‘Buddy’ Cohen celebrating his 106th birthday

By Deb Silverthorn

Wishing “to 120” isn’t so farfetched, as the birthday wishes are flowing for Dr. Bernard “Buddy” Cohen who turns 106 — yes, 106 — on March 29.
That’s 38,609 days, 5,512 weeks, 1,272 months and 1,311 full moons. When Cohen was born, there were 46 stars on the American flag, a first-class stamp cost two cents, the average annual salary was between $200 and $400 and the average life span for a man was 48.4 years.
Now with 50 stars on the flag, stamps at 50 cents, an average annual salary of $57,617 and the life span — well, Cohen has clearly surpassed any findings and beyond. Seemingly the only constant is the smile and twinkle in Cohen’s eyes.
“What is … is,” says Cohen, the son of Sam and Nell and brother of Lazar and Marvin, all of blessed memory. “If you can do something, do it. If not, it’s just ‘what is … is!’”
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, where he lived until moving to Dallas in 1995, Cohen grew up in the home shared by his immediate and extended family. The household of nine was close — Sam and Moise, brothers from Romania, married to New York native sisters Nell and Etta, living together from the time they married until their passing. Cousin Pearle — the only girl — got her own room while the gents, including cousin Leonard, slept on the porch.
Moise and Sam founded Cohen Bros. as a mercantile shop, then a men’s clothing store. While the next generation carried the store for a while, it’s now Sugar Ray’s Sweet Shop, the Cohen Bros. name still marking the now-historical monument.
Cohen grew up at Beth Israel Congregation, then and still the only synagogue in Jackson, the foundation for Cohen’s Jewish life despite having a rabbi only for the High Holidays. A stellar student, at age 16 Cohen started at Hebrew Union College, intending to someday serve his hometown.
Serve he did, but not as rabbi. Cohen soon realized the clergy wasn’t his calling, instead pursuing a career as a dentist. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University’s Dental School, Cohen cared for his community — the whole community — as a president of the Mississippi Dental Association and one of few offering dental care to black patients.
After serving in the U.S. Army Reserves, Cohen signed on as a medical officer, serving Naples, Italy, to the Austrian border. During his tenure from 1939 to 1946, he earned a Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Achievement in ground operations against the enemy. Upon his return, Cohen reopened his dental practice, not retiring until his 80th birthday.
Cohen attributes his longevity to healthy living. His wife, Ann, a dietitian, always created healthy meals, which followed his 4 p.m. happy hour glass of white wine and chocolate. Cohen also made walking a priority since his eye surgeon recommended it 50-plus years ago. Cohen still gets his blood flowing every day, even medaling at the 2009 Dallas Area Senior Games.
“My dad’s attitude is why he’s here. He doesn’t complain and he never brought issues home from the office,” said daughter Harriet Cohen. “He left work at the door and was always a teddy bear at home.”
The Cohens held high expectations for their daughters: the priority to remember who they represent. “There were few Jews in town and everybody knew the Cohens,” said daughter Marilyn Rothstein. “Our parents always reminded us to act proud and polite. We were representing our family and the Jews.”
Cohen provided insight to the end of World War I, growing up through the Great Depression, World War II, and life during the civil rights movement.
“We had a small congregation but we were close,” he said. “I remember us being the only Jews in school. Even though it was public school there was daily chapel and prayers. My brothers and I would sing the days of the week in our heads.”
Cohen recalls the 1967 bombing of their congregation and the rabbi’s home. There were no injuries, but the moment lasted. For Cohen, a bar mitzvah in 1925 wasn’t in order, but he made up for it in 1985, when Rabbi Richard Birnholz welcomed him as an “adult in the Jewish community,” still at Beth Israel Congregation.
“I remember Buddy’s pride and enthusiasm, and his defined Southern ‘twang’ as he read Torah, reaching his goal to celebrate his bar mitzvah. Today I wish him the same blessings of long life and good health. It seems he’s achieving both, but I pray again that he should continue to have joy and nachas,” said Birnholz, a Dallas native, coincidentally raised at Temple Emanu-El and serving Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa since 1986.
Cohen’s constant smiles are attributed to the doting love and care by family he’s blessed to be near: children Marilyn (Stan) Rothstein, Harriet Cohen and Debbie (John) Wills; grandchildren Josh (Lisa), Neal (Paige) and Daniel Rothstein, and Laura Wills, Erica (David) Bashover, and David (Shayna) Wills; and great-grandchildren Abby, Chavy, Gabe, Hilary and Maya Rothstein.
Cohen’s been a Dallas resident since after the passing of his beloved Ann, whom he met at a dental convention and to whom he was married for 49 years. The Legacy at Willow Bend is now his home and second family, and Temple Emanu-El’s congregation and clergy stir Cohen’s spiritual soul.
“I love seeing them do what they do every week, what they did in our chapel for many years, celebrating the blessing of family and Shabbat’s beauty,” said Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Debra Robbins, who often leads services at The Legacy. “Buddy’s deep love for family and his abiding devotion to Jewish life inspires me. We’re blessed to offer blessings for him birthday after birthday and it’s clear, not only has God blessed him, but we are blessed as well.”
“Knowing our family lived together and raised their children together, we’ve always had a sense of being there for each other,” said Debbie Wills. “We’re lucky to be close, to see Dad often and the next generations now too. L’dor v’dor. That’s what it’s all about.”

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  1. Sue and Jim

    He is truly a remarkable man. We have really enjoyed getting to know him these past few years. Loved reading his history which tells so much about who he is today. Always has a positive outlook which keeps him looking forward. Faith, Family and Friends is what he is all about.

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