Brian & Sonia Cohen
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, a third generation South African. My connection to Judaism was our neighborhood and family celebrations. At the age of 12, my father told my mom to arrange Bar Mitzvah lessons at our local Orthodox shul. Mom took me to the rabbi who said we’d need to first join the synagogue. My Dad decided that I should be “Barmitzvahed” in the only reform synagogue, in Johannesburg, where we were not required to join.
Sonia was born in Cape Town and raised in Johannesburg. Her parents were from England. They moved to South Africa in the 1930’s during the depression. Sonia’s grandmother did not think much of the South African Jewish community. When Sonia was 7, her grandmother requested that the family return to Liverpool for a year so her brother could have his Bar Mitzvah there. Sonia’s family attended Shul on the High Holidays and always lit Shabbat candles on Friday night.
We met when I was 19, still living at home with my parents. I shared weekly Shabbat dinners with Sonia’s family. We were married in 1966 and made a commitment to keep Shabbat and educate our four children in Johannesburg’s private Jewish day school system. Sonia was the driving force behind our Judaism, and I eagerly embraced it. We became part of a traditional orthodox community. As our four children attended Jewish Day School, my parents embraced their Judaism. My Dad always felt Judaism in his heart but didn’t actively practice. Our children became the teachers, while their grandparents became the students.
Concerned about South Africa’s two year military requirement for our sons, we moved to Los Angeles, CA in 1986. We had traveled and exposed our children to many democratic societies. It was important to us that they see how democracy and apartheid did not sync with one another. We lived in LA with our children for over 25 years honoring Shabbat and attending shul every Saturday. In 2010, we followed the lead of one of our two daughters and moved to Charlotte.
We like the size of Charlotte and have created our niche of friends. Sonia and I are connected to the Jewish community through our membership at Ohr HaTorah. Our legacy gifts include Congregation Ohr HaTorah and the Charlotte Jewish Day School. It is important for us to embrace our roots and follow our hearts. There is a Jewish spark and magic inside each of us. It’s important for us all to do our part to keep that spark alive.
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