SZ Connect: Helping Community Singles Split the Sea

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ONE ON ONE WITH SUSAN COHEN

By: Ellen Geller Kamaras



How did I get through it? Hashem brought me through it. I had to change my mindset.  I like keeping to routines and being prepared for things. All that changed when my baby was in the hospital for the first 13 months of her life.  I had to learn to deal with things as they occurred. In the end, Baruch Hashem, the outcome was better than anyone expected.”

Susan Cohen of Long Branch, NJ, is a wife, a mother of four young girls and one boy, a full-time auditor at Nessco Freight Auditing, and is a certified makeup artist.  Sounds like a lot, right? Amazingly, she recently found time to launch a Jewish library out of her home and opens it to the community everyerev Shabbat

How does she do it all?

I do have some answers for you! Susan shared her story with me and her lessons learned, especially those relating to her journey with baby Rivka, in the hope that she can provide hizuk and inspiration for others.

Let’s add some context and get to know Susan before we talk about Rivka.

A Little History

Susan, daughter of AJ and Joy Gindi, grew up in West Long Branch, NJ, one of six children.  She attended Deal Yeshiva for 12 years. 

“I loved school, my friends were there, we just had fun and it was where everything was. School was my whole life.” 

Susan commented that her classmates came from diverse backgrounds and there was “no judgment,” all the students were friendly towards each other.  As I got to know Susan better, I recognized that not judging others is one of her guiding life principles. 

After graduation, Susan’s next choice came naturally, given her own positive school experiences. She became an assistant teacher at the Torah Academy and at Hillel, and she loved being with the children.  Susan also went to beauty school in the evenings to get certified as a professional makeup artist.

Susan’s Partnership with Her Naseeb

That summer after high school graduation, Eli Cohen, three years Susan’s senior, entered her life.  Susan knew Eli’s family but she had never met Eli.  Eli’s sister-in-law thought they would be a good match and asked a rabbi to set it up!  By 19, Susan was married and thrilled with her life as the wife of a kollel student. Eli studied in Rabbi Diamond’s kollel for the first eight years of their marriage.  “Starting our life together as a kollel couple was beautiful.  It served as a foundation for how we raise our children and for all of our accomplishments.”  

Susan greatly admires her father-in-law, Rabbi Joey Cohen, whom she calls a very special man, the man who brought Sukkot to the community.  Her mother in law, Paulette is “always doing something in the kitchen, running a catering business, making everything from scratch, very shaatra.”

With Eli studying full-time in kollel, Susan took a full-time job as an auditor at Nessco Freight Auditing.  “My boss, and the founder of Nessco, Isaac Mavorah, is amazing.  He takes pride in hiring and supporting kollel wives.”

As a certified makeup artist, Susan is impassioned about helping women feel beautiful for smachot.  Given how dependable and caring she is, it’s not unusual for Susan to wake up at 5:00am to apply a mom’s makeup for a brit mila.  Her passion developed as a young girl.  Susan always delighted in watching her mother and grandmother put on their assorted cosmetics and Susan started doing her friends’ and family members’ makeup.  She takes her craft very seriously. “Makeup is always changing, and I keep on top of my game, researching new kinds of makeup, tips, and tricks. I love my time and interaction with my clients.”

Susan describes herself as a “juggling wife and mom.”   Eli is now a full-time contractor and is very supportive of all of Susan’s professional and community endeavors.  He often covers for Susan when she’s completing a makeup job in the evening and lovingly does his “Daddy duty” on Sundays.  Eli regularly says to his wife, “I don’t know how you do it!”  Susan confided that she feels like she is running a marathon before her older children come home from school.  Her proudest accomplishment is that she and Eli partner to create and maintain a happy and healthy home for their children.

Inspiration from the Older Generation

Susan’s parents, AJ and Joy were, and still are, her role models.  Her father is a major doer (“that’s where I get it from”).  He was president of Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH) in NJ, president of his synagogue in West Long Branch, and is now working for Renewal, an organization committed to assisting people suffering from various forms of kidney disease.

As a mother, Susan frequently asks herself, how would my mom handle this situation?  Growing up, Joy was always easygoing and calm. She is well known for her baked goods business, Joy’s Goodies, she embodies shaatra, and never says no when any of her children needs assistance. 

The Family’s Journey with the Youngest Daughter

Two years ago, Susan gave birth to her youngest daughter, Rivka.  Her other children were eight, six, four, and two years old.  Rivka was born with an underdeveloped esophagus. Susan and Eli were told by the doctors that her esophagus could be repaired and that Rivka would be in the hospital for six weeks.  The six weeks turned into 13 months.  

“We transferred Rivka at six weeks from Monmouth Hospital to a hospital in Philadelphia that had more experience with rare cases like Rivka’s.  There were lots of setbacks and several surgeries.  We kept telling ourselves that Hashem wants it this way.  The entire community including SBH supported us spiritually and physically. There were berachot parties and challah bakes for Rivka.  Women cooked dinners the entire year and babysat. I was at the hospital in Philly and couldn’t make it home in time.  I took a leave from Nessco and Eli needed to keep his job.  A very special community member stepped in and was there for my kids after school when I couldn’t be, taking them on outings, buying them gifts, and more.  She was the person I called when I had unexpected hospital emergencies.”

Susan explained that Hashem brought her through this terrifying period one day at a time.  The future was unknown and there were so many possible scenarios.  “I was no longer in control.  I had to change my mindset and take things as they happened.  I accepted that my plans were changing constantly depending on what was happening with Rivka’s condition.  In the end, we had a miracle. The doctor came out of the operating room after only four hours instead of the estimated 10 hours, with the miraculous news that the surgery was more natural and simpler than expected. Rivka is two years old and a typical toddler.”

Growth that Came with the Challenges

During this 13-month period, Susan trained herself to prioritize. Certain things became less important. So much had to be configured to make her family’s life function.  Expectations had to be readjusted and recalibrated.  Hagim and smachot came and went. Susan couldn’t work at Nessco but took makeup jobs, needing that outlet.  Making her clients feel good lifted Susan’s spirits and allowed her to feel that not everything was falling apart in her life. 

“I was dedicated to normalizing my children’s lives. Rivka was sick but our lives had not stopped. I had other kids to take care of.”  Susan gave the example of taking her daughters shopping for the hagim.  She also pushed herself to go to an exercise class or a shiur.  Eli encouraged her to get out, knowing how crucial it was for Susan to do something for herself. 

Susan and Eli’s children also developed flexibility.  In the beginning, they were confused.  It was a big adjustment for them - their baby sister was in a hospital 90 minutes away.  Susan received guidance from experts at Chai Lifeline on how to talk to her young children about their sick sibling.  Susan explained what was happening to her kids, why things were sometimes spontaneous, for example, “this Shabbat you are going to so and so’s home.”   They started to tolerate change, especially in their routines. This was a positive outcome for them.  Susan and Eli addressed their anxieties and saw growth.  Now that Rivka is home, her siblings are very mature and are aware of what Rivka can eat.  At the same time, they treat her like a regular two-year-old.

Susan’s New Project and Advice for Women

Susan is back at Nessco and took on a new endeavor, the Cohen Kids Library, a self-service Jewish Library in Long Branch.  Susan’s oldest daughter loves to read, and Susan and Eli would say, “I wish we had a Jewish library.”  A multi-purpose room in the Cohen home, which has its own entrance, houses the new library.  Each Cohen child has a task on Thursday nights to get the room ready for library hours on Friday.

I leave you with Susan’s positive advice for busy wives and working moms.  Susan encourages working mothers to make time to be with friends or attend shiurim.  Communication is also key!  “Husbands and wives have busy days.  It’s important to make time to catch up with your husband on life and spend some time alone, go out for dinner, or an ice cream, or a walk on the boardwalk.”

You can connect with Susan at suecohen88@yahoo.com

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).