Whether because advancements in medicine have made it so, or because most of the world is enamored with the concept of youth, what it means to age has changed in the 21st century. We act younger as we’ve gotten older.
It’s become the in thing to say that 70 is the new 50; 80 is the new 60; and 95 is the new 75.
In the case of Robert Cohen of Springfield, who celebrated his 95th birthday last week, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say his 95 is the new 65.
At his age, many people look back at what they hope was a life well-lived. Mr. Cohen, however, does not. He’s one of the fortunate near-centenarians who have retained their cognitive abilities and physical independence. That alone should be reason to celebrate. But the way he has become a model for how to live, both for himself and for his family, provides even more reason to be joyous.
“Nothing holds me back from doing most anything,” he said. That includes going to work every day as vice president of Cooper Alloy Sales Corporation, a division of Vanton Pump and Equipment Corporation in Hillside; he has worked there since 1949. He and his wife, Vivienne, continue to split their time between north Jersey and south Florida. For years, they have regularly attended services at Congregation Sha’arey Shalom in Millburn. They have traveled the world. Like everyone else, during the last 20 months or so covid has cut short their travel plans — but not even covid can hold them down. They are aiming to take a cruise this spring.
Their motto? “If you rest, you rust.”
Mr. Cohen grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of Dave and Etta Cohen. Rabbi Jody Cohen-Gavarian, one of Cohen’s two daughters, said, “My dad grew up surrounded by that most rare of values, unconditional love. That is what made him the thoughtful, empathic mensch he has been throughout his life.”
Mr. Cohen entered the navy as World War II was winding down. After a stint in the Pacific theater, he came out of the service with the rank of radio man third class. Once back home, he went to the University of Connecticut and graduated with a degree in business.
That’s where he met another UConn student, Vivienne Raphael. They got married on December 25, 1949. “My mother said she knew on their first date that he was the one for her,” Rabbi Cohen-Gavarian said. “It was probably because he was very handsome and has a great personality and a terrific sense of humor. As to why they got married on Christmas Day, they didn’t think it would be a problem. Everyone attending was Jewish.”
The Cohens moved to New Jersey and raised three children: Jody, who was a congregational rabbi in West Hartford and South Windsor, Connecticut, and Miami, before she retired; Amy Rosenberg, who lives in Short Hills; and Steven, who lived in Eugene, Oregon and died suddenly in 2018.
Like a good number of their Jewish neighbors in Springfield, the Cohens were members of Congregation Sha’arey Shalom there. “We joined practically at the beginning, 60 years ago,” Mr. Cohen said. (Within the last year Sha’arey Shalom sold its Springfield building and began a space-sharing arrangement with Congregation B’nai Israel of Millburn.)
Mr. Cohen downplays his involvement at Sha’arey Shalom, but he doesn’t stint on his praise for the many roles Vivienne Cohen has played at the synagogue. “She served in all kinds of capacities, including being on the board for many years,” he said. Ms. Cohen also is a life member of Hadassah, a supporter of the Deborah Heart and Lung Center, and the Brandeis Women’s Network. “When you speak about me, you have to give credit to my wife. She’s a great woman. And we always do things together.”
Doing things together includes their social justice-oriented philanthropy. For many years, the Cohens volunteered at a soup kitchen in Elizabeth. About 10 years ago, they created the Vivienne and Robert Cohen Hunger Relief Fund at Sha’arey Shalom. The fund is one of a number listed on the synagogue’s website to which donations can be made.
When Mr. Cohen is not working, he’s not still. He likes to read and do yard work. He also enjoys fishing and boating, activities he pursues at a family-owned cottage in Brockville, Ontario. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to get into a good-natured argument about the merits of the Yankees and the Mets with his grandson, Amitai Gavarian. Mr. Cohen is a lifelong Yankees fan, and Mr. Gavarian is a die-hard Mets supporter.
The Cohens love the theater and the opera; his favorite is “La Boheme.” He collects clocks and coins he and his wife share friends they make it a point to see. They have close relationships with friends from their days at UConn, summer friends in Canada, and winter friends in Florida.
As for all that travel, the Cohens have been to almost every continent. They’ve gone to Europe, Russia, most of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, the Galápagos Islands, and Egypt. They’ve been to Israel several times.
The most important thing to both Robert and Vivienne Cohen, however, is their family. They have eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and they see them all regularly. Their children and grandchildren speak of them with love and admiration. Grandson Alex Rosenberg, Amy’s son, wrote to his grandfather on his birthday. “There are only a few people in my life that I look up to and you are one of them. Living a long life is an incredible attribute. But to live a long, healthy, and happy life is the dream. To me, you are living proof it is possible to reach that dream.”