June 22, 2008

Eulogy for my father

Zichrono l’vracha, may his memory be a blessing

Sheldon Charles Cohen
June 28, 1927 -– June 21, 2008
28th Sivan 5687 -- 18 Sivan 5768

My father’s hands had long fingers that moved delicately, gracefully, whether he was cooking a special dish, fixing something around the house, working on his model trains.

I noticed his hands on my last visit, ten days ago, and they struck me as a metaphor for his life.

Dad’s hands taught me my first Jewish ritual, how to bless birkat hakohanim, his larger hands spreading my child’s fingers apart, showing me what his father taught him.

My father’s hands sliced a huge challah that an over-hopeful relative ordered for a bris – before he had a daughter. His hands served hamburgers at a JCC carnival and taught teenagers to fry falafel at an Israeli-style café. They showed how to hem a skirt, ride a bicycle, clean a chandelier, paint a wall, lay floor tiles. His hands coached how to parallel park a car and how to render shmaltz for chopped liver.

I see my father’s hands on the steering wheel, as we drove from Boston to Cincinnati, singing to stay awake all the way home. I see his hands lifting crates of seltzer, playing foosball, Scrabble, bowling, golfing. Gently placing the needle on a record album to listen to the Nutcracker Suite or a beloved Broadway musical. I see his fingers running down columns of names in the telephone book as he looked for other Cohens everywhere we traveled.

My father, only able to use one hand well in the weeks after his stroke, tried to show me how to carve a turkey, his right hand to my left.

My father’s hands led me in a father-daughter dance at my wedding.

“Stop leading,” he hissed in my ear.
“I’m not leading! What are you doing?”
“I’m doing the foxtrot.”
“Dad, they’re playing a waltz.”

My father’s hands fried potato latkes, baked onion cookies, planted tomatoes, held babies. My father’s hands were competent, gentle, capable, creative.

On my last visit, his hands plucked at the bed covers. They pushed away something while he slept.

My father’s hands are empty now, but mine are filled with all he taught me –

Yevarech’cha Adonai v’yishmarecha (The Lord bless you and keep you)

Ya’er Adonai panav eylecha vichunecha
(The Lord shine His face upon you and be gracious to you)

Yisa Adonai panav eylecha veyasem lecha – lanu -- shalom
(The Lord lift up His face on you and give you -- and all of us -- peace)

Ken y’hi ratzon, may it be God's will


  1. Anonymous12:31 PM

    this is so beautifully written, jill. your dad sounded like a wonderful man.

  2. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Truly lovely and warm, Jill.
    May your father's memory be for a blessing.
    Thinking of you,

  3. Jill, he left us you. And through you, he left us himself. Thank you for introducing us to him.

    May his memory be as a blessing,