August 1, 2020

Elliott and Judith Cohen and the Ever-Mounting Toll of Covid-19

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Elliott and Judith are the second and third of the three friends we’ve lost so far to the Coronavirus. They passed away in Atlanta last Wednesday within minutes of one another; statistically, just two more of the 155,000 other Americans lost to the pandemic in the past 150 days. Just two more

Sudden and unanticipated tragedy focuses the mind like nothing else. Their loss to Coronavirus has shaken us to the core, just as the loss of so many tens of thousands has shaken so many other millions of Americans to their core. Elliott and Judith leave a void that, for many of us, will simply linger, but never quite go away. They, each in their own way, were simply that special.

When they first met, Judith was still a student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Elliott a recent graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. They shared a remarkable common interest that drew them together—justice.

What, to them, was the right thing to do invariably became the only thing to do. Just as True North is always the geodetic North, that one spot on earth that never changes, as compared to the magnetic north that constantly wobbles and waivers, their sense of right, of justice, was their constant bearing, their True North. Spending time talking with Elliott and Judith about complicated social issues was always a clarifying experience. Complications and conflicting points of view aside, you always knew what Elliott and Judith believed was right.

Elliott and I generally met once a month, just to talk. We would meet for either breakfast or lunch and just discuss one issue or another…for hours. Those conversations never ended because we ran out of points-of-view to share. They invariably drew to a close in an empty dining room with a waiter or waitress politely, but somewhat urgently, letting us know they had to begin setting the room for the next meal service. Politics, civil rights, religion, the state of our democracy, America’s foundational need for Justice—not just justice for all, but justice above all. These were the subjects that dominated every meal we shared.

 Politically, Elliott was invariably attracted to a party’s commitment to justice, and if justice resided more with one party at a given point in time, that is where his attention quickly gravitated. Loyalty to a political party might sometimes demand too much; but loyalty to justice and fair play, never.

Their love for one another was the stuff of novels and movies. A cruel intruder challenged the strength of that love. Its name was Cancer. Judith, a beautiful young woman in the prime of life was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for Cancer. Words often fail us when illness clouds the future and uncertainty weighs heavily on the mind. Not Elliott, though. He loved Judith as much, maybe more, after her battle with Cancer as he did before her struggle, so he asked her to marry him so they could spend the rest of their lives together. And so, they did for the next six decades.

Knowledge, learning more about what had long interested him, and about entirely new subjects and perspectives to contemplate was, to Elliott, the highest coin of the realm. He never stopped acquiring knowledge. His pursuit of new information and of an enhanced understanding of old information was perpetual. And he loved sharing his insight, and for years he led formal discussions with contemporaries where conflicting views could be elucidated, contemporized and contribute to group knowledge, and sometimes even to the amelioration of conflicting views.

Elliott and Judith were passionate about the plight of the Jewish People who were trapped in nations hostile to their presence and whose treatment of the Jews was corrupted by ancient prejudices and irrational and unfounded hostility. Elliott traveled the world for the legendary Joint Distribution Committee and The Joint’s work to assist Jews wherever their help was needed. Judith traveled to the former Soviet Union decades ago to meet with, and help Refuseniks, the Jews who the Soviets would not allow to emigrate. And when, largely through the determined effort of the late Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, the Soviets finally relented, Judith flew off to Ladispoli Italy, a small seaside town not far from Rome, where many emigrating Russian Jews were encamped while awaiting approval to continue on to the United States. She went to teach them English and about life in America.

Elliott was a founding partner of a quite successful Atlanta law firm. He wrote to the attorneys of the firm that it was his intention to create a firm which would lack pomposity and arrogance, which would be devoid of internal politics…and a firm whose attorneys would put back into the community, through civic or charitable pursuits, some of the success which they would enjoy.

Elliott and Judith lived a life of “giving back.” Their life was not always easy. They, like all of us, had their struggles and faced more than their share of tragedy. They overcame life’s struggles and tragedies only to fall to the Coronavirus. They were among the most recent just two more. Their lives ended as their romance began; holding hands.

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40 responses to “Elliott and Judith Cohen and the Ever-Mounting Toll of Covid-19”

  1. Amy Gershowitz Lask says:

    What a tragic and unnecessary loss. I am heartbroken for their family, friends and all those whose lives they touched. My condolences to all.

  2. Gloria Scoby says:

    Much appreciated. Thank you for a wonderful tribute to the COHENS. I was hoping you would do this. You never disappoint.
    With deep sadness and gratitude,

  3. qua says:

    Such a heartwarming tribute to a great thinker and his wife who gave and expected little in return except satisfaction of knowing they made a difference.

    Having shared many a luncheon with Elliott I always admired his
    willingness to listen and to gently issue his opinions. We did not
    argue but discussed openly many subjects.
    I will miss him and know too he was the best thing I got from
    being a member of Tamarisk. His discussions were so informative and researched.
    May G-D bless them with peace together.

  4. ELIEZAR BENJAMEIN aka Leonard Sherman says:

    It is a very long time ago,but as a young Jew from Chicago was a one of many directors of the ” joint” I used to travel to NewYork for the JDC board of directors meeting when the legendary president of the board was M M Warburg (Jacob Schiff’s son in law) and a vaguely recall Elliot’s passion for the Joint to extend the helping hand to the surving remnants of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, Hal a beautiful tribute . How many of us will have made a difference in the lives of our fellow Jews Elliot Cohen did

  5. Reena Graber Blumenfeld says:

    Hal and Diane
    I did not know ur friends ,but knowing u two I can only imagine how wonderful a couple they must have been. I’m sitting here in Dallas reading this somber essay from u that I read each Sunday with tears in my eyes and praying for their families and their friends like u who have lost loved ones. How much longer must we all suffer for this huge mistake ? In simple words, we are all lost wondering when this will subside. The numbers keep climbing and fear is taking over . When I read “holding hands “it breaks my heart
    Reena Graber Blumenfeld

  6. Pat and Gordon says:

    Ha,l, what a beautiful tribute. We spend much time with them this summer before they left for Atlanta. We dined at each other’s homes the virus notwithstanding. It was with sad heart when they left. They had decided to move back to Atlanta full time. We were in touch with them to the end and can’t help thinking they would still be alive had they stayed. We still can’t wrap our heads around the fact that they are gone. They were wonderful friends and bright lights in our TCC community. We are so sad but take solace that they are together in death. We truly loved them and will miss them

  7. Robert M. Chell says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. This is a wonderful tribute that personalizes the loss of the thousands to this horrible disease.I have recently learned a wonderful phrase that has been known by many “May their memory be a blessing”. From what you have written , you have many memories and they are indeed a blessing.



  8. Marcia Meyers Stein says:

    Dear Hal, What a beautiful tribute . They were a power couple that contributed so much . Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family and dear freinds. Marcia and Rick Stein

  9. sherry schor says:

    A beautiful and touching tribute to two very fine people. We were all privileged to have had them in our lives.
    Sherry Schor

  10. Barbara Fromm says:

    An outstanding tribute to Judith and Elliott. Their love for each other and their passion for charity and social justice will be a lasting legacy.
    We are grateful to you Hal for your essay. May they rest in peace together.
    Our best to you and Diane.
    Barbara and Bernie

  11. Norman Wine says:

    A tragic loss of life. May their memory be a blessing and inspiration.

  12. Chris Haedt says:

    Hal and Diane, this is so heartbreaking for you and understandably so. A loving tribute to both your dear friends, and I pray that all your wonderful memories help subside your pain during this difficult time. Although I didn’t know them my heart is certainly heavy.

  13. ardith marguleas says:

    A moving tribute-I learned so much from Elliott at our weekly Tamarisk Open Forum and will miss them. Tamarisk will not be the same without their presence!

  14. Cydney Osterman says:


  15. Cookie Miller says:

    What a beautiful tribute to two genuinely nice people. My heart goes out to you on the loss of your very good friend and to Judith and Elliott’s family.

  16. Ellyn and Jim Katz says:

    Hal.. We were shocked to read about Elliott and Judith. Your description of their life together was beautiful. Some 55 years ago we were neighbors in the Highlands raising our young families together. Our condolences to you, the Cohen family and the Mesirow family.

  17. Carol Frankel says:

    Your fitting tribute left me in tears. The lives they touched will never forget them. Thank you, Hal

  18. Paul Lubar says:

    These were fine people and their passing is a great loss to all who knew them. I will sorely miss Elliot’s Monday discussion group. His research was always comprehensive and taught me a great deal. Besides which he was a very smart guy with valuable insight on a wide range of subjects.

  19. I was shocked to hear about Judith and Elliot. They were both such kind, caring, brilliant people and they will be missed by all. We were lucky to have them as part of our Federation team
    Hope you and Diane are well.

  20. Debra and Mickey Star says:

    Thank you Hal for giving voice to to our feelings and thoughts on the loss of these two wonderful friends. They both enhanced the lives of those who knew them. They fulfilled Tikum Olam. May they rest in peace. We shall miss them terribly.

  21. Pat & Joan Kerns says:

    Your beautiful tribute, Hal, represented the feelings of those of us who cared so deeply for Judith & Elliot. Their intellect, their warmth and their vitality will be sorely missed in Ca. & all over the world. Thank you for speaking for us all. Love to you & Diane. Pat & Joanie

  22. Bahram Mobasher says:

    What a tragic, untimely and unnecessary loss. My condolences to you, their family and friends. There are people like Judith and Elliot Cohen who make life meaningful and us hopeful that there are still true humans out there. We should cherish people like them.

  23. Trudy Schwartz says:

    I can’t add anything more to the fitting comments of everyone.
    I am heartbroken for this tremendous loss and injustice to human life.
    They were exceptional people and we were so fortunate to have had them in our lives.
    Thank you for honoring them with your beautiful words of wisdom.

  24. Sheila Sloan says:

    Your tribute to Judith and Elliot was beautiful. When I heard that they had passed I felt enormous sadness. They were people who added to all of our lives. I wished I had told them when they were alive how much I cared for them . They added quality to all of our lives. My best to you and Diane.
    Sheila Sloan

  25. Jerry Kessler says:

    Hal-so very sorry to read of the loss of your special and treasured friends. The love and respect you wrote about them only underscores the extent of how highly you regarded them and how much you will miss them going forward. I did not personally know the Cohen’s but your tribute to them wants to make me join you in doing so.

  26. judy allen says:

    Dear Diane and Hal,

    Please accept our sincere expression of sympathy for the loss of this wonderful, loving, giving couple. I was fortunate to have been with them at Tamarisk and always enjoyed their company. I will hold them in my heart and pray not only for their family and friends but also a cure for COVID. Judy

  27. Sheila Sloan says:

    Your tribute to Judith and Elliot was beautiful. When learned that they had passed I felt enormous sadness. They were people who added to all of our lives. I wished I had told them when they were alive how much I cared for them . They added quality to all of our lives. My best to you and Diane.

  28. Stuart Goldfine says:

    Very fine article. I never knew them personally, but I did know of their contributions to our local Jewish community. Their holding hands together at the end is real love.

  29. Frank and Toby Berman says:

    Well done Hal. I have suggested to TCC that we do some fitting tribute to them due to this unimaginable tragedy. Perhaps our leadership can plan something appropriate. May they Rest In Peace.

  30. Terri Ketover says:

    On behalf of the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Annenberg Theater Committee (formerly Annenberg Theater Council), we share your grief at the loss of Judith & Elliott. They were devoted patrons of our programming and familiar faces at all of our Performance Series and Cabaret 88 shows. We will miss their enthusiasm and support and are deeply saddened by their passing.

  31. susan duman says:

    Your army of admirers have said it so well. Your forum gives all of us a place to mourn.
    Thank you!

  32. Jan Harnik says:

    Beautifully expressed and written. Thank you Hal.

  33. Hal, what a beautiful tribute to two people having lived lives so magnanimously- May they RIP abd their memory serve as a blessing to those who follow in their footsteps. To all their family and friends on behalf of Adrian and myself we wish you all only good health…… this is a true tragedy.

  34. Jo Kaplan says:

    My loss is not personal, like yours , but it is that I NEVER got to know Elliot and Judith. Your description of their decades long love ❤️❤️and partnership in fighting for “Justice for All “ , touched my heart deeply. Many ,talk the talk about freedom for all, but few ,sadly , ever actually walk the walk,.. they ,however,
    have been trekking down that very long winding road forever.
    So tragic to lose your remarkable friends , particularly now, when there is so much work left for them to do..“Together .“
    Warmly. Jo Kaplan Feldman


  35. Perry Altshule says:

    Thank you, that was lovely
    Perry and Nancy Altshule

  36. Dr.Tom Truhe says:

    Dear Hal,
    We all can only hope to have a dear friend like you write such a beautiful and touching tribute when the time comes for each of us……just wonderful !

    I only knew Elliott & Judith from their attendance at Annenberg Theater shows throughout the years, but Judith especially, always had a big hello and something funny or clever to say to me each time…..or a compliment.
    It’s only when they’re gone now that I/we say, “Why didn’t I spend more time last night just talking and getting to know her better?” After reading your tribute I realize we had SO MUCH we could have talked about……such lives well-lived…

    My sincerest sympathy to Diane and you and all who knew Judith & Elliott and loved them.
    Tom Truhe

  37. Margie and Stephen Kulp says:

    As always your golden words gave us all a rich understanding of the n’shama of these two extraordinary human beings! Elliott and Judith were unique in their love of each other, their love of life and of bringing love and joy to all who knew them. But among their greatest legacy will remain their gifts to so many who never knew them.

    This is a cruel time in our lives, and this loss is one of the cruelest of them all.

    Stay well and healthy!
    Margie and Stephen Kulp

  38. Roberta Holland says:

    Thank you, Hal, for such a thoughtful, sweet and right on tribute to our friends. I have great memories of traveling to JDC countries with Elliott when we were both on the board of the “Joint”. Judith and I served on the National UJA Women’s Division Board together. Imagine how happy I was when they moved to the desert.
    Your essay and your readers comments are testimony to how well loved they were in the desert. Your essay brought tears to my eyes and I will miss them very much but how lucky we all are to have had them for friends. Thank you, Hal, it was beautiful.

  39. Joan Young says:

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute for Elliott and Judith. We were deeply saddened to learn of their deaths, especially that it was at the hands of the terrible COVID19. Their positive impact on their community will not be soon forgotten, and they will be missed by us and others in their second home in Palm Springs.
    With our condolences, Joan and Ford, Vancouver BC

  40. Leslie usow says:

    What a beautifully written tribute to two lovely people. Your words expressed just what we feel, but your eloquence outshines our ability to put these feelings into words. We saw Judith and Elliott often….always our favorite table at Pacifica. We never wanted to leave because we had so much to discuss. These people will truly be missed by so many….we miss them already.

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