Rose Cohen, an Eastern European immigrant who regarded education as a lifeline and devoted her life to teaching others — by book and by example — passed away April 10 at age 103.
Cohen was born in Lithuania and came to the United States with her siblings when she was 11 after losing her mother, Rachel, to the flu epidemic of 1918. The children joined their father, Nathan Pines, who had journeyed ahead to establish a secure life for his family. They settled in South Baltimore, in what is now the Otterbein neighborhood.
An enthusiastic student, Rose began her studies at the South Baltimore Talmud Torah. Rose once recounted to her daughter, Sylvia Schechter, that a first-grade teacher at her school quit suddenly. The school supervisor located Rose, only 15 at the time, and because she read well and knew Hebrew, he told her to teach the first-grade class.
One day, Dr. Louis Kaplan, then director of Jewish education in Baltimore, walked into Rose’s classroom. Rose told Sylvia, “He came into my classroom and asked me in Hebrew, ‘Where is the teacher?’ I replied in Hebrew, I am the teacher. Dr. Kaplan responded, ‘Oy vey’ and asked to see me after class.”
Rose went on to earn a teaching diploma from Baltimore Hebrew College, embarking on a long and dedicated career. In 1937, she married attorney Moses J. Cohen, and raised a family.
“Our Shabbos dinners were wonderful,” said Sylvia. “She made the greatest oven-fried chicken. When I look back on all those Friday night dinners, it’s as if she put a gold coin in my hand every time we
had one of those dinners. [The memories] are like a treasure.”
Louis Cohen, Rose’s son, remembers going to Orioles games as a family and said she “followed the Orioles even into her last years, staying up to watch the games with a neighbor.” He added, she also learned to play bridge in her 80s and bowled into her 90s.
Rose hosted her family for monthly Shabbat dinners up until last year, and even at this past Pesach, she supplied her famous chicken soup for the family Seder.
She was also an avid mahjong player, started a Yiddish group in her building and was elected president, in her early 90s, at the Clubhouse Condo where she lived. She was “always very engaged” up to the end, said Louis, including her participation as an active member of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation.
Rose was known to everyone as a very positive person and encouraged others. She had many devoted friends who often called her with their problems because she was a good listener, said daughter Rachel Meisels.
“She told me that before she left the house she would always check the mirror, so that the corners of her mouth were up,” recalled Rachel. “She told me to always do that. She always had a bright warm smile for people.”
Rachel said another important lesson from her mother was, “If you say you’re going to do something, do it, and do it willingly,” and Rose also insisted upon keeping her mind and body active, always. “The joke was,” said Rachel, “when my sister and I wanted to get together for lunch, it was my mother’s calendar we had to work around, she was the busy one.”
“She was also a realist,” added Rachel. She would always say, “Do for yourself that which you are able and accept help when you need it. Accept the stages in life. Count your blessings, behave like a mensch and smile.”
After raising their three children, Rose returned to education as principal at the Beth Yehuda Hebrew School and also taught there and at Beth Israel Hebrew School. She retired from teaching in 1970 but soon started another career as a secretary for Baltimore City Public Schools.
Sylvia wrote in the eulogy to her mother that the most important lessons she and her siblings learned from their mother were about maintaining values and integrity and how to conduct oneself in the world. “She taught these lessons by example, by word and by deed,” she said.
So when you see us “doing something kind or generous or thoughtful, please look more closely. What you are really seeing is my mother shining though; she has made us who we are.”
Mrs. Cohen is survived by her children, Rachel (Dr. Alfred) Meisels, Sylvia (Edward) Schechter and
Dr. Louis Cohen, and her grandchildren, Benjamin (Michelle), Annie and Richard Meisels, and her
great-grandson, Blake Meisels.
Rose Cohen was interviewed in 2011 as part of the Jewish Women’s Archive Weaving Women’s Words project. To hear the interview visit https://archive.org/details/CohenRose-24-Apr-2001-WeavingWomensWords.