October 07, 2016

Been a little while since I posted last with anything about Jill. So Dina her former choir director from Dunava sent me this tribute and pix so I have an excuse now to post! I am doing OK, although with every task it becomes more real that she is gone and of course I have my first school cold!. Dealt with the bank this week getting her off the accounts and closing her debit card. Hardest thing to do in my life --very strange! Great seeing her smiling face and the moving tribute from Dina. How she loved singing with Dunava --it was the height of her passion for Balkan music and it shows!


I don’t remember the specific moment I met Jill. When I moved to Seattle in 1999, I found the Radost women’s choir pretty much immediately – I remember asking someone, “so where’s Balkan singing happening in this town?” – and there she was in the dance ensemble, with the biggest smile on stage, singing and yipping at the top of her lungs. She was impossible not to know. Jill embodied Radost – which means “joy” – literally and figuratively.

When I started Dunava in 2005, Jill was one of the first to contact me for an audition. (I was not surprised!) She wasn’t dancing with Radost any more, but she had plenty of enthusiasm for the music and for performing. Given that most singers in the new group had no background in Balkan music, I knew I needed someone with experience and repertoire – and Jill was perfect.

Let’s be honest: Having Jill in Dunava wasn’t always easy. (Surprise? Nah!) Jill had lots of ideas, and was not shy about voicing disagreement. But Jill owned everything she said, everything she did, and every note she sang. If she had difficulty learning a song or holding down her part, she’d come to me and we’d work on it. If she had ideas about what we should wear, where we should perform, or what we should sing, she’d speak up during rehearsal or on the phone. But she always backed me up once I’d made a decision, even if it wasn’t what she had suggested.

Jill sang with us for ten full years. We started with four songs at Northwest Folklife Festival in 2005, and her final performance with us was a full concert at Seattle Town Hall in November 2014, which featured songs that we had learned in Bulgaria that summer. Jill, in spite of increasing fatigue, was able to join us on that trip. It wasn’t easy for her, touring throughout the country in a 20-person bus, but it was an invaluable experience, and she had a fantastic time. I think the first Bulgarian word she learned was “slado-led” – ice cream! Which I believe she managed to have every single day. She had her dietary priorities straight!

Jill helped out in countless ways. She hosted our first photo shoot in her back yard, organized sending out press releases and promotional CDs, made phone calls to get media people to our concerts, and hosted rehearsals for years. She knew from arts management and promotions, and that was immensely helpful. I learned a ton from Jill. In fact, we probably would not have gotten to Bulgaria in the first place without Jill’s fundraising instinct. Even though I was skeptical, she and Jen Morris insisted that we do a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the trip. I didn’t believe anyone would give us money for this self-serving endeavor – but it worked! Here is the video Jen put together, with an excellent pitch by Jill one minute in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX_7BUH82Vw.

No matter how she felt, Jill was always an absolute star on stage. She had stage presence in spades, and was a consummate performer. At one concert I decided to feature some of the singers as soloists, and Jill hammed it up with a Serbian classic, “Evo banke, tsigane moi” – play for me, gypsie. She had an arm in a sling because she had broken her elbow the week before, but on stage she exuded nothing but joy of singing, performing, and life.

Here is that performance on YouTube: https://youtu.be/PWNAojf875Y

With weekly rehearsals of this challenging and beautiful music, concerts and trips and recording sessions and overnight retreats and clothing exchanges and cookie potlucks and birthday parties and new babies arriving, Dunava is more than a “typical” choir. We are family. Jill was the heart and soul of that family for ten years – with unmatched spirit and enthusiasm and love for what we were doing. When she “retired” in late 2014, I promised her she could sing with us whenever she was up for it, and I was so happy that she could join us on stage at our 10-year anniversary concert in November 2015. She did not have the energy to rehearse, but she (if anyone) knew the Croatian dance suite “Ladarke” cold (who knows how many times she’s performed it – dozens!), and she joined us on stage with the biggest smile, and singing and yipping at the top of her lungs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cmQ3cv58GE     

We will never, ever, forget our Jill.

September 17, 2016

Two weeks since the last post and the new normal continues. I have had reasonable days and so so days. Most of the time I have been OK. School has been a nice distraction at least for the five hours I teach and then at the end of the day when I would usually get a text from Jill of stuff to do it hits. It is usually brief but I am sad.  Got to deal with Social Security this week (please stop sending money, really). Nice conversation on Friday after waiting on the phone for an hour on Thursday so I could get them to call me at school instead of home at 10AM which was the time they had me slotted me for. And the life insurance folks who were very nice when I asked if they had received the paper work and apologized for me being on hold for 30 seconds  LOL!! Just have to deal with other life insurance policy now and the banks and the credit cards. And of course still trying to write all the thank you cards for the gifts given in her honor. I have been lucky because Jill keeps on giving whenever I have a question she has the answer although  her voice is not loud, I can hear her still. I know that is weird. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had her in my life for almost 22 years! Enjoy the eulogy from her two friends from the funeral. More later. Thanks for all the continuing love and support. Rik

Eulogy for Jill Cohen  8/14/2016
Jill and I met in 1992, she newly arrived in Seattle to take a job at the JCC and me returning from Arizona.  We could never quite remember where we met but it really didn’t matter. We could tell we were kindred spirits sharing many of the same loves:  Israel and Jewish traditions, dancing, good dark chocolate, good musicals and singing along with the stars, and of course our favorite color- Purple.
I remember Jill loved saying her job at the Jewish Community Center- was to put the “J” in the JCC.
She was so proud of bringing Jewish content and activities to the community. It gave her a wonderful sense of accomplishment.  This commitment to Judaism continued-when she worked for Hadassah, become our shul president , leading Yizkor and musaf services, and welcoming all into her home for a meal.
When she left the JCC, her next job was at NWAF- to do fundraising- Jill did not see herself as a fundraiser at the time, but like all challenges, she took  it on with gusto and a determined spirit- and of course did amazing.  She even managed to convince me to go on their board when they wanted a female doctor.
She encouraged me to try out for Radost Folk Ensemble, even though I had only performed Israeli folkdancing. Her comment was “a grapevine step is a grapevine step, the same in any folkdance language”.  So, of course, I listened to her sage advice and became part of the dance troupe.
And I was present on that auspicious day- Sukkot 1994- when Jill met Rik, and Rik met Jill for the first time. Rik was so smitten with Jill he asked her out to a movie for that same night.  Jill turned right around and asked Debbie and I do go with her (on their date!!). Debbie had baby Joshua so declined, but I went with them.  It was one of the most uncomfortable movie times I ever had- Rik sandwiched in between Jill and I. Trying to hold her hand but she would have none of that…yet.  Rik was not to be deterred however and came for Shabbat at my house (where Jill would be as well) the next Friday. He brought 2 huge bouquets of flowers- I am sure trying to impress Jill. (coincidentally it was the same Shabbat I met my future husband Michael) Well, the flowers obviously worked, as she agreed to go out the next day on their second date. Thankfully, I was not invited to that one.  We all know that the date lasted 12 hours.  Jill came into Radost practice the next morning and while melting to the ground declared  “I’m in love!!”.    18 days later (and Jill loved the number 18) they were engaged.  A few months later they were married- Jill wearing her mothers wedding dress and her red dancing cowboy boots.

I have lots more stories to tell, but there simply isn’t time
So I’ll put the remainder of my thoughts, to these few simple rhymes
Jill did so many amazing things, but these I remember most
Listening to her sing with Dunava, dancing with her in Radost
Sharing Jewish holidays as framily, and scores of yummy Shabbat dinners
Getting together on New Years Day, to determine the prediction winners
Watching Broadway musicals, and singing the show tunes
Talking about the books we read, for Jill really loved Dune
Never wanting pity parties, or being defined by her disease
Having a rowdy Bagel-off , hearing of her travels overseas
Laughing, dancing, and eating alot, even shedding a few tears
You made our world a better place, just by being here
So my dear friend, though now we are worlds apart
Those memories will never fade, I will always carry them right here in my heart.

And the second one:
During Jill and Rik’s wedding reception, the Radost Folk Ensemble, in full costume, entered the room, carrying lime jello and singing a beautiful song about a dark-eyed maiden.

Jill and I met in Radost, and had a great time performing together.  She lights up the stage with her energy and talent.  She was also especially proud to perform with the Dunava Women’s Balkan Choir, and you can hear her yips and her distinctive voice on their CDs.

As you heard, Jill made a point to celebrate Succot, and this played an important part in my family’s life.  As soon as my sons were big enough, I got them over to Jill and Rik’s house each year to help put up the frame, and place the schach (Jill loved to say that word!).

Jill got such a kick out of decorating the Succah each year – She called it Christmas for Jews.  She kept boxes in the garage, full of decorations that friends and their children brought over the years. 

Jill would open each box and look for familiar decorations – “There’s Mr. Corn, and Gumby Asparagus!  Where are Ms. Tulip and the purple flowers?  We’re missing a box – Rik – check the garage!  We need the little windchimes and the Mizrach.”  We always found them.

Then, each year, she had a big party with lulav and etrog and lots of food.  Every year she took a picture of all of her guests in the Succah.

Jill helped make a warm Jewish home for my children.  We shared many Shabbat and holiday meals over the years. 

We traded off leading Passover seders, with our little group of friends, although in recent years I played the support role so she could lead. 

This year, she meticulously planned decorations for the seder table, complete with dolls as Moses, Aaron and Miriam, a doll house with blood on the doorposts, and a calf she painted gold. 

And then there is the White Meal.  You know how Jill loved to cook and how good she was at it.  When Jill realized how much I like white food, she started brainstorming different white foods to make a whole meal – Cauliflower, cucumbers, white fish, semolina, mochi cake, even white tea. 

Somehow, the White Meal became a Yom Kippur tradition, (maybe to match our white clothing) which has stuck for many years!

We all know Jill for her intelligence, talent, and beauty.  We also know how strong a fighter she has been.  Those of you who were at her amazing metsaversary celebration last year have heard my son Aaron’s take on her already.  Here is what he said:

Jill is a warrior.  When g-d gave her lemons, she didn’t make lemonade.  She threw them back and demanded chocolate!

August 29, 2016

After almost three weeks of the "new normal" around here still missing Jill everyday! Here is the eulogy from her sister Susan from the funeral. Rik

Wow – Jill would be so happy to see all of you wearing purple in her honor.

I want to share with you some stories from our childhood, because a lot of how Jill lived was rooted in her strong connection to family, and as she grew into adulthood, how her identity was shaped and formed to become the Jill Cohen that each of us knew and loved.

Although we left New York at a young age, Jill always considered herself a New Yorker, and I think that was not only a love of the Big Apple, but her connection to my parents and their history with the Bronx and Yonkers.  She really identified with those roots, and she loved to look at pictures of my parents with their families of origin, and trace the family tree and Jill marked each picture on the back with the names and dates.

As little girls, Jill and I had matching dresses for all special occasions, and we were the youngest cousins in the family.  The older boys would tolerate us by playing red light, green light, stop in the hallway of our Grandmother’s apartment.  Jill named my father’s mother Mema, because she could not pronounce Grandma Mary, and it stuck.  Jill loved egg creams, charlotte russe and black and white cookies, all those NY delicacies!

Growing up in Cincinnati, and being close in age, we had all the same teachers in elementary school and high school and I was always Jill Cohen’s little sister.  We played Barbies in the living room, and used all the chotchkes to create a Barbie house.  We went to religious school at Temple Sholom and we played Capture the flag with the neighborhood kids on summer evenings.  Jill loved to play dress up in my mother’s wedding gown, and I always had to hold the train.  And many of you know that Jill chose to wear that dress for her own wedding to Rik. 

We were Girl Scouts, and our mother was the Cookie Mom, with cases of cookies lined up in the empty living room.  We acted out the parts to every Broadway musical album, and our favorite was Funny Girl.  Just imagine Jill at 10 years old imitating Barbra Streisand belting out “Don’t Rain on my Parade”…..We swam at the JCC and especially loved the nights when my Dad would join us after work and we were allowed to have dinner at the snack bar.  We went back to NYC each year to visit my mother’s mother, Nanny.  Jill always sat in the front seat with my father, and she was the navigator with the AAA Triptik in her lap, directing us from one town to the next and flipping the pages of the map.  And we played all those silly car games, and my father would sing some corny song as we crossed the George Washington Bridge.

Judaism was an important part of our home, and my parents started making plans for Jill’s Bat Mitzvah.  Always the one to push the envelope, Jill wanted her bat mitzvah on Saturday morning just like the boys, and she was the first to do that at Temple Sholom.  And we got living room furniture!

In High School was when Jill started to find her unique passions.  At Walnut Hills she really blossomed.  This was the beginning of Jill’s fascination with all things French, as she learned the language, and she loved to speak French at any opportunity.  ?Maybe that was some of the attraction to French speaking Rik?  Jill joined Young Judea, the Zionist Youth Group sponsored by Hadassah, and she was off to weekly youth group meetings.  This is when her love of folk dancing began, heading to the Univ. of Cincinnati campus on Saturday nights with a group of friends for Israeli dancing.  Jill persuaded the local Library to hire her for an after-school job, where she began to read science fiction - which none of us in the family could relate to.  She traveled to Upstate NY to attend Camp Tel Yehuda in the summers, and her desire to visit Israel intensified.

As college applications and high school graduation loomed, Jill broached the idea of a gap year in Israel with our parents, on the Young Judea Year Course in Israel program.  My mother was so mad at the idea that Jill was not going directly to college that she did not talk to her for 2 days.  But eventually Jill’s incredible willpower won out, and off she went to Israel in 1977.  And on that trip to NYC to see her off to Israel, my parents splurged on tickets to 2 Broadway shows and we saw Yul Brynr in The King and I, and a brand new show – A Chorus Line.   This past winter during a visit here, Jill and I were relaxing one evening and she looked at me with glee and said – Do you want to watch a DVD retrospective on A Chorus Line?  And we watched and sang every word to every song together, just like when we were little girls in the basement in Cincinnati.

To say that her year in Israel had an enormous impact on her life is an understatement.  The life-long friendships that she made, seeing the world, living immersed in Israeli life and culture, is when Jill’s Jewish identity evolved from childhood into adulthood.  She knew that she wanted to eventually have a kosher home, and the observance of Shabbat became a priority.  And when she came home she enrolled at Univ of Cincinnati, got her first apartment, joined an Israeli folk dance troupe, and Jill knew that Judaism would play an important role in her professional life as well as her personal life.

Fast forward to today.    My relationship with Jill grew from big sister/little sister into two strong women who deeply loved and respected each other.  I admire Jill’s courage and determination.  I admire how deeply she loved and cared for friends and family and how she stayed connected to so many people in every aspect of her life.  I admire how she found community in every place that she lived.  I admire her strong convictions on leading an observant Jewish life.  I admire the way she gave support to our aging parents from such a long distance.   I so admire her dedication to this congregation.   And especially, I admire how Jill lived her life with grace, dignity and joy every single day.

Jill’s medical treatment was a team effort that she led fiercely.  She received superior care from an A Team of physicians, nurses and social workers who always had Jill’s best interest at heart.  Rik wants to express his gratitude to Dr. Sheldon Goldberg, Dr. Deborah Klein and Sandy Johnson, and so many others who treated Jill with compassion over these many years.

I loved my sister Jill, but as many of you know, she could sometimes be a big pain in the tuchas!  And now I feel like a piece of me is missing.

Rik often teased Jill and I, always calling us the Cohen Girls – because of our shared determination and passion for getting it right –and we’re really stubborn – because we Cohen Girls know best. …..Now it is a club of just one. 

To Rik – when you are feeling lost and alone, this Cohen girl will be there to help you find your direction. 

To Mom – you taught me that Cohen girls have broad shoulders – so lean on me. 

To Eric and Dana – your aunt Jill was so proud that you are each following your dreams.   You both carry Jill’s independent spirit and determination and her greatest wish for you is to soar! 
To all of you who love Jill, please don’t ever forget how fully Jill lived her life– and we honor her memory by finding the joy in life every single day.

Dance as though no one is watching you
Love as though you’ve never been hurt before
Sing as though no one can hear you

And live as though heaven is here on Earth                 attributed to Fr. Alfred D’Souza