The S. Harold and Mimi Cohen Scholarship Fund: Keeping the Light of Jewish Education Burning
Pass by the Epstein Chapel around 4 pm Monday through Friday and you are likely to find lifelong Beth Tfiloh Congregation member Ivan Cohen standing in the Epstein Chapel’s doorway, waiting to pick up several of the five Cohen children as their Beth Tfiloh school day ends.
On Shabbat, he and his wife, Melissa, daven in the BT Minyan in the Chapel while their kids participate in BT’s various kids’ services.
The Cohens’ BT connection dates back to Ivan’s parents, S. Harold and Mimi, who joined Beth Tfiloh soon after they married. The couple later enrolled Ivan in BT’s Hebrew School, understanding the importance of giving children a Jewish education.
Harold, who co-owned the family’s business, Majestic Distilling Co., was “a philanthropic person,” according to Ivan. “He always helped out anybody who needed it.” Harold was also the BT Brotherhood’s president, “always involved in selling tickets for the donor dinner — you could not say no to him.”
Mimi followed in Harold’s philanthropic footsteps, immersing herself in Jewish communal volunteer leadership. During her tenure as a HIAS board member, Mimi traveled several times to the former Soviet Union to meet Jews trying to escape oppresssion. She also devoted 20 years of energy and commitment to CHANA as a board and committee member, as well as a speaker in the community.
“Miriam was graceful in her approach to the issues but never reluctant to discuss the difficult, often disturbing issues that CHANA frequently confronts,” says CHANA Executive Director Nancy Aiken. “Nothing shocked her but everything concerned her and she turned that concern into action, sharing ideas, time and her financial resources.” Mimi passed that commitment on to her children and grandchildren, who coordinate and deliver meals for CHANA clients every week.
But Beth Tfiloh had a special place in Harold and Mimi’s hearts.
At BT, where Mimi also served on the board from 1987-90, the couple found lifelong friends “who supported them through the good and bad times,” Ivan says. They also connected to Rabbi Wohlberg, whom they loved and respected greatly. “I am sure it was through his ‘gentle’ persuasion that they became lifelong donors to BT,” he laughs.
“We oftentimes describe someone who is unique as being ‘one of a kind, but Mimi and S. Harold Cohen are that rare combination of ‘two of a kind!’” says Rabbi Wohlberg. “They both were as good as they come; giving, caring, sharing, loving. Their family and the Beth Tfiloh family were enriched and uplifted by them. I knew them both very well. Truly, it can be said of both of them: To know them was to love them.”
Ivan and Melissa’s family has inherited those deep BT bonds. “When I was young I would see my parents going to shul every Shabbos and wonder why. Now that I am older, I know why: it is the community, the school and the whole organization,” says Ivan.
After Harold’s passing in 1990, the BT Brotherhood established the S. Harold Cohen Scholarship Fund to benefit Beth Tfiloh’s School scholarship fund. Ivan remarks on how Harold’s Hebrew name, Shalom Tzvi, which means “peaceful dear,” truly embodied his nature. “That was my father, a man of peace — he always remained calm. My father was blessed to leave a lasting memory on many people and they honored him with the naming of the scholarship fund.”
Last year, after Mimi’s passing, her name was added to the fund. The addition symbolizes the couple’s joint commitment to and great love for Jewish education—which Ivan and Melissa’s children enjoy at BT today. And although they never knew their grandfather, Ivan thinks that seeing their grandparents’ names throughout the school building reminds his children of the special people their grandparents were, and of the happy memories of their grandmother.
It’s especially meaningful for Ivan to daven under the ner tamid (everlasting light) in the Epstein Chapel that his parents donated. “It is very nice seeing the plaque with both of their names,” Ivan notes. “That means their blessing will continue to shine on my family.”