Shirley Katz Cohen, 1926-2020

May 11, 2021

Shirley Katz Cohen

While growing up in New York City, I was fortunate to have various strong, intelligent, and politically committed women in my family. One of the most impressive of these women was my “aunt,” Shirley Katz Cohen (actually the sister of an aunt), whose presence at family dinners and special events had a distinctive influence on me. A long time contributor to and supporter of ALBA, we just learned that she also left us a generous bequest. Her death in March 2020 at age 93 embodies the passing of an entire generation for whom the Spanish Civil War and the broader struggle against fascism were life defining causes.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Shirley attended Evander Childs High School, graduated from Hunter College in 1946, and then went on to earn a Master’s degree in education from Columbia. Summers at Camp Kinderland helped to shape her progressive ideals. She taught mathematics for over 30 years at the High School of Performing Arts (now LaGuardia High School), where she cultivated lifelong friendships with colleagues and students. She was active in the original New York City Teachers Union and remained a committed trade unionist all her life. She was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, and among other causes, she supported Planned Parenthood and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel. She was a cultural activist as well. A lifelong speaker and student of Yiddish, she hosted an annual Yiddish “Sing A Long” that she and her husband Martin hosted in their Upper Westside apartment. The couple attended ALBA’s annual event regularly.

Shirley’s wit, bright smile, and fierce intelligence lit up every event she attended. A brilliant conversationalist, she loved to argue about politics, the future of Yiddishkeit, women’s liberation, family disputes, the latest fiction she was reading—always with passion, insight, and humor. She followed closely the transition we made from VALB to ALBA. She would quiz me closely, always focused on how to best preserve the legacy of the volunteers and how to educate young people today about their idealism and sacrifice.

Truly a woman of valor, Shirley Katz Cohen’s memory will always be a blessing.