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Jewish Studies Library Rescues Rare Hebrew Texts

August 29, 2007

Fran Simon

Rosalie Cohen, once the grand dame of the New Orleans Jewish community, was 95 years old when the city's conditions after Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave her expansive home on Audubon Boulevard in uptown New Orleans with its vast collection of Zionist and Jewish literature, documents, books and art.


Precious Hebrew literature from the New Orleans home of Rosalie Cohen now rests in the Jewish Studies Program library at Tulane, thanks to Cohen's family and rescue efforts by Brian Horowitz, left, and Philip Hollander, right. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

After relocating Cohen to Cincinnati where she lives near her grandson, Cohen's family turned to the faculty of the Jewish Studies Program at Tulane University to rescue and preserve the valuable Judaica that was salvageable from her moldy, vacant home. Cohen has lived a full, public-oriented life that spanned most of the 20th century.

A journalism graduate of Tulane in 1930, she became a Hebrew scholar under the tutelage of Ephraim Lisitzky, a notable Hebrew poet who lived in New Orleans.

Among the scholarly treasures, religious volumes and historical texts retrieved from Cohen's house are an original manuscript written by Lisitzky, rare books of Hebrew poetry and dramatic works, a richly illustrated Hagaddah (the Passover story of the Exodus) published in 1926, and letters from Lisitzky to Cohen.

Only a handful of libraries in the United States possess all of Lisitzky's writings, says Philip Hollander, director of Hebrew language at Tulane. Brian Horowitz, director of the Jewish Studies Program, says the rare texts will be preserved and archived in the program's Dr. L. Joseph Cahn Library.


Community activist Rosalie Cohen, forced to relocate to Ohio after Hurricane Katrina, left behind a valuable library of rare Jewish literature, but her family turned to Tulane to preserve the works.

"I was really excited that we were able to expand our library with these great resources," Hollander says. "It's a bit sad, picking up these items and looking through them, because the devastation to Rosalie Cohen's collection really hurt. Her life and spirit are very special and unique."

Cohen was "undoubtedly the most accomplished Jewish woman ever to grow up in New Orleans," says Richard Stone, a professor at Columbia University Law School for 33 years, who lived in New Orleans and studied with her.

Cohen was a three-time president of the New Orleans chapter of Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization of America, during the 1930s and '40s.

She was the first woman to serve as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans in 1959, the year she founded Willow Wood Home for the Jewish Aged, which is now Woldenberg Village Retirement Community. Cohen helped create the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 1969, was the first chairperson for Israel Bonds, and helped start The Hillel Foundation at Tulane.

"Our family is delighted that Professor Horowitz helped salvage, from Katrina, a portion of the extensive Judaica collection assembled by our matriarch," says Carmel Cohen, Rosalie Cohen's son, who graduated from the Tulane University School of Medicine in 1958.

"We are happy to support Tulane's acquisition of this collection, dedicated to the tradition of Rosalie Palter Cohen, to inspire and educate current and future scholars." As Rosalie Cohen once said, "Honors are wonderful experiences. But they pass. The important thing is the work, that it lives on and grows."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000