Part I of the Interview with Joseph Cohen:
J.O: When we first met at Bagel Bards we got both interested in each other. You got interested in me because I was the only Arab American woman you have come across since you have moved to Cambridge and I got interested in you for a multifold reasons and mainly because when kirk introduced us he told me “ Jamila, this is Joseph Cohen an America Jewish with Syrian ancestry, he is ninety-six and he is a poet,” and we have striken a kind of a friendship that had me accept an invitation to your house and also request to record an interview with you for WCM and Chelsea Live a Radiotalk blog I am starting. Our talk is going to be casual and non-stressful. Tell me some about yourself , your parents, the times you were born into and your growth. .
Joseph Cohen: I was born 1917. I was born to Bahia and Haron Cohen. They had come from Syria . They lived in the East Side of Manhatan. Then, the storm came. All the Syrians who were Jewish moved to Bensinhurst, Brooklyn . The community grew. In fact, it was closed. When the Syrian Jewish came, they went to a store on the east side in Manhattan and they were told where the community was, where [they] can find a place to live and where [they] can work , and that community stayed together until now: from 1911 and until now. It is over a hundred years. They are more settled [now]of course. The basics of the community remained. People know each other, know relatives and [it has become]one big community.
J.O: was it easy for you and the families when they came from another land into a different culture.
Joseph Cohen: See, I was not there ( not born until 1917;) It was [said to have been] a smooth [transition] for them because they have friends and relatives all around. So, there is [ was] no great difficulty. They were not rich. They had enough to eat and they stayed in touch with each other. There was not enough growth in terms of appreciating western culture because they came from an eastern culture. So Italian art was not part of our growth and the rash to go school to college take up the art. The [western] art was not part of our culture. They [The Jewish] went [ came] , they lived a quiet life and they weren’t exposed to art and classical music. When I became 15-16 year-old I had two cousins who felt as I did. We started to go to concerts. One of my relatives [introduced] me to classical music. He did not start with the basics, he introduced me to string quartet 15.
J.O: What composer you grew up to like?
Joseph Cohen: The romantic period 18th and 19th century.
J.O: Was it around the time you started to listen to classical music that you started to write poetry?
Joseph Cohen: I started to write poetry after I had retired from the textile business; 1992. It is a family business. Sun weave linen corporation. [ Having a business] that enabled to go concerts, and theatres because I could afford to do so. That was how I met my wife Sonia, who introduced me further to the world of music and entertainment.
J.O: What was she doing ?
Joseph Cohen: She was a piano teacher.
J.O: How long have you been together you and Sonia:
Joseph Cohen: Seventy years. She died three years ago.
J.O: Wow. Such a long life together. I am impressed. (
Interview by Jamila Ouriour.Picture taken by Joseph Cohen on May 11, 2014