May 30, 2024
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May 30, 2024
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Friends Never to Be Forgotten

Many pride themselves on the large number of friends that they have. It is evident at most Jewish weddings today how many hundreds of people are considered friends of the people making the simcha. Otherwise, why would there be a need to have so many present?

Over the years I have lost three extremely close friends. All of them at very young ages. All had young growing families. What was special about these friends? We did not live near each other. One lived in Atlanta, one lived in Newton, Massachusetts and one lived in Rehovot. Yet our friendships were so deep. We knew that we could trust each other with any volumes of private information. All of the friendships developed at a time when we were teenagers and/or very newly married. At a time when it was not as common to pick up the telephone and speak on the spur of the moment we made it a point to do it as much as we could. We relished our calls. They were our “baby presents,” our birthday cards, our just because moments and my beloved friends will stay in my heart until I join them one day.

I am not sure which one of these women I knew the longest. Let us begin with my beloved friend Rosalie Landesman Katchen.

Rosalie and I met what seems like millions of years ago through YU Seminar and various Shabbatons and her older sister and brother-in-law Rochelle and Henoch Millen. It was Rosalie who attended a YU teen shabbaton in New Bedford, Massachusetts together with me, both in the role of madrichim. As was often the case in those days, not only were we housed together but we also were told that we were sleeping in the same bed! After an exciting Shabbat in New Bedford with lots of ruach and learning Rosalie returned home to where we were staying and I went for a walk with this very cute guy Mordechai who had already spent quite a bit of time with me.

On this particular walk in freezing New Bedford, walking and eating fudgesicles, this cute guy reminded me that we were both fleishig. Of course, he had just completed eating his dairy treat and I was still eating mine (which went to the garbage). Much more momentous was that evening my beloved proposed to me. (No one hiding in the bushes and no ring although he denies it.) I went back to where I was staying, woke Rosalie and told her that I was engaged with the afterthought, “Whatever you do Rosalie, do not tell my parents!” Much is history and we all began to grow up and Rosalie and her husband Aaron Katchen made their home in Newton, where she was the Judaica librarian at Brandeis and her husband lectured at Harvard. For many years the Katchens, together with their lovely children, would visit the Glicks in Montreal for Shavuot. Then the news arrived that Rosalie had severe liver disease. To make a very long story short, she did have a liver transplant and I remember her telling me how on the way to the operating room that she told herself “Rosalie, choose life.” Her transplant worked for about nine years, which gave her the opportunity to attend her youngest son’s bar mitzvah and then her body went into rejection. Her caring brother then gave her a slice of his liver, which is done frequently as the liver is an organ that regenerates. On the operating table my beloved Rosalie suffered a heart attack and died.

Sandra Umansky Cohen and I became close buddies when we began walking our babies together on Amsterdam Avenue in New York City. She pushed her newborn Dani (now the rabbi of Congregation Agudath Shalom in Stamford) and I pushed my daughter Malkie. Every day we were together. Those were the days when mothers were at home with their children. We shared so much and cared so much. I would go with her to visit her parents in Yonkers, New York and I remember the devastation I felt the day that we each went our separate ways on Amsterdam Avenue as Sandy and Herbie (Rabbi Herbie Cohen) were going to Israel to learn for a year. I can still feel the tears and how sad I felt. Once Herbie received his semicha from YU, he and Sandy moved to Atlanta where Herbie became the principal of what was then known as Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. Our calls to each other were special treats as if we never forgot where we left off last time.

One day I received a call from the secretary of the school informing me that Sandy had suffered a brain aneurysm and the next day she was gone. I remember sitting at their Shabbat table on Friday night in Atlanta during the week of shiva and Herbie instructing their older sons that they should sing their zemirot as loud as they could so that Ema could hear them and be proud of them. I believe that at the time Chani, the youngest of six, was 5 or 6 years old.

Ellen Sondhelm Hexter and I, when I think about it, were friends forever. Ellen and her husband Charlie grew up in the Breuer community and I guess from the moment that we met through many coincidences we were sisters glued to each other’s hips. We took the subway together from Washington Heights to the OU offices where Ellen worked for Yavneh and I worked for the OU. We spent our lunches together and laughed about the craziest things that we were sure that no one else would understand. I had the honor of making Ellen and Charlie sheva brachot in our apartment, which we felt was as festive as any catering hall.

First Ellen and Charlie lived in Brookline, Massachusetts where Charlie was working on his Ph.D. at Harvard and then they were off to Rehovot where Charlie worked for a known American pharmaceutical company and Ellen ran the word processing center at Weizmann Institute of Science. At that time the concept of word processing was a big deal. I would call a friend who worked in the computer division of McGill and he would send Ellen a message at Weizmann and she would send it back to me through him. Ellen and Charlie had four beautiful children together and were living an amazing loving and wonderful life until she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She also had a successful bone marrow transplant until years later when her body went into rejection. In all of my life I will never forget the phone call from her daughter Ayelet very early in the morning telling me that “Ema had died.” I felt broken. She was the closest to me as a sister which I never had. We used to joke that she could tell me all of the things that she would never tell anyone else. When her daughters were four weeks pregnant; not public news, she knew that she could tell me. I would reciprocate the same way about many subjects.

To this day various things occur that I wish that I could discuss with her. I am extremely grateful that Charlie visits me together with his wife Aviva each time they are in the States. Through the years one of the ways that I have felt I could honor this special sisterhood was to keep in touch with their children as much as possible. I want their children to know how proud their mother would be of them. I feel the need to maintain this connection and to pass it on to them.

I am extremely honored that the offspring of these special women honor me for having been their mothers’ close friend. When we were in Israel I made it a point of spending time alone with Ayelet and Sara (Hexter) with the knowledge that we three could giggle and share things in the same vein that we would have had their mother been present.

Medina Katchen Korn, who also lives in Israel, is often in contact with me and the last time that my Mordechai and I were in Israel together it was natural for us to get together and shmooze.

Today, I had the pleasure of attending an event at Congregation Agudath Shalom, where Benyamin Cohen, youngest son of Sandy and Rabbi Herbert Cohen, reviewed and displayed the fascinating facts written in his latest work, “The Einstein Effect” before a group of local Stamfordites and some local professors. It was a mini reunion of his siblings who had all been together for Shabbat, celebrating a forthcoming special birthday of their father Rabbi Herbert Cohen, at the home of Rabbi Doni and Diane Cohen and several local professors. Some of the “weird” little- known facts about Einstein is that his brain was cut out of his head after he passed and a physician kept it privately hidden for years without anyone knowing where it was. He had cut it into many different pieces in various jars. How’s that for a fun fact?

My presence there today was to tell Benyamin that I was sure that his mother was kvelling and so proud of his accomplishments and to enjoy spending time with Herbie, Merle and the rest of the Cohen clan.

Even though all of these children, descendants of my dearest friends, are aware of the warm and special environments that they grew up in, I have sort of taken upon myself, as often as I can, to be there to gently remind them of the amount of love that they were shown by their mothers who are absolutely shining down upon them with great smiles and satisfaction.

Nina Glick can be reached at [email protected].

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