TWELVE years ago on January 11, 2002, Rabbi Sandra Cohen suffered a terrifying stroke at age 34 — but you’d never know it looking at her now. Soft spoken, articulate and smart as a whip, she nails imponderables in one or two lines.
The physically fit Cohen who ran 50 miles a week and who led powerful High Holiday services is a memory. Lingering complications such as migraines, vertigo and depleted energy curtail her freedom.
Yet a tranquility born of lengthy reflection radiates like the winter sun falling on her kipa.
The stroke ruptured her body, career expectations and self-image. It was horrible. Yet she believes her life is flooded by an abundance of good.
“At some point, reality rears its ugly head and you say, ‘Listen, if I want to function in the world I have to deal with reality — not what I’d want it to be, but as it really is,’” she says in retrospect.
“I still miss things about being a pulpit rabbi. I loved leading High Holiday services. But that’s over. I’m not that person anymore. Now who am I? I have to find meaning in a different way and enjoy what I’m able to do.
“But my life is blessed in so many ways. I have a happy, wonderful daughter, Shira. My husband Ben is marvelous: so kind and compassionate.
“G-d has blessed me with such abundance,” says Cohen, 46. “Do I miss my professional life? Of course I miss it. But I’m still able to work. My mind works. I can study text, and teach text to others who are interested in learning.
“On top of that, I’m able to feel my blessings. Sometimes you’re so emotionally cut off — depressed, sad, grieving — that you can’t experience the abundance. I can, and I’m extremely grateful.”
And when shadows inevitably cloud the light, she has developed the intellectual maturity to say, “It will come around again.”
Cohen, who was raised in a classically Reform home, has held pulpit positions at Reform temples such as Emanuel and Micah.
She began attending Conservative Rodef Shalom with her baby Shira in 1997, while she was the spiritual leader of Temple Micah, to enhance her daughter’s Jewish experience.
When the family ultimately joined the congregation, Cohen was not making a denominational statement. It was a personal choice based on an inevitable progression.