Sadly, I never knew him. In fact, I never knew either of my grandfathers, as my paternal grandfather Abraham Burstein passed away just a few years before I was born. Last night, I talked with my Mom about her father, and she reminded me a little bit about his life story. In his memory, I'd like to share his story with all of you.
Louis Cohen was born in Ukraine. I've seen his birth certificate, which my Mom still has; it's in Russian.
Louis emigrated to the United States when he was around the age of six or seven years old, with his parents, Jacob Cohen & Yetta Sokolovsky, and his younger sister, Molly Cohen. The family settled in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was attracting a lot of Jewish immigrants and was considered a nicer place to live than the Lower East Side. Jacob got a job delivering canisters for soda water, and eventually he bought the business. Mom remembered that he made his deliveries driving a green truck.
Although Louis did not know English when he emigrated, he picked it up very quickly. Apparently, as a child he started school in a special class in which the students mostly did arts and crafts. But with his ability to learn English quickly he soon moved into a regular class. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, went on to Pace Institute for two or three years, and became an accountant. He began keeping the books for his father Jacob.
In 1929, his parents bought a house in Flatbush for the whole family, located at 817 East 45th Street between Avenue D and Foster Avenue. On June 1, 1930, Louis married my grandmother Clara Baker in Boston. They were fourth cousins; either their grandfathers or great grandfathers were brothers. After they got married, they moved in with his parents. Furthermore, my Mom's aunt Molly married Irving Bell, a dentist who went to Tufts Dental School, and they also lived in the Jacob Cohen house. Apparently it was not uncommon for a large extended family to stay under one roof for such a long time.
Louis and Clara had two children. My Mom was born in 1936. and my uncle Robert was born a few years after.
Sometime in the 1940s Louis joined the Masons. As he was in his thirties, he was a little too old to be drafted into World War II. In fact, he kept missing the window to be drafted, for which he was very grateful.
Around 1945 Louis joined the law firm of Morrit & Eisenstein and did their accounting and the accounting for their clients. Later on, lawyer Fred Johnson also joined the firm, and the four of them worked very closely together. Mom tells me that Fred Morrit was a State Senator and a songwriter, but I haven't been able to find much information about him, or about Morris Eisenstein.
One thing that makes me proud of my grandfather has to do with his support for my Mom. In the 1950s, there was no major emphasis on women's education, but Louis supported my Mom's education wholeheartedly. He was very proud of her, and even though he didn't want her to leave home he did support her decision to attend Mount Holyoke college. Mom only spent a year there, though, because soon after she started college Louis died. When that happened, Mom came home and transferred to Barnard so she could live with her family.
Louis died of multiple myeloma at age of 50, knowing that he had helped raise and support two wonderful children. Sadly, both of Louis's parents were still alive when he died. They passed on themselves in the early 1960s, while my mother was in law school.
On the Hebrew calendar, Louis died on 19 Shvat 5716, so this year his yahrzeit (the Hebrew anniversary of his death) will fall on February 17th. I plan to remember him on that day as well.