Howie and Martha Cohen: The Hosts with the Most

June 13, 2023
Howie and Martha Cohen.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, with support from The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, has been helping kids connect with Israel for years by sponsoring shlichim to work as counselors at J Camps each summer. But it’s clearly not just the campers that “fall in love” with these Israeli emissaries, but the host parents as well.

This past summer, Howie and Martha Cohen volunteered to take in not one, but three Shlichim to spend nine weeks living in their home.

Howie and Martha Cohen.

Whose idea was it to host the shlichim?
Howie: I’m semi-retired. We have dogs and a beautiful piece of property with two empty bedrooms. Years ago, somebody sent me an email that said the Owings Mills JCC was looking for a medic for the summer. We learned about the shlichim program and volunteered our first summer to host two Israelis for two weeks. By the second summer we were hosting for at least a month. This past summer we had three shlichim, all summer long.

Martha: After he explained the program to me, I felt that it was really important to do. They are really like ambassadors for their country. And what they’re doing while they’re here, which is being with all of these kids, I just thought, well, why wouldn’t we do this? It just made sense.

Share an example of how they are Ambassadors for Israel.
Martha: They are very proud to be Israeli and it’s just lovely. We had taken them to a 4th of July parade in Hereford County and there were people sitting near us who didn’t know anything about Israel. They did such an admirable job of explaining their country. It brought me to tears. It was unbelievable. So, for us having these kids here is a joy, pure pleasure.

What’s one thing over the years that you learned from the Shlichim? Something you would say you were able to teach them?
Howie: I think food is the common denominator. We both love to cook. I really enjoyed, especially this past summer, making dinner every night. We love cooking for them and teaching them to cook. And from them, I came to admire the school system and family unit. They don’t run off to college and run off to get married. They stay home longer in general than Americans their age.

Martha: I’ve learned how well rounded they are in terms of education. I have been hugely impressed by not just their maturity, but their desire to learn. About everything. They know that life is serious business and they take everything pretty seriously. They didn’t come here to “have fun and party.” They came here to learn. They came here to work. They came here to travel. And I’ll give you an example. I’ve taken plenty of kids to New York City. The things that the Israeli kids want to see are vastly different than American kids their own age.

For example?
Martha: They want to tour the New York public library. They want to see the 9 11 Memorial. They want to go to the Met and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. They have a different thirst for knowledge than American kids do and a completely different pride in their country which is delightful.

What about the fun?  
Martha: We had a lot of fun. We went to New York City, to Washington DC. We took them to Orioles games and Iron Birds games. There was a lavender farm festival and we went to a big 4th of July parade in the country and saw fireworks.

Howie: The first baseball game we took them to was with the Israeli national team. They had a lot of questions about the game because they had never experienced that. And then they couldn’t believe how big the stadium was at Camden Yards.

Differences they observed between the two countries?
Martha: I normally take the shlichim to the grocery store with me each summer. And every year it’s the same reaction…they are blown away by a United States grocery store because of the variety. I’ll give you an example. This year we’re going down the snack aisle. And first of all, they can’t believe there’s a whole aisle for snacks. They were counting the number of different kinds Doritos, because they have one kind in Israel. So, we literally came home with a bag of every single flavor of Doritos.

Howie: They commented that our public transportation system doesn’t seem to be so great and noticed that everybody has a car and has to drive everywhere. They were amazed that we were going to drive over three hours to New York…to them that is one side of the country to the other.

Staying in touch
Martha: One of the shlichim we hosted came back for a second summer. We still keep in touch with her probably weekly. Right before COVID we were planning a trip to Israel that had to be postponed. We are hoping to go this March. Between all the kids that we’ve had here, we are going to need a month just to see everybody and meet their parents in person as opposed to emailing back and forth. I feel like all of those kids are in some way, shape or form our family. They call us their American parents.

Howie: This group of three shlichim we had this summer were very mature and very interested in social justice, legal morality and we had some really good conversations about women’s rights. It was a great way to learn and experience a different culture.

Martha: This summer was the first time that we hosted the shlichim for the whole nine weeks. I would do that again in a heartbeat, as opposed to two weeks here, two weeks there. The girls that we had this past summer are family to me. I know what they want to do in college. I know that one of them wants to come back here for law school and I’m trying to help her with that. Having them for nine weeks in my opinion was better. For them and for us. It was so hard when they left.

This article was originally featured previously on The Associated’s Blog

Interested in hosting a shlichim over the summer? Contact Rabbi Ariel Platt

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