BOSTON (JTA) – Ask those who knew Meryl Cohen best and it won’t take long before they start talking about Thanksgiving.
The large, weekend-long gatherings became her calling, showcasing Cohen’s culinary talents and reflecting her passion for bringing together an ever-widening circle of extended family, friends and new acquaintances fortunate enough to snag an invite.
Cohen had four sons and a stepson from her two marriages, first to poet Allen Grossman and later to Jacob Cohen, an American Studies professor at Brandeis. Over time, her table expanded to include her kids’ spouses, grandchildren, nephews, and others who popped in over the long weekend. Cohen delighted in outfitting her third-floor attic with sleeping bags for out-of-town guests.
“Grandma’s Thanksgiving was the definition of a labor of love,” granddaughter Sophie Grossman said.
At the time Cohen died, on April 16 of COVID-19 at the age of 84, she had left the home where she hosted decades of holiday guests and was living in a senior residence outside Boston, one that was especially hard hit by the virus. By the end of Apri, 49 residents had reportedly died of the disease.
A two-hour remembrance, held on the video conferencing platform Zoom, drew more than 100 people, a cross-section of the varied worlds and interests that were part of the tapestry of Cohen’s life. Cohen was remembered for her intelligence, kindness, zest for life, and a touch of “impeccable snarkiness”, in the words of another granddaughter, Ruth Grossman.
Cohen was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. A poet, violist and bicyclist, she worked professionally for a time as an editor. After returning to school for an advanced degree at 43, she began a career as a psychiatric social worker, devoting many years to working with clients at inner-city clinics, as well as teaching and mentoring others.
She was also a longtime participant in Daughters of Abraham, an interfaith book group, and was a member of Temple B’nai Brith in Somerville, where she was a regular at Saturday morning services — surprising her family, and even herself, after a life as a strongly identified secular Jew.
Cohen was an astute listener with a gift for making others feel understood, said Phil Weiss, one of the synagogue’s religious leader who officiated at the Zoom funeral held for Cohen.
“She heard the unheard sound of our unspoken words and she brought them forth for us,” Weiss said. “She will be sorely missed.”
Cohen is survived by sons Adam and Jon Grossman, and Ben and Casey Cohen; stepson Joshua Cohen; brother Richard Mann; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.