Randi Cohen Coblenz
Presidium Council, Hadassah Greater Washington

For Father’s Day: Memories of My Dad Inspired by Dr. Seuss’ Bestseller

Photo courtesy of the author.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss is a perennial favorite of mine to gift graduates as they embark on new chapters in their lives. You may recall that the book imaginatively talks about the various trials and tribulations we will encounter in life and how we have more power over our destiny than we can imagine.

As Father’s Day approaches, I am reflecting on the places I have gone since 1992, the last year my dad, Malcolm Cohen, was with us.

Malcolm was a swimmer, an avid golfer and enjoyed life with my mom, Phyllis. They met June 4, 1946, just after Dad returned from serving as a US Navy radioman on Kwajalein Island in the Pacific. Dad was working in his family’s deli, the only kosher deli in the Danbury/New Milford Connecticut area. Mom, a high school senior, came into the deli for groceries. Small towns in Connecticut – go figure!

Unexpectedly, Dad passed away just after he retired. We never saw it coming. The news sent shock waves throughout our family and their friends. He was only 66, an active 66. He and my mom had so many post-retirement plans. An entire new chapter of his life with her was left unwritten.

Dad taught me many things. For example, when walking with me in the mall when I was a high schooler, he encouraged me to give a donation to Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day muscular dystrophy campaign. He was always trying to make a difference in some small way. That $10 I donated may have seemed like a lot to my high-school mind, but I knew its impact on medical research would be more meaningful than whatever I planned to buy for myself with the money.

Photo courtesy of the author.

I wish I could have a conversation with Dad now and tell him what has transpired in my life since our last real conversation–how my sisters and I have fared in our lives, how Mom was able to craft a life for herself but ached for his companionship. I would tell him about the many times I have stumbled and my attempts to pick myself back up, the unexpected health issues I have faced with a tenacity I did not know I was capable of. And that I met a man worthy of me, and I of him, and we married and I now live in Virginia. I would tell him that my husband was not a golfer, but I married him anyway.

Dad was noted for his energy and mischievousness– traits I  am pleased to have inherited. Recently, I came across Dad’s Danbury, Conn., high school yearbook. His profile read, “Malcolm Cohen was voted most likely to turn a teacher’s hair gray.” It made me laugh and smile. If you knew my dad, you would appreciate that apt quote.

When I moved to Boston, Dad would drive up from Danbury to visit me–  at times with my mom, and other times solo. He would take me out to lunch and to see his brother, my uncle, the other father figure in my life.

At that time, I was just becoming involved with Hadassah. (Many of my friends were getting married and moving out of Boston proper and I needed to expand my network of friends.)  Our conversations were typical father-daughter ones. He would ask, “Are you dating?” “How is your career going in the non-profit world?” “How is your graduate degree progressing?” Then he would add, “You should be more social!”

As I started telling him what I was doing through Hadassah, the timbre of our conversation shifted to a more serious tone. I explained how I was  learning more about Israel and about Hadassah’s role in building the health care system of the fledging Israelite nation. Dad, in turn, shared stories about how his father was a veteran of the Hebrew gdudim (battalions) of WWI under the British in Palestine.

As I learned more about Hadassah and its history, we shared stories of great courage.  Dad told me how my grandfather followed his conviction to respond to the worldwide call-to-arms of young Jewish men in World War I. I shared the horrifying story of  the massacre in 1948 of the Hadassah medical convoy in which 78 medical professionals lost their lives when they were ambushed as they drove up to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus.

Dad passed away in the month of June, just days before Father’s Day. A few days later, upon seeing the American flag draped over his casket, my numbed mind wondered why it was not the Israeli flag –but then I refocused and realized that he served in the US Navy.  I did have the presence of mind to place some soil from Israel in his grave with him –soil that I had procured on my first trip to Israel in my teens.

My father’s death came just a few weeks before I was to attend my first Hadassah national convention. I was still in deep mourning, but I was encouraged to go. I have a few memories of interactions at the convention—interactions that would  later shape my advocacy work and commitment to Hadassah. Overall, though, what I remember most is wanting to share with my Dad what I was learning and who I was meeting. But I could not.

Nevertheless, in helping to shape my moral compass, my Dad’s life lessons have strengthened my commitment to Hadassah and still influence my advocacy work as a leader in Hadassah. Currently, I serve in the Hadassah National Assembly’s Education & Advocacy Division and as team liaison for the Greater Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas’ National Grassroots Advocacy Program. Hadassah is my vehicle through which I repair the world  at large (tikkun olam) and within my communities.

(To learn more about Hadassah and to become a member, please visit this link.)

As Father’s Day 2024 approaches, I’d like to share Dad’s “Top 10 Life Lessons” for becoming the person you are meant to be. You can apply them to your work and your passions as you stand up for what you believe in.

  • Be the courage of your convictions.
  • Be open to hearing various perspectives but always trust your inner voice.
  • Listen more than you talk but when you talk, make your words mean something.
  • Stretch yourself a little more than you think you can in terms of taking on new responsibilities.
  • Keep your word.
  • Push the envelope–just a little further.
  • Be proud of your heritage and yet be ready to dispel the misinformation you may receive from people.
  • Everybody gets knocked down at one time or another, but it is how you pick yourself up that counts.
  • You cannot do everything (this one took me a few decades to internalize and I still debate it).
  • And my favorite message (in a note written to my sisters and I and found amongst his papers after his passing): Never let the color green (money) get in the way of the color red (blood, i.e., family).

In Dr. Suess’ beloved book, things tend to work out if one remains open and approaches life with curiosity. Dad was a curious person. And so am I. We wanted to know how things were made or came about . We both understood  that Israel was created–and continues to  grow–through the small actions of many supporters, including service organizations like Hadassah.

I used to shun all references to Father’s Day. Now I approach the month of June on tenterhooks. While I can still hear Dad’s voice in my head, I realize how much of the world he has missed, and how much the world misses him.

Randi Cohen Coblenz is a member of Hadassah’s Education and Advocacy Division.


About the Author
Randi Cohen Coblenz currently is a member of the Hadassah Greater Washington Region Action Committee on the Education and Advocacy Team under the National Assembly. She is also a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. In 2022, Randi will begin her role as Presidium Council for the Hadassah Northern Virginia Chapter. Most recently, she served as Communications VP for the Hadassah Greater Washington Area During her years as part of the Hadassah Boston Chapter, Randi was the NYLAC Rep (National Young Leaders Advisory Council) and was part of the first Hadassah Young Leaders Mission to Israel. She has been a Life Member of Hadassah since the mid -1990’s. Randi even met her husband circuitously through a Hadassah member! Randi comes from a Connecticut family with strong Zionist ties: her grandfather served with the Jewish battalions (“gdudim”) of World War I when Jewish men from the diaspora joined the British Army to fight for the Land of Israel. Among those Hebrew warriors were central figures in the history of the Jewish settlement: David Ben-Gurion, Joseph Trumpeldor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Haim Laskov and Harry Cohen. Randi has a master's degree in mass communications and has been involved in media production for many years. Currently, Randi coordinates the monthly Documentary Roundtable for Women in Film and Video (WIFV) nationwide. In the past Randi has worked with The Discovery Channel, produced videos for Department of Justice and worked on various documentaries, including You Hoo Mrs. Goldberg. When not involved with Hadassah, Randi can be found kayaking, teaching Ageless Grace or Nia Fitness classes and hosting her own weekly radio program, Broadway Bound on 96.7 WERA.FM.
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