split our time between TBA and The Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore on Long Island where Alan’s family were members. We attended Shabbat and Festival services primarily to enhance Wendy’s and Maddy’s religious education. So why did I choose to donate funds to renovate the sanctuary here in Alan’s memory? The answer is above the doors: Family, Community, Identity. This is where our family is now, these are the values of our congregation, and these were Alan’s values. He was, above all else, a man of values.
Alan was proud of his heritage. He was descended from two large families of Ger Hasidim, many of whom perished in the Holocaust. Over time, those who survived became modem Jews. Some moved to America; some moved to Israel. Several of his relatives who settled in Israel became prominent in government, academia, and business.
In the words of Alan’s mom, Alan was all about community, and being part of a loving family. He was all about Jewish tradition, education, ethics and morality, generosity, and kindness. And from the time he was a little boy, he was a futurist–always thinking ahead.
Over the years, Alan described his life for the Harvard Business School reunion journals. In June of 1991 he talked about a turbulent five years, yet expressed optimism for the future. His outlook: “Life is all the garbage you put up with during the day so that you have amusing or interesting stories to tell at night.” For his 10th Reunion Profile Alan wrote “Life is like a box of chocolate covered thumbtacks; you never know what will give you agita next.” At that time Alan was dealing with an unanticipated career change, a chronically ill parent, and the loss of our premature infant twins. Finally, in June of 2006: “During the last five years, I have had my greatest career success (I made partner at my firm) and my greatest personal loss (my father died.) Most importantly, Judy and I have watched our daughters flourish.” And somewhat presciently, he wrote “Judy likes to say that although I have two kids, she has to put up with three. I hope you can all feel her pain.”
Alan’s closeness with his father makes the accessibility features of our new sanctuary particularly meaningful. George was a pioneer in the consumer electronics business and was responsible for setting up the sound system for his synagogue on Long Island. George would have loved the audio-visual systems that make it possible for people with disabilities to participate in services within the shul and from their homes. When George became ill, he used a wheelchair for the better part of 20 years. The ramp would have meant a lot to him and to the entire family.
Perhaps the most important reason I chose to participate in the renovation of this sanctuary is that the TBA community was there for me and my family in so many ways, both during Alan’s brief illness and afterwards. I could think of no better way to say “Thank you.” Our new sanctuary will always be a special place for all of us.