Editor’s note: The other four biographies will run next week.
Beth-El honors group of members for achievements, legacy
By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — Eight inspirational leaders. Their longtime commitment to Beth-El Congregation and the Jewish community honored. A Saturday, April 18 gathering and fundraiser in Beth-El Congregation’s Great Hall to celebrate their amazing accomplishments.
More than 260 people attended this landmark event at 4900 Briarhaven Road honoring the accomplishments and legacies of Kenneth Baum, Edwin Cohen, Edythe Cohen, Corrine Jacobson, Marcia Kurtz, Rosalyn “Roz” Rosenthal, Paul Schwartz and Evelyn Siegel.
It was a record-breaking evening with a fantastic turnout that resulted in over $80,000 being raised, confirmed event chair Noreen Houston.
“It was beyond anyone’s expectations — because it wasn’t so much a fundraiser as it was the honoring of eight amazing people,” Houston said. “It was one of the most heartfelt events we have ever put on at Beth-El. The response was out of this world.”
Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger said it was important to honor these eight because of the time and energy they have spent helping others over the years.
“This was a wonderful evening,” he said. “There was a real sense of family.”
The special evening featured a musical tribute dedicated to the honorees, Living Life: Making a Difference by vocalists Genie Long and John Sauvey, accompanied by Brad Volk.
“The singing and the songs they picked out were wonderful,” Houston said.
Temple Administrator Suzie Koonsman said this event was among the best she has seen in the 24 years she has been there.
Making the list
“We selected our eight from the 60 or so people over 80 in our congregation,” she said. “It was unreal how well it caught on.”
There have been six important words used to describe these eight people: mentors, friends, guides, leaders, cheerleaders and supporters. Their friends and family say that at age 80, they possess a vision that allows them to inspire others with their energy, enthusiasm and true love of life.
When honored during the ceremony, each of the eight was escorted by a representative who presented astonishing insights to the joy and wisdom they brought to the lives of those around them:
For Kenneth Baum, it was his daughter, Mindy Lindsey.
For Edwin Cohen, it was his son, Spencer Cohen.
For Edythe Cohen, it was her son, Jim Cohen.
For Corrine Jacobson, it was her son, Steve Bond.
For Marcia Kurtz, it was her husband, Dr. Stan Kurtz.
For Roz Rosenthal, it was her son, Billy Rosenthal.
For Paul Schwartz, it was his granddaughter, Melissa Rubenstein.
For Evelyn Siegel, it was her son, Jeff Siegel.
The event was undoubtedly a collaborative effort by many, including the event committee whose attention to detail, perseverance and planning made such an evening possible, officials said. These included Noreen Houston, chair, Mara Berenson, Julie Diamond, Cynthia Gilbert, Kim Goldberg — who was responsible for the graphic designs — Linda Hochster, Sandy Hollander, Joan Katz, Laurie Kelfer, Diane Kleinman, Trudie Oshman, Ruth Roper, Faye Slater, Elaine Stanton and Margie Zentner.
Additionally, Beth-El’s office staff, Suzie Koonsman, Alexa Kirk and Sareth Collins, shared their expertise and lent support, and all was made possible through the continuing encouragement of Beth-El’s leadership: Rabbi Mecklenburger, Rabbi Jordan Ottenstein, and President Eddie Feld.
Noreen Houston said the eight elders are very beloved by the community — and have a great attitude about their golden years.
“One of the most important things one of our honorees said was ‘Growing older, yes — but not elderly.’”
Bob Goldberg, executive director at Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said he was very impressed with the event.
“It was phenomenal,” he said.
Kenneth Baum, 81
Kenneth Baum’s immigrant father moved to Texas because of the oil boom. By December 1940, Baum’s family moved to Fort Worth’s Berkley neighborhood as his entrepreneurial father’s auto sales and customer financing businesses grew.
His mother’s background was Reform; his father’s, Orthodox. His 1946 bar mitzvah was at Ahavath Sholom; his 1949 confirmation, at Beth-El. Growing up with a photographic memory (according to siblings), Baum attended the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1950s and picked up the administrative end of the car business.
He married Sandra Freedman in 1959, around the same time Beth-El President Ben Gilbert tapped him for the board of directors.
From there he served on the board in different capacities for years and years. He’s filled similar posts with the Jewish Federation. When Beth-El’s administrator was recuperating from surgery, Baum moved into her office to pay bills, manage the staff, and keep the building humming. Coincidentally, just as Baum’s father was among eight trustees to oversee construction of Breckenridge’s temple in 1929, he was one of eight on the building committee for the present synagogue.
Edwin Cohen, 81
Since 1984, Edwin Cohen has been coming to Sunday school every week. His specialty is teaching and talking to teens, connecting Judaism with current events.
Twice a month Sunday mornings, he meets for half an hour with two dozen post-confirmands who work at Beth-El as teachers’ aides. Some of his students have parents that Cohen previously taught and grandparents who were confirmed with him in the Class of ’49. He was recruited to the religious school faculty in 1984 when then-Director Ellen Mack inaugurated the Reform movement’s “new” curriculum.
It didn’t make any sense to Cohen, and he told her so. She promised that if he joined the faculty, he could teach whatever and however he wanted to teenagers preparing for confirmation.
For the next 16 years, Cohen taught confirmation students. During a five-year break, he served as Sunday school ombudsman, communicating back and forth with faculty, parents and students.
He analyzed attendance and stayed in touch with kids absent several weeks in a row. He returned to the classroom in 2005. His Fort Worth roots date to his grandparents, pioneer Northside merchants Meyer and Sarah Greines.
The Greines name is on the school district’s activity center. An only child, Cohen and his wife, Meredith, have five children and two grandchildren.
A songwriter and music producer, Cohen’s tunes have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, and Eric Clapton. He graduated from Arlington Heights High and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Christian University.
Cohen, retirement nowhere in sight, composes and records music, plays tennis twice a week and meets at mid-week with Religious School Director Ilana Knust, who prizes his insights and role as liaison to faculty and families.
Edythe Kunen Cohen, 87
During 50 years of involvement in the Fort Worth Jewish community, Cohen raised two sons at Beth-El and taught immigrants at the Council of Jewish Women’s Americanization School.
As a young widow, she became president of Jewish Women on Their Own, a B’nai B’rith interest group geared to singles. Later, she was president of Fort Worth’s Jewish Women International.
At Beth-El, Cohen chaired the Adult Education Committee, worked from 1994 to ‘96 as Beth-El’s part-time program director, attended Union for Reform Judaism workshops, and spent a decade on the Sisterhood board as Judaica Shop vice president.
Presently she is on the boards of Daytimers and Synaplex and is a Sunday school greeter, welcoming children as they arrive for religious school. In the secular community, Cohen was president of the Stage West Support Group, served on the board of Miss Rodeo Texas, and ushered at cultural events.
Cohen’s energy extends to the tennis court, where her forehand still guides doubles teams to victory. A grandmother of three and a breast-cancer survivor, her goal at age 87 is “to grow old, but not elderly.” She does that by staying involved in her community.
Corrine Rosenthal Jacobson, 88
Corrine Rosenthal Jacobson, 88, has been popularly described as a woman ahead of her time. She ran a multimillion-dollar business, raised two children as a divorced mother, wrote a book about widowhood, and has never lost her vigor for volunteer work, her faith in Judaism, nor her political idealism.
Described in a 1969 Star-Telegram article as a “pioneer business woman in a man’s field,” she operated a safety-supply company that outfitted industrial workers, from oilfield roughnecks to airline mechanics. She negotiated contracts with General Motors, Whirlpool, and BFGoodrich.
In retirement, she promoted her hometown through the convention and visitors bureau; helped establish Stone Soup, the city’s first afterschool child care program; and participated in a Holocaust-education drive to collect 6 million pencils, thereby teaching children the enormity of the Shoah.
The Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi, videotaped her recollections for its oral history library.
A grassroots organizer and advocate for interfaith ties, in the 1980s Jacobson forged Beth-El’s adopt-a-school partnership with DeZavala Elementary, a relationship that continues with tutoring and a school-supply drive during the High Holidays.
She helped organize the Temple’s first Mitzvah Day, which expanded to include three congregations performing service projects across Tarrant County. She launched a coat drive for the homeless and collected new shoes for children in need.
To counterbalance the War on Terror, Jacobson was the key Jewish leader launching local chapters of Daughters of Abraham, which fosters harmony among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women.
After her husband Phil’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1994, Jacobson kept a diary that culminated in the 2009 publication of A Handbook for Widows. Reviewers lauded the book as a “compassionate compass” for people faced with “emotional turmoil” and “economic realities” following the loss of a life partner. A strong public speaker, Jacobson promoted the book through civic clubs and funeral homes until two surgeries for stomach cancer forced her to trim her schedule.