What Are You Going To Do, If You Don’t Know What To Do?

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By: Ellen Geller Kamaras

“I love to learn and am a perpetual student; a long journey doesn’t discourage me.  Serious things take real and ever-growing investments.”

These words were Jamie Cohen’s response to my question, what lights you up?  She is inspired by many things, and I am honored to introduce her to you and share her passions and her life story with you.

Who is Jamie Cohen?  Jamie is a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and a registered dietician who just completed her second master’s degree.  When I interviewed Jamie, I kept thinking ENERGY.

A Little History

Let’s travel back in time and get to know Jamie, her roots, schooling, family life, and trajectory into the fields of nutrition and public health.

Jamie is the daughter of Sylvia Blanco Shalom, a”h, and Max Shalom. Jamie’s mother passed away when she was only 10 years old.  Jamie says she was so fortunate that her father was incredibly loving and caring, and he did everything for her and her older brother Morris.  Jamie’s grandparents, Rena and Marc Blanco, and her aunts, Muriel Shamula and Joyce Harari, also took remarkable care of Jamie and Morris.

Both sides of Jamie’s family originated in Aleppo, Syria and they were always committed to Jewish observance and helping the less fortunate.  Her maternal great-grandfather, Ezra, was nicknamed “Columbus,” because he was one of the first community members to emigrate to the U.S. in 1901.  He was also the Vice-Consul for the UK representing Aleppo.  Her paternal grandfather, Moses Shalom, was a businessman and a Torah teacher of both adults and young men in the community.

When Jamie was 16, her father married Gail Laniado, and they have been together for 40 years, bringing two new sisters into Jamie’s life, Mary and Margaret.  Jamie grew up in the heart of Midwood on Avenue J. 

Jamie attended Magen David Yeshivah Elementary school and Yeshiva of Flatbush High School. Jamie always loved school.  As a matter of fact, students were still passing around her class notes for years after she graduated high school.

“Life was simple when I was a child.  We had everything we needed and spent our free time playing handball and football outside. I loved playing sports with my brother and cousins.  I was very athletic, a tomboy, and a fierce competitor in tennis and racquetball.  My husband says that I had the best throwing arm of all the boys.”

Building a Family

Jamie met her husband, Ricky Cohen, in an unusual way.  They were both paying respects to Chief Rabbi Jacob Kassin, zt”l, when he was sitting shiva for his wife.  Jamie and Ricky have been married for 38 years.  Ricky’s parents were Abe and Geri Cohen, also of Syrian descent. Abe was one of the leaders in building Shaare Zion Synagogue, and Geri was deeply committed to Sephardic Bikur Holim and performed noteworthy work with the Syrian immigrants in the early 1990’s. 

Ricky is in the retail and real estate businesses, with offices in New York and Tel Aviv.  His love of learning and people propelled him to teach thousands of people for many years, including community members and individuals in the greater Jewish community and beyond.  His specialties included a track for young men and women to grow religiously and be committed to their own self-realization and the wellbeing of others. Ricky taught in three community yeshiva high schools and taught business ethics and social responsibility to management students at BaruchCollege. He has published three books with the most recent, Risk to Succeed: Essential Lessons for Discovering Your Unique Talents and Finding Success (McGraw-Hill). The “Risk to Succeed” workshop has been implemented by diverse entities such as JP Morgan Chase and the U.S. Navy.                                                                                                    

Jamie adores and admires the closeness of the Syrian community.  “I believe that it’s remarkable and unparalleled. The commitment to religion and tradition, the unbreakable value of family, the ever-growing levels of public and private hesed… is some of the attributes that make this community exceptional.”

Jamie and Ricky’s children are Geri, Sylvia, Gail, Abe, Max, and Marc.  Jamie spoke proudly about her adult children’s values and accomplishments.  They followed in Jamie’s footsteps, attending Magen David and Flatbush Yeshiva. Geri and Gail have growing careers and Sylvia has expressed her own personal sense of leadership and has made aliya with her husband and children.  Jamie’s sons are committed to Torah and halacha and possess a strong sense of self-love and self-confidence, as evidenced in how they are building their lives, families, and careers. Jamie has special relationships with her sons and daughters-in-law, Richie, Moshe, Sam, Bobbie, and Florence.

Jamie’s Special Essence

Jamie describes herself as patient, loving to learn, and as a person who enjoys being challenged intellectually.  “I love life and am a happy person naturally.”   As we follow Jamie on her journey, these values and traits shine through.

Back to School

Jamie cherishes her husband as a role model and as a mentor who deeply influenced her choices, commitments, and dreams. Ricky encouraged Jamie to go back to school when their youngest child, Marc, started kindergarten. Jamie had 12 credits from 20 years earlier, and it took some time for her to get a sense of the degree she wanted to pursue.  After nine years she graduated from Brooklyn College (BC) with 140 credits and a Bachelor of Science.  Jamie then enrolled at BC for a master’s degree in Nutrition, a four-year commitment.  In June, 2019 Jamie received her second master’s in Public Health from the CUNY School of Public Health, another four-year investment.  “I had weddings and bar mitzvahs and nothing stopped me from my school work,” Jamie said.

Let’s add focused and relentless to Jamie’s list of character traits!

Jamie is very appreciative of her family’s backing. “My kids are very proud of me.  There’s a running joke among them with how many letters I have after my name.”  Jamie loves being a student and learning about nutrition, which involves a lot of biology and chemistry.

Her first job as a Registered Dietician (RD) was in a nursing home in Far Rockaway.  Jamie was the Food Services Supervisor in addition to the RD, and was employed there for four years.  She is currently working for Annex Nutrition Services, which provides home visits for nutrition counseling. 


What excites Jamie about her career and makes all that hard work, time, and energy to get her degrees worthwhile?  “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing when my client’s health improves because of my nutrition education and counseling.”

Jamie admits that her biggest career challenge is trying to be the best RD as well as a great wife, mother, and grandmother.  “It’s not always easy to balance work and family even though my husband and children couldn’t be more supportive.”

She explained that it’s challenging to find people who are committed to the longer process and the rigor needed to make fundamental and long-term changes in their lives.  “The time of instant everything has creeped into health and wellness with people opting for radical, unsustainable options versus serious life building ones.”

Her secret to success?  Jamie says it’s about patience and hard work.  “Today everything is about instant gratification, quick solutions, and instant change.  Becoming an RD and getting my master’s degrees took time and patience.”

“Discipline and perseverance are antithetical to “overnight deliveries.” I’m also a firm believer in the ability of a person to continually invent/re-invent herself. New horizons and interesting venues and possibilities are essential for a person throughout her life. As my husband has said many times: There is no word in biblical Hebrew for retire (and there’s no word for vacation either!). If you’re growing and discovering yourself more and more as time goes on, there’s no reason to vacate or retire from your pursuits.”   

Accomplishments, Passions, and Hobbies

Jamie beautifully describes accomplishments as something to be deeply thankful for and humbled by.  Her children and grandchildren are her paramount accomplishments. “My children love each other and thoroughly enjoy their time together. They are now adults and parents themselves, with their primary dedication being to their own spouses and children.  My kids have grown closer and enjoy learning and growing from each other.”

After family, Jamie’s utmost accomplishment is earning her two master’s degrees!

What Helps Jamie Relax and Unwind?

Hands-down, Jamie is ardent about exercise.  “I can’t live without it.”  Now that her children are adults, she and Ricky love to travel.  Jamie also enjoys needlepointing, and worked on mosaics in the past.  She carves out time to play cards every Tuesday with her friends, and is crazy about her Starbucks coffee!

What’s Next?

Jamie continues to expand her knowledge, and has conducted research on pregnant women and offspring health outcomes.  She is contemplating counseling pregnant women regarding gaining the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy.  “Gaining the adequate amount of weight during pregnancy will give the baby a steady supply of nutrients and calories to grow, and can help protect the health of both mother and baby.”  Jamie is also concerned about the rising incidence of obesity, which is becoming a major issue in the Jewish community, and is a major risk factor for many diseases. 

Her Advice to Future Dieticians?

There are lots of different job opportunities, starting your own practice, working in a doctor’s office, hospital, nursing home, or school.

You can connect with Jamie by emailing her at jcr531@aol.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).