SPECIAL DAY – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
“No, not today. Today is a special day in our family, it’s the anniversary of ….“ How many times did you hear that? Family histories give us various kinds of annual occasions. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, graduations, dates of military enlistment or discharge, the day you moved into your new house… Each of us might come up with many more special days. Some recall happy events, others bring a well worn tear to our eyes.
In Judaism every day is special, as we repeat in daily prayers:
“ברוך ה׳ יום יום — Bless G-d day by day.” That’s for all of us. Individually we add anniversaries.
One familiar special day in Jewish families is the Yortzite – the anniversary of death of a parent or other family member. Like other days on the Hebrew calendar, the Yortzite begins on the evening before. So this year I’ll be trying to honor my mother’s memory on the last night of April and the first day of May, a Shabat. My mother, Irma Cohon, was blessed with a long life and she succeeded in influencing people of all ages along the way.
Just 30 years ago she left us, at the age of a little over 100. Her century mark came in September of 1990. Born in Portland, Oregon, the first of seven children of the Reinhart family, her given name was Angie Irma, but she was always called Irma, and she discouraged the use of her first name by always signing with an initial. She told me that some of her classmates liked to follow her home from school chanting “A. Irma Reinhart, B. Irma Reinhart, C. Irma Reinhart – that’s all!” I’m sure she never let them bother her.
At age 18 she graduated high school and got her first job, teaching in a one-room country schoolhouse in the Oregon mountains. The farmers who sent their children to that school held a meeting to welcome their new teacher, and they warned her: “Now schoolmarm, if they don’t behave, you know what to do. Lick ‘em, schoolmarm, lick ‘em!” Luckily for the kids, she had better ideas. Not that the mountain students were easy to deal with. After all, she was not only the first Jewish girl they ever met, she was the first city girl they ever met. But somehow she found a way to teach them all. Multiple classes, pupils age 5-16 (though some left school at 14 to help on the farm), some from illiterate households.
She developed her talent there, and put it to work in several other situations, long after her year in the mountains.
When she returned from that year in the mountains at age 19, she resumed her own education, including some serious Jewish study. In that effort, she got some practical help from a tutor. Just two years older than herself, but far ahead of her in traditional knowledge, this tutor was an advanced student with a Russian accent. In fact he came out of a prominent Yeshiva in Minsk, and his name was Samuel. They were drawn to each other. In 1912 Samuel was ordained, and went to Portland where Irma became his wife. His Rebbetzin. Still an expert teacher, she served with my father in Springfield, Ohio, and then for some ten years in Chicago, running his congregational schools – and lending her personal wisdom to many adult members. When I came along, my mother didn’t quit teaching. She home-schooled me, at a time when that involved a special permission by the Board of Education. I probably wasn’t her best student but I thank G-d for her loving instruction.
Irma Cohon’s memory is truly a blessing. Next Shabos I give special thanks for her.
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