5 decades later – starting again…

Twenty years ago, while working on my masters in Jewish Studies, I had the great honor to learn in person with Dr. Rebetzin Naomi Cohen, wife of then Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Eliyahu Yosef Sh’ar Yashuv Cohen. I still remember standing in front of their door in Ahuza, on the Carmel, knocking hesitatingly, feeling extremely lucky and fortunate. I could not believe I would be entering their home. Some years earlier (1977), my best friend and I were on TV with the great Rav (rabbi) in an intimate q&a session he held with a group of his city’s students. This is how he was: the most tolerant, wise, thoughtful person possible. Seeing his tall friendly figure walking calmly through the neighborhood, smiling to the passersby, held great comfort.
Naomi – she went by first name, no titles –led me to her study, which was – her study; a good size room covered with heavy, sagging bookshelves loaded with books from top to bottom, as she is not only the wife of, but a great scholar in her own right with a PhD in philosophy, decades of teaching in the university and numerous writings published. And yet, always modest and attentive to others. I remember us walking through the spacious house, which had a dome for a roof. Naomi smiled, pointing to the unusual ceiling, and said, ‘see, even the house is wearing a kippa’. We met twice a week over quite a few months, first in person and later via phone and email, and occasional visits. Every so often, the Rav would be home, say hi and check in on our studies.
I thought of her today, as I thought of a number of my special teachers along the way. Those who trusted and encouraged my abilities greatly contributed to my being here and taking on this next step. I figured out that it’s been exactly five decades (!) since I walked to school for the very first time, with my then new backpack, pencils and notebooks and probably my reddish shoes, and here I am, fifty years later (!), and ‘ah, you haven’t changed a bit’! walking to start my learning at Yeshivat Maharat.
The 2 miles morning walk was lovely, through huge maple and linden trees and old, beautiful stone homes with well cared for gardens and flowers. Somewhere along the way, clicking my phone for directions, I checked the news from Israel. That’s when I learned that my hometown’s Rav – Sh’ar Yashuv Cohen – passed away yesterday.
I listened to the eulogies and agreed with all the beautiful words said about him. Born in Jerusalem, 1927, he was the son of the “Nazir”, Rav David Cohen and as a child, was close to Rav Kook. He studied extensively, secular and rabbinic studies. During the War of Independence, while defending the old city of Jerusalem, he was captured and became a POW held by the Jordanians. He was released and went back to the IDF where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was chief rabbi of Haifa from 1975-2011 and during that time received the Tolerance Prize for his work. His life was an inspiration for constant learning, care, outreach, dialogs, spirituality and more. I can only hope that a tiny spark of that is still with me so I can continue to share it with others.
Day 1 was mostly orientation. We spoke of “makom”, which is Hebrew for “place” as well as one of G-d’s names, combining the idea of being somewhere very specific and yet, simultaneously being everywhere. I thought of my grandmother, who if anything was a very “orthodox” reform Jew, and yet always told me, “go with G-d, then you won’t be going alone”. I can’t help but look with wonder at the people and places I’ve met thus far. I hope to remain open to what’s ahead.


This entry was posted in life and some, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s