ALBANY – Beatrice R. Cohen, 94, left to join her favorite dancing partner in heaven, her husband of 67 years, Donald L. Cohen, on January 30, 2021, a month after he passed away.
Bea was born on March 4, 1926 in the Bronx, New York - the youngest and only daughter of Aaron and Fannie Rueger. Older brothers Henry and Boris (“Bob”) both became successful engineers. Bea’s father escaped the pogroms of his native Russia, coming to this country at only 17 years old. Aaron and Fannie, both immigrants, worked hard to establish a small candy and goods store in the Bronx, only to lose it all during America’s great depression of the 1930’s.
While it was difficult for Bea to talk about the poverty that she experienced growing up, she did speak of a wonderful close extended family life in the Bronx with a favorite Aunt Rosa and Uncle Louie. It also included her best friend from four years old, Molly Starkman. Bea and Molly managed to be in every class together through high school and maintained a wonderful lifelong friendship, that grew to include husbands and later, coincidentally, two daughters each. Their shared special ninety-years’ connection, proved to be indelible one final time, with the two best friends, passing away within just a few days of each other last week.
As a young woman, Bea showed a talent and affinity for the fine arts, in particular for life drawing. She attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, while also working for the May Company in Manhattan, as one of their most successful buyers of women’s clothing and handbags. She graduated Pratt with a degree in commercial arts, forever making an imprint as both an artist and exhibitor throughout her life. As recently as 2017, Bea exhibited her paintings when she was a “young” 91 years old at the Avila Retirement Community Center in Albany. Bea also loved writing poetry, compiling notebooks of her reflections on her own life, nature, and world events that produced a profound shock, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Holocaust. Yet, even with such tragedies, her poetry reflected the universal beauty of life, human connection, and nature. She similarly loved sharing this work with others, including being invited to often read her poetry for civic events in the Albany community.
Bea’s life wonderfully changed when she took a weekend trip to Wilmington Delaware in 1953, with friends and met the man who would become the love of her life and favorite dancing partner, Don Cohen. Bea always said that she was impressed early on with how natural and engaging Don was when working with children, teenagers and young adults in his position as the Program Director at Wilmington’s Jewish Community Center. She felt he would be a wonderful father and they both proved equally successful at raising their daughters, Sorelle and Devra, who, together, they supported, encouraged and cherished their entire lives.
Bea and Don’s beginning professional collaborations included co-authoring in 1954, Eastern Union: The Development of Jewish Community, a book about one of the very first settlements of refugee Jews from Brazil in the 1600’s who were eventually permitted to settle in what would become the state of New Jersey. A second early community partnership along with Don, was chairing the Summer Teenage Experimental Program at the YM/YWHA of Wilmington Delaware. One of the programs that Bea was most proud of was leading an overnight trip with forty teenagers that included a boat ride up the Hudson River to meet and spend the day with Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park
Don began his professional career as a professor of Social Work, first at Penn State University with Bea by his side and later, moving their young family at the time to Albany, New York, when he was recruited to help establish the Department of Social Welfare and teach at the newly expanded campus of the State University of New York (SUNY). Bea was a true partner in every aspect for Don, as well as being instrumental in initiating community projects on her own. In Pennsylvania, Bea helped establish a new synagogue in their adopted town of State College, the first that would serve both the larger community that lived in the town as well as its University students. And before the new temple could be built, Bea also helped establish a nursery school at the University’s Hillel.
In Albany, Bea became the first Vice Chair, after being an executive board member of the NYS Women’s Legislative Forum, which reported on the State Legislature’s committees as well as providing guest lecturers to help better educate the public about NYS government. Additionally, Bea wanted to help support SUNY Albany, whether it was advocating for its programs at the NYS Legislature along with the Legislative Forum, or more informally with Don, opening up their home in Delmar to faculty and students for countless dinners and more. In addition, sparked by Bea’s love of her faith and its traditions, she proudly co-chaired if not the first, one of the first, Black-Jewish Passover seders in Albany. Sharing the holidays with both family and friends became an annual tradition that Bea’s daughters embraced just as joyously later on in their own homes.
While Don always wanted to travel the world, Bea’s best times, she would say, were typically spent close at home with her family. Yet, Bea proved to be a good sport, joining Don on two international year-long sabbaticals in the former Yugoslavia at Belgrade University and at Beijing University in China. Bea also thoroughly enjoyed taking several international trips throughout Europe, beginning as a young couple, meeting Don’s extended family for the first time, in England, Scotland and Israel. Together they shared a love of family, their Jewish faith, education and travel, inspiring their daughters and eventually, their grandchildren, to embrace their beautiful heritage, wonderful cousins around the globe, as well as to treasure the everyday adventures with family and friends that ultimately make life sweet.
Bea is survived by her loving daughters Sorelle Brauth (Robert Pomeranz) and Devra Cohen-Tigör (Uwe Tigör) along with her adoring grandchildren Julie, Joshua and Jaclyn Brauth and Leora and Alanah Cohen-Tigör. Additionally, Bea is survived by her newest grandsons Adam and Ari Pomeranz, wonderful cousins, nephews and nieces and their families. A tight circle of close friends of the family also considered Bea, as a second mother and grandmother, for which she similarly felt honored. The family wishes to extend its gratitude for both the kind and thoughtful care provided by the dedicated staff at Teresian House where Bea lived the past year along with Don.
If you would like to further honor Bea, contributions can be made and sent to: Congregation Beth Emeth, (for the Soup Kitchen),100 Academy Road, Albany, NY 12208 or to the Internships in Aging Project for the School of Social Welfare, The U Albany Foundation, State University of New York, P.O. Box 761, Albany, NY 12201, or a charity of your choice. (In light of the pandemic, burial services had to be private and will take place on February 4th at the Congregation Beth Emeth Cemetery in Loudonville, NY.)
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