At 103 years old, Sarah Rebecca Cohen remains lovely and astute. She has very definite opinions on politics and an amazing memory of Jewish life in the past.
She shares her thoughts several times a week on the telephone with her 105-year-old sister, May Simon, who lives on the East Coast, and agreed to spend a little time telling her story to Transcript readers.
Sarah’s father was born in Europe in an area that was shunted back and forth between Russia and Poland. In addition to attending a yeshiva, he was well versed in the languages spoken the area, and he also knew English. After coming to the United States, he married and settled in Lancaster, Penn., where Sarah was born in 1897. He was called on to act as an interpreter in the courts. Sarah had nine brothers and sisters, but only May is still living.
Sarah still has vivid memories of the time when U.S. President McKinley came to town and participated in a parade. That was in 1901, and Sarah was so proud to watch the parade, because she saw the president riding a horse and alongside him was her own father, also riding a horse. After the parade, the president attended a reception at her home, along with the governor of Pennsylvania and his wife. Sarah recalled that visit was the same year McKinley was assassinated.
After the family moved to Philadelphia, as a young adult Sarah used to help out in a store in front of their home that was owned by her brother. One day in 1922, Max Cohen came into the store looking for a particular person who lived in Philadelphia. Sarah said she didn’t know the person, but her mother might, and indeed she did. Max worked for an organization as a fund-raiser, trying to establish Palestine as a home for the Jews.
Max told someone else in the community that he was very interested in Sarah, and when he returned to town six months later he came into the store, and remarked to her that he saw “she was not married yet.” Her mother invited him to come to their home for a visit.
That was in 1923, and the next year when Max came to town, having just returned from visiting Palestine, he asked Sarah out. The romance continued, and they were married on February 2, 1925.
Born in Philadelphia and graduated from New York University, Max Cohen was identified with the Zionist movement all of his adult years, first as a volunteer and then as a full-time executive. In 1920, he had traveled to Palestine and served for two years as a clerk and interpreter in the government of Sir Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner under the mandate. His knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic made this job possible.
Sarah and Max began their married life in New Rochelle, New York, while Max worked for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and then for the Jewish National Fund. Max spent a lot of time travelling throughout the United States doing fund-raising and organizing Zionist groups. Sarah accompanied him occasionally, but otherwise remained at home with their daughter Judy.
He was a colleague of all the leaders of the Zionist movement in the early days of their struggle to establish the state of Israel, including Golda Meir and Henrietta Szold, founder of the Hadassah women’s organization. According to Sarah, Max met Harry Truman when Truman was running for president. With Sarah’s help, Max also organized a banquet to raise money for the Kennedy memorial in Jerusalem. Sarah remembers hand-addressing invitations for the large and important dinner, where Bobby Kennedy was the keynote speaker.
There were many fund-raising banquets for the State of Israel held in New York City, and Sarah and Max organized many of them.
When their daughter Judy and her husband moved to Seattle some years ago, Max and Sarah came out to visit them and ultimately decided to move out here to be with the family. Max continued his interest in Jewish projects, and became an active member of Herzl-Ner Tamid Congregation, where he helped established an ongoing morning minyan. He also helped raise funds for what became Seattle Hebrew Academy. He wrote and published two books about his experiences in aiding in the establishment of the state of Israel. Max died in 1989 at the age of 93.
Up until some months ago, Sarah lived in her own Mercer Island condo, but close enough to her daughter Judy and son-in-law Bob Roberts for them to be with her within a few minutes. Now she is settled into a separate suite in their home, with a phone nearby to continue her lifetime conversation with her older sister.