By Deb Silverthorn
Our sages teach “to save one life is to save the world.” Rabbi Sharon Cohen spends his life supporting patients from Israel and Mexico being served in the Metroplex. One life, one at a time, hundreds over the years.
“To see someone in need, you have to help. There’s never too much to do for another person,” said Rabbi Cohen, who moved to Dallas nearly 18 years ago.
Over the last decade, more than 100 patients and their families have been helped by the Cohens, with 17 patients now booked to visit through the end of September.
Together, the couple helps children and adults seeking specialized care — primarily craniofacial surgeries and uterine transplants — in North Texas. In addition to the patients, the Cohens help whatever family members or support person(s) accompany them.
About 10 years ago, Rabbi Cohen happened upon a patient visiting from Israel whom he guided through the medical maze. After the person returned to Israel, he spoke of Rabbi Cohen’s kindness, and the word of such support spread. In time, Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, chairman and founder of Ezra LeMarpeh, which provides medical assistance to the needy, reached out and began referring others coming to Dallas.
The Cohens released their own retirement funds, combining them with others’ donations, to purchase a condo in the Harvest Hill area to house medical guests and a vehicle for their use. They transport patients to medical appointments, translate when necessary and provide food and other help.
“We don’t even think about giving and doing, we just have to,” said Rabbi Cohen, saving now for another condo to meet the growing need. On the day he was interviewed for this story, he paid $824 to repair the car’s air conditioning. “We just keep going and we are appreciative when members of the community help us through financial support or volunteering time to attend medical visits and interpret in Hebrew or Spanish or provide transportation.”
The couple have received numerous heartfelt “thank you” letters praising them for their hospitality, for “going far above and beyond the call of duty, making sure they [their patients] have even the smallest comforts.” They ensure dignity during trying times; provide transport, Shabbat meals and minyanim to fit the guests’ schedule; and much more. More than a few have addressed their letters to the Cohen family, the malachim — angels — of Dallas.
Born in Bnei Brak in Israel, Rabbi Cohen is the son of Ovadia, of blessed memory, and Tamar. He has four brothers and five sisters. He began Torah studies as a young child and then attended Yeshiva Kol Torah under Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, of blessed memory.
After he and Avishag married, the couple moved to Mexico City, where they lived and taught Torah for six years. In 2003, they were recruited to join the Dallas Area Torah Association, through which he helped lead its Agaf Israeli community support program.
The Cohens have six children: Moishe, Eviatar, Tammie, Yonatan and Yair, who have completed their schooling here and moved away; and Yael, a rising eighth grade student at Torah Day School of Dallas. They also have six grandchildren.
“This man, this couple, they live the Torah we teach and we couldn’t be more blessed by Hashem that they are part of our community,” said Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, dean of DATA, who brought the Cohens to Dallas. Rabbi Fried also studied with Rav Auerbach.
To support their efforts, Rabbi Cohen teaches Talmud classes at Ohr HaTorah and Sephardic Torah Center of Dallas, and his wife runs a babysitting group.
“He’s a tzadik, a righteous person. The breadth of his knowledge is unparalleled and his passion for Torah and chesed is amazing. He doesn’t wait for approval, for red tape to clear … he just makes things happen,” said Micky Goldschmidt, who has studied with Rabbi Cohen for many years. “He learns Torah nine or 10 hours a day, teaches others one-on-one and gives so much of himself to anyone who connects to him.”
Goldschmidt added, “He is so charismatic, he has the biggest heart and he asks for nothing. I can only offer accolades, and he makes it so easy to want to help his cause.”
Salo Banarer also studies with Rabbi Cohen, respecting him as a talmid chacham, a scholar and expert above most.
“Rabbi Cohen is one of the few people I know who live, truly doing what he studies. His life is Torah — studying it, teaching it and living it,” said Banarer, who studies with Rabbi Cohen privately and on Shabbat with a group of other men. “He is brilliant in what he knows and he sets an example of caring for others to everyone who knows him.”
Rabbi Fried echoes the respect of Goldschmidt and Banarer, saying he believes there are few peers who know what Rabbi Cohen knows, in our country and possibly around the world.
“His profound understanding of Jewish thought and law, of Kabbalistic teachings and clarifying Torah issues, is immense. The pearls he speaks, the depth and breadth of what he contains in his mind, are incredible,” said Rabbi Fried. “We learn that the importance of caring for others supersedes that of studying Torah, and Rabbi Cohen and his wife live this. They do the absolute maximum for everyone they touch — there is no limit to their giving.”
The Cohens live by Rabbi Hillel’s words “If I am not for me, who will be for me? And if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?”
“The Torah teaches that we need to help,” said Rabbi Cohen, “so we do.”
To volunteer, or to make a donation to support the work of the Cohens through a gift to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund (noting “Sharon Cohen”), contact Dallas Area Torah Association, 214-987-3282, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.