Bea’s first child Mark was born on St. Patrick’s Day, a Tuesday, in 1964. The family was living on Minneapolis’ North Side where until WWII some 60% of the Twin Cities Jewish population lived. By the time the Cohens had moved to the area, however, many Jews had left Minneapolis and moved to Saint Louis Park and beyond. The Jewish families still remaining were now part of a diverse community. Mark remembers that the family who lived in the house behind theirs on Upton Avenue was Mexican and that he played with them as he did with all of the varied group of neighborhood friends and classmates.
In 1966, Mark’s sister Jenny was born, then in 1969, when Mark was five and Jenny, just three, the family moved to a new home that the children’s father Seymour had built in New Hope, northwest of Minneapolis. Despite its encouraging name, New Hope ended up not being such a happy place for Mark and his little sister. Within a couple of months of their having moved in, the Cohens’ new home burned down.
Mark still remembers how he was woken in the middle of the night and rushed out of the house. The only treasure he was able to rescue was a small pillow, a souvenir from an airplane trip.
After the fire there was a time of uncertainty and living in temporary accommodations. “Mom and Dad had to hold things together,” Mark says, “it was traumatic”. What Paul probably didn’t know was just how busy his father had been. While the family was in transition, Seymour had been building a new home in Golden Valley. After two years, the family could move in.
This early experience for the family may have uncovered a difference in how Seymour and Bea approached life that likely became more pronounced over the years. “Dad was risk averse,” Mark says with certain emphasis. Mark describes how his father took it upon himself to ensure stability — not in the least financial stability — for the family.
Moms in Golden Valley were often stay-at-home moms, focused on their children and their children’s schooling and activities. Even though Bea was for a time also a stay-at-home mom, “She was pretty different from other moms,” Mark says, “she was always thinking about the bigger picture…as a kid, I thought it was pretty cool.”
Mark brings to mind his mother’s interest in politics and world affairs. What other stay-at-home mom was involved in the World Federalist Movement (WFM)? Founded during the waning years of WWII, WFM advocated for the establishment of democratic global institutions that could prevent a future world war. The movement counted among its members and supporters Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and…Bea Cohen.
Of the two, Seymour was certainly the more conventional. He was always active and “in the community” Mark says. Bea on the other hand, was not. As an example, Seymour brought his kids to Beth El synagogue, a Conservative congregation which fifty years after its founding on the North Side moved 1970 to a brand-new facility in St. Louis Park. It is an impressive building with soaring architecture; the place to be for a young family in society. Here Mark and Jenny became B’nai Mitzvah, Seymour and Bea were both solidly behind their kids’ religious training at Beth El and the Jewish school, Talmud Torah.
Then Bea “elected not to be a part of Beth El anymore,” Mark puts it diplomatically, and follows up with, “it was really rough.” Bea’s move to Or Emet, the Minnesota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, seems to have been another point of contention. And yet, Bea was in this, as in many things, bound to follow her own way. “At a high level, Dad respected her,” Mark affirms, then continues, “but they had a stormy relationship”.
Mark says, perhaps with some regret, that he is becoming like his father. While Jenny would eventually leave Beth El too, Mark has remained. Both of his kids have been B’nai Mitzvah there. And though he admits that his father “would drag us to Beth El,” Mark has discovered that his connection to Beth El is important to him.
And perhaps also like his father, Mark has deep admiration for his mother, in spite of their differences. Sure, Mark does not share his mother’s enthusiasm for gardening and he admits, “Science bored me silly”. But these differences do not diminish his admiration of his mother’s spirit and convictions. “She has a steely determination,” he says, “she is always looking forward and always thinking positive.” Then he reflects, “She is not like me: I would see how I am aging, becoming more feeble, not remembering things — and be bummed.” He pauses, “But she…she falls and just laughs!” Mark concludes, “In that way, she’s a role model.”