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Mitzvah of Memories

April 27, 2011 By:
Lori Samlin Miller, Jewish Exponent Feature
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The Zaslows (left), with mitzvah-maker Rachel at center, join the Cohens at the dance fundraiser.

When Veterans Park in Newtown Township, Bucks County, is completed, it will include dedicated space for a playground that will honor the memory of Noah Jacob Cohen, a baby whose brief life and sunny smile touched so many before his unexpected death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, commonly known as SIDS.

After the loss of their 8-week-old son last May, Natalie and Jason Cohen wanted to find a meaningful way to honor his memory. While supportive family, friends and community members were already sending donations to SIDS organizations in their son's memory, the couple wanted to reach out and help the community.

And soon, the idea of a memorial playground developed.

Cohen set up the Noah Jacob Cohen Memorial Fund through the Philadelphia Foundation. Later, he spoke before the Parks & Recreation Commission and gained approval for the project.

Since then, Natalie and Jason have found time and energy to be involved with literally every aspect of the playground project.

"We sent emails to our friends and family, to our co-workers and neighbors telling them what we're doing," relayed Cohen.

One source of help the Cohens received was completely unexpected.

While Noah was still in their lives, the Cohens met the Zaslow family at the wedding of mutual friends. Susan Zaslow remembers that throughout the festivities, she and her family instantly bonded with Natalie and Jason, appreciating how genuine and kind they were.

"I remember that my kids and I had so much fun playing with their new little baby. We were shocked when we learned Noah had died just a few weeks after the wedding," recalls Susan.

The Zaslows' oldest child, Rachel, will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah next month at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. In preparation for the milestone, Rachel sought a mitzvah project that would be worthwhile and meaningful.

"I was thinking hard about what to do, and I really want- ed to help out the Cohens," said the sixth-grade student at Meadowbrook Elementary School.

The Right Steps

She thought the idea of holding a dance would be fun and raise some money as well. When the Zaslows brought the idea to the Cohens, Jason said that "we were blown away."

Susan explained that in developing the event, her daughter spoke at assemblies; got donations of food, space and music; and held raffles in preparation for her dance. They expected about 50 people to show up, but more than 200 came and danced the afternoon away.

The event raised more than $3,000 that will go toward the playground.

"It's really what a mitzvah means," says Susan of Rachel's efforts, "and a great way to start a journey to being a young Jewish woman."

The Cohens are still seeking an additional $40,000 to complete the project.

For more information, log on to: www.philafound.org.

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