|Rabbi Cohen to retire to sunny Florida|
|Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor|
|Thursday, June 28 2012 07:30|
Rabbi Alan Cohen is retiring. What’s new about that? He retired in 2008 from the pulpit of Congregation Beth Shalom after serving the congregation for 19 years, didn’t he? True. But last year the congregation came calling again, asking him to serve one more year in an interim capacity.
The Conservative rabbi accepted that challenge, and spent the last year handling the pulpit duties of a senior rabbi once again while the congregation searched for, and hired a new senior rabbi. Rabbi David Glickman is expected to arrive at Beth Shalom in July and now, Rabbi Cohen is really ready to retire. He and his wife Linda will be moving to Florida in mid-July.
The couple even lived in West Palm Beach for a while, and has maintained connections with a lot of people still in the area. Rabbi Cohen also liked the fact that he has many colleagues in the area who meet on a regular basis to study. Then there’s the amenities of Jewish life nearby that is also appealing.
“There are actually two kosher markets not far from where we will be resettling,” he said.
This past year has been a busy one for Rabbi Cohen. So he plans to take it easy for a while and take his time before making any new commitments.
“For the first six months, I probably won’t do anything real organized because I’ve got to take time to get situated in our new place and take care of all the things that are necessary with a move. We’ve also got a fair amount of traveling on our agenda for the next six months,” he said.
He will be mixing pleasure with business on at least one of his trips. Several days before Rosh Hashanah the Cohens will board a Princess cruise ship, stopping in Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand before docking in Australia 26 days later.
“During the period of the High Holidays, I will be leading services for those Jewish passengers that want to avail themselves to services for the High Holidays and for Sukkot. It’s not a Jewish cruise, and I’m not the rabbi for the whole cruise,” he said.
He estimates there will be about two dozen Jewish people on the cruise, since the cruise line said they plan to have about that number of prayer books on board.
This isn’t the first time he’s been hired as a High Holidays rabbi. Following his original retirement from Beth Shalom in 2008, he served the small community of Henrietta, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, N.Y.
“In Henrietta we had a small group; the largest turnout was 50 people. It was very intimate. The cruise will be a similarly small, intimate gathering except it will be at sea. I’m looking forward to it,” Rabbi Cohen said.
“I think I had done a reasonable job at it in the course of all those years. So I was able to come back with that skill set in place to help the congregation,” Rabbi Cohen said.
While the role was the same, it was also very different.
“I was coming back almost like a place holder — a person whose position is not to set an agenda or have an agenda or have a vision, but to help a congregation realize its vision and set its own agenda. That’s what I’ve tried to do over this past year,” he said.
This year, Rabbi Cohen said his role was to be there for life-cycle events “and such that might arise.”
“But much of the re-envisioning of the congregation’s life and future was in its own hands to do. They had to set up, as they have done, a very committed group of folks to that process,” he explained.
The past year was relatively easy for him, Rabbi Cohen said. But it was an adjustment to reacquaint himself with a pulpit rabbi’s schedule.
“Sometimes you make plans for things and incidences arise, crises arise, life cycle events come up that need attention right away, so you have to put other plans on hold. It’s a little bit like we put our plans on hold to relocate a year ago, which was our original intention,” he said. “I had gotten very quickly and comfortably adjusted to the idea that I could make my own schedule, that it could be more 9 to 5 than certainly the rabbinate allows for.”
The 66-year-old rabbi never really retired the first time. He became the director of Interreligious Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee and also worked in the chaplaincy department for Saint Luke’s Health System at the Plaza hospital.
“I worked with Saint Luke’s to bring a Judaic presence to their program,” he said.
The JCRB|AJC position was a part-time position that he was able to continue one day a week this year as well. He did so to continue some of the projects he had begun and “hopefully put in place a process that they can even run beyond.”
Working with the JCRB|AJC was tremendously gratifying for the rabbi. He especially enjoyed the interaction with other clergy.
“I found that the overwhelming majority of the non-Jewish community, whether they be liberal or conservative, mainline Protestant, Catholic or evangelical Christian have a very open attitude toward Judaism,” he said.
He believes he had tremendous opportunities to build some new bridges and strengthen some existing bridges during this time. He helped “create a bond between the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.”
He thinks that bond is stronger today because of his efforts and the JCRB|AJC’s work in general over the years. He believes his non-Jewish colleagues were very appreciative of the opportunity to learn and to share in the various study programs afforded to them during that time.
“It was 40 years ago this month that I was ordained, in June of 1972, and I probably would not have stuck to it for all this period of time if I hadn’t enjoyed it. So coming back for the year was coming back to something that I had enjoyed before hand, even the three years when I was away from the congregation between 2008 and 2011 doing the other work, I still had my hand in Jewish communal life. I wasn’t doing the normal congregational rabbinical activities because I intentionally kept myself out of that loop at the synagogue and did not involve myself in life-cycle events and such but I was still involved in Jewish communal affairs and interacting with religious community.”
The Cohens have spent 23 years in Kansas City, making it the community they have lived longer than any previous one, including their birthplaces. So saying goodbye may not be easy.
“I think it’s going to be a little difficult from an emotional standpoint,” he said.
But as he wrote in his final article for Beth Shalom’s newsletter “The Scroll,” “We have traveled together from Israel to Conception Abbey. A part of us will always remain in Kansas City and our loyalties will always be to the Royals and Chiefs with a leaning toward the Jayhawks (sorry to our Missouri friends). There will be parts of KC and Beth Shalom that we will always carry with us.”
Linda Cohen looking forward to retirement
Linda Cohen is retiring not only from many of her duties as a rebbetzin but also as a teacher. Cohen has coordinated the community conversion class since its inception in 2003.
“It was by far one of the most rewarding things I ever did in my life,” she said. “It was just a ball, a lot of fun. The program crossed every line possible — ethnic, socio-economical, age, gender, gender preferences. The commonality was everybody was there because they had an interest in pursuing Judaism. And it really is a testimony to the rabbis also and their participation how successful it has been. It really has been an incredibly successful program.”
Cohen also taught at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy for 12 years, taught at Congregation Beth Shalom for several years and volunteered for a number of things, in addition to taking care of her grandsons when they were born.
Immediate retirement plans include a move to Boynton Beach, Fla., and a High Holidays cruise. So what’s next? Cohen said she and her husband, Rabbi Alan Cohen, won’t be lacking in activities to keep them busy.
Boynton Beach is on the east coast, between West Palm and Boca Raton.
“We lived in West Palm at one point a long time ago,” Cohen said. “Alan has lots of colleagues in that area; we have friends in that area, so there were lots of things that made it for us very attractive.”
One of their goals, Cohen said, is to visit children and grandchildren more frequently and for longer periods of time, “and not be tied down to the demands of a congregational life.”
Cohen said moving where their children live was not an option. Their daughter Reena, her husband and their two sons live in Toronto and their son Rafi, his wife and two sons live in a Dallas suburb. A native Canadian, Cohen said she doesn’t like the weather in Toronto and since Rafi is a rabbi, it is uncertain how long he will stay in Dallas.
Once the Cohens return from their cruise and are settled into their new home, they will both start seeking out volunteer opportunities and resume the fun activities they enjoy.
“We would like to get back on the golf course,” Cohen said. “Alan wants to get over to the tennis courts more frequently, we both like to bike ride, we both like to walk. … I like to play Mah Jongg, so I’m going to try to find a group, join a book club.
“There’s a synagogue a half mile from where we’re living that we’ll get involved in. Given the over-60 population of baby boomers that are active in this generation, there are so many activities of all sorts, everything from volunteer to educational to entertainment that neither one of us really anticipate. Spending time with friends of ours that are down there and retired, I have never yet heard anybody say they’re bored.”
Cohen said she’s looking forward to the flexibility of retirement.
“Especially for Alan, not having to be certain places at certain times and his professional life interfering with our personal life, so to speak. And just kind of being free spirits, I guess. We decided to do it now while we are hopefully young enough and healthy enough to gad about a bit.”
‘Lihitraot’ Rabbi and Linda Cohen
Congregation Beth Shalom will bid farewell to Rabbi Alan and Linda Cohen Saturday, June 30, at Shabbat services beginning at 9 a.m. A Kiddush luncheon, sponsored by the congregation and prepared by the Kiddush Corps and friends, will immediately follow worship.