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