Cohen, Jesse
Interview Date
[T1S1] Respondent born in Canonsburg, PA; provides information on parents, siblings: father born in New York, mentions his furniture business; describes parents’ meeting, their marriage; mother graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology, (now Carnegie Mellon University, CMU); provides names of two sisters. Respondent continues discussion of family background, religious observance: father head of synagogue in Canonsburg, PA, where Respondent celebrated Bar Mitzvah, notes attending services, comments on keeping dietary laws, Passover observance. Respondent begins discussion of children’s religious affiliations: one daughter member of Lubavitch/Chabad community in Pittsburgh; recalls graduation from high school in Canonsburg, PA, felt no anti-Semitism, mother involved in both secular and Jewish organizations; reflects on attendance, graduation from Penn State University; entrance into West Point thereafter. Respondent gives detailed information on circumstances regarding desire to attend West Point: encouraged by many friends who were enrolled at that time; gives vivid description of life as student, notes several other Jewish students dropped out, too strenuous for them, explains world involvement with World War II at that time. Respondent discusses being sent to train infantry soldiers in South Carolina; suffered back injury, sent to Walter Reed Hospital then John’s Hopkins Hospital for surgery; had no major service in the army. Respondent comments on return to Canonsburg, joining family furniture business, Home Furniture Company; notes other locations of businesses, explains his great respect for father: gave him opportunity to make decisions to expand, make changes, notes father’s leniency with him. Respondent less lenient with his children. Respondent describes circumstances involving daughter Nancy and her husband becoming associated with Lubavitch/Chabad; gives details on how it occurred: husband had secular background, became imbued with group’s teachings, attended Yeshiva and became Orthodox; daughter Nancy became imbued while attending graduate school in Boston, also went to seminary in New York.
[T1S2] Respondent elaborates on businesses; gives number of stores, flourished in the 1970s, expanded to Florida. Respondent returns to discussion of his children; explains his involvement with United Jewish Federation (UJF) in 1963: active in Business Division, names various positions held; begins discussion of Montefiore Hospital: affiliation with University of Pittsburgh, difficult time for Pittsburgher’s, Respondent in favor of plan, many doctors begin leaving hospital; sale of Montefiore Hospital to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) wise decision. Respondent returns to remarks on business in Florida, son’s entrance into business, greatly increased volume; notes son’s departure from business to create a business in Israel; Florida business sold in 1989, other businesses sold in 1988.
[T2S3] Respondent repeats information from previous tapes: names of parents, siblings; gives names of 15 grandchildren; notes his involvement with technology business in Israel, still in stage of development, made large investment; comments on peace process in Israel; notes daughter’s feelings as a member of Lubavitch/Chabad. Respondent discusses his involvement with Pennsylvania politics; helped elect Arlen Specter, his importance as Senator and friend to Israel; reflects on chairmanship of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): offers a strong United States Israel relationship, does not take positions. Respondent begins discussion of Rodef Shalom Temple: prefers not to be critical; at one time, largest Reform congregation in United States (notes he would not join Rodef Shalom Temple today if he were new in Pittsburgh); had to join Tree of Life Congregation in order for son to become Bar Mitzvah; adds comments on Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof: inspired by his brilliance and book reviews. Respondent reflects on board meeting held at UJF in 1969 regarding request for funding for Hillel Academy, Yeshiva Schools, most members of board secular, refused request, Respondent felt importance of support to maintain continuity in Judaism, schools must be supported; discusses relationship with Rabbi Sholom Posner, founder and Dean of Yeshiva Schools, notes his warmth and charisma; reflects on private meeting with Rabbi Posner. Respondent raises one half million dollars for the school, understands importance of Orthodox schools, comments on problems of Reform Judaism: lacks continuity.
[T2S4] Respondent returns to discussion on Rabbi Freehof; details negative feelings towards Rabbi Mark Staitman, his comments on insufficient attention and funding being given towards Reform Judaism in Israel, describes occurrence at special meeting, unpleasant experience. Respondent comments on private clubs in Pittsburgh such as Duquesne Club, its discrimination against Jews; confronted board of club, reversed the situation. Respondent begins lengthy discussion on Arab boycott: notes several corporations in Pittsburgh adhered to it, gives names, Respondent President of UJF at that time, explains in detail his involvement: contacted every chairman of major corporations in Pittsburgh, invited them to come to meeting to discuss importance of not supporting it; invited all those who attended to come to Israel through the generosity of UJF; gives itinerary; names important people with whom they met, positive experience for all; trip created good public relations. Respondent reverts to discussion of children, grandchildren, touches on their accomplishments; reflects on life: regrets not having a good Jewish education, lack of time spent with children during younger years, counts blessings, adds more comments on political situation in Pittsburgh.
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac); Canonsburg (Pa.); Freehof, Solomon Bennett, 1892-; Home Furniture Company; Lubavitch/Chabad; Montefiore Hospital (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Posner, Sholom; Staitman, Mark; Rodef Shalom Temple; United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh; West Point; Yeshiva Schools
Length (hours)
Braun, Howard
Weiss, Selma
Collateral Materials
All rights reserved. University of Pittsburgh