Julie and John Cohen: Guiding Star

Julie and John Cohen enjoy a long history at Wise Temple, having married at Plum Street Temple 48 years ago. But that isn’t the half of it. Julie’s mother, Bess Shavzin, was the temple librarian for 27 years, and her father was involved in Brotherhood, ushering, and fixing things around the temple. Both Julie and her sister Mary Lee Sirkin taught Religious School. John likes to say, “I married into the temple and was married in the temple.”

This legacy has given them perspective on how things were done in the past, and how they are now. The pandemic has produced new learning solutions. They thoroughly enjoyed Kafé Kamrass, Julie commenting that “At times it’s much easier to do a virtual class than actually go somewhere–it was a very pleasant and good experience.” They look forward to the Rabbis’ weekly video messages and John notes ironically that he’s gotten very good at Zoom meetings and Google hangouts.

On the flip side, they were planning to move into their new home in July when the pandemic put the kibosh on their timeframe. Also derailed was a yearly trip for John in September in which he combines his business (ophthalmology) with his main pleasure (fly fishing).

As a surgeon trained in surgical sterile technique, he views Covid as an invisible enemy. A personal loss has intensified his response: a friend and professional colleague contracted the virus and died. It hit him hard. “It made me very aware that a physician who supposedly knows how to take care of himself could die from it. So I was fanatically trying to decide if I should go back to work and risk bringing the virus home to Julie when both of us are in the age group with a significant mortality rate.” John did go back to work, taking stringent precautions with a face shield, double masks, gloves and scrubs that he peels off and puts in the laundry before coming into the main part of the house after work. He’s not afraid to ask someone he is dealing with (at the post office for instance) to please wear their mask properly or put one on.

Julie is a retired special ed teacher and feels badly about kids being cheated out of a big part of their schooling, but wants everyone, teachers included, to be safe. “If it’s not safe, the kids shouldn’t go,” she asserts. She also uses “invisible” to describe the virus, likening it to an invisible fence restricting her from her normal comings and goings. The pandemic has made her mindful of the uncertainty of life, so she treats herself to little luxuries occasionally like a little more mayonnaise on her sandwich or macaroni and cheese instead of salad.

Even with the stresses of pandemic living, Julie and John are grateful. Their two sons, Howie (and his wife Tawny) and Brad, who live on the West Coast (L.A.   and Portland respectively), are healthy and surviving the epidemic, as is their granddaughter Eleanor, who lives in Maryland. They enjoy each other’s company, play Bananagrams, and pack for their move to their new home. John’s stint away from work during the stay at home order taught him that he’ll be able to emotionally deal with retiring when the time comes.

Julie is also grateful for the Jewish values that are part of her DNA. She has  the quote “Make it a habit to do nice things for people who will never find out” hanging in her home as a reminder and her guiding star.


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