Episode 9: A Cohen Family Case Study- Part 1


Featuring (in order of appearance): 

Fred Cohen

Judy Hobbs Cohen

Mort Cohen

Doris Fine

Isabel Cohen

Olivia Cohen


In this episode, meet the Cohens: representatives of 3 generations of an American-Jewish (or Jewish-American) family. This episode offers space for each Cohen to share about experiences of upbringing and Jewish connective points. This is a 2-part episode, so stay tuned for the concluding half! 

Show Notes

  • 0:00-0:30: Hi! Thanks for listening! I'm Rabbi Emily Cohen! (Oooooh, title change!) 
  • 0:30-3:20: Meet Fred, a secular Jew who grew up at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. He shares about his family's fairly hands-off approach to religion and also about his grandmother, who immigrated from Poland and had a difficult relationship with people who were not Jewish. 
  • 3:25-6:00: Meet Judy. She shares about her Catholic upbringing by a Portuguese Catholic mother and atheist, Congregationalist-raised father. Judy shares about her decision to leave the Catholic church at age 12 and her desire for another faith. 
  • 6:05-7:05: Fred and Judy talk about their first Christmas together. Fred wanted a tree. Fun fact: he didn't know that Christmas was on the same day every year. 
  • 7:10-9:30: Fred and Judy talk about preparations for their Jewish wedding. They had to take classes on Judaism. Fred's grandmother was not pleased he was marrying someone who wasn't Jewish. Judy shares about her decision not to convert to Judaism, although she considered it before the wedding, and about her draw to Quakerism. 
  • 9:30-10:25: Fred and Judy discuss their decision to send their oldest child to the JCC preschool when she was 2. She loved it so much that her parents decided to raise her Jewish.
  • 10:30-12:30: Spoiler alert: that 2-year-old was me. Fred and Judy are my parents. This episode is about my family. We'll be hearing from my grandparents, parents, and sisters-- representatives of 3 generations who take to Judaism differently. 
  • 12:30-19:30: We meet Mort, my 90-year-old grandfather who lives in San Francisco and also grew up at Temple Emanu-El. He shares about his family's roots in Russia and Prussia, his intermarried aunts and uncles, growing up during the 1930s and 40s when Hitler was in power, having a friend in the Merchant Marines who had never met a Jew before, not being able to rush fraternities in college because he was Jewish, and his view of never having personally experienced overt antisemitism. 
  • 19:50-24:00: Meet Doris, my 85-year-old grandmother who lives in Berkeley. Her mother was born in what's now Belarus, and her father was born in Poland. Her mother grew up more religious and her father more secular. Doris shares about her working-class, secular upbringing in Lowell, Massachusetts, and her appreciation of Hebrew school. 
  • 24:15-27:20: We hear about Mort and Doris's experiences of raising my dad and his 3 siblings. Mort talks about his oldest son almost canceling his Bar Mitzvah at the last minute and how he used the oldest trick in the book ("What will your grandparents say?") to get him to go through with it. Doris shares about Fred's Bar Mitzvah being especially nice, because Fred liked to sing. 
  • 27:20-30:00: I connect Fred's Bar Mitzvah experience to my Bat Mitzvah in Richmond, Virginia about 30 years later. Fred and Judy share about their decision to join Congregation Or Ami [yes, this is the congregation that Rachel Loria, from last month's episode, grew up at. We were in the same class!]. I talk about my Bat Mitzvah. I was more excited for the ceremony than for the party (#futurerabbi) and my family members who were and who weren't Jewish got to participate fully.
  • 30:00-31:50: My younger sister Isabel shares about her decision not to have a Bat Mitzvah due to the patriarchy, Judaism en masse, and a mature observation that she wasn't certain she was ready to commit to Jewish practice for life at the age of 12. 
  • 31:55-33:30: Isabel talks about being Jewish in Virginia and Judy coming into her classes to talk about Hanukkah. [This phenomenon of moms who aren't Jewish teaching about Hanukkah in their Jewish kids' clasooms also came up in the "Patrilineal Descent" episode.] Judy shares about teaching. 
  • 33:30-34:50: Judy and I talk about our family's secular celebrations of Christmas and Easter. 
  • 34:50-36:30: Judy shares about the challenges of celebrating her faith alone in a family otherwise comprised of Jews and her first experience of being thanked for having given up the chance to raise her children in her faith. 
  • 36:40-38:00: We meet Olivia, my youngest sister. She shares about her exploration of God and her growing understanding of the range of beliefs that Jews can hold.
  • 38:15-39:40: Isabel shares about the challenges and joys of being Jewish in Georgia as a high school and college student. 
  • 39:50-41:25: Olivia shares about being kicked out of Confirmation class in Georgia after a fight with the rabbi and about her Jewish experiences in college. 
  • 41:30-42:15: I share about my own experience of being told that I "wasn't Jewish." 
  • 42:15-end: I transition us from the focus of this episode, "How did my family get here?" to the focus of the 2nd half of the episode, which will come out next week: "Where are we and where might we be going?" Proper outro will come next week, but for now don't forget to rate us on iTunes (seriously. Do it. Click the link. It will take you 5 seconds!), follow us on social media, etc.