If it were possible to tell this story without referencing Miriam Cohen, that would likely please her. It’s not that Miriam is overly modest; it’s that the story she wants to share with the world is about Dorothy Fine Paris and Isidore Paris—her loving and devoted parents. Still, there are compelling reasons to include Miriam in this tale. First, as Dorothy and Isidore’s daughter, she is an important part of their story. Second, she is the storyteller here, the authoritative source. And third, at the glowing age of 92, Miriam recently chose to honor her parents by creating a generous Jewish Family Service endowment in their name.
Miriam lives in Blue Ash and has been active in the Cincinnati Jewish community—as a volunteer and donor—for well over 25 years. “Everyone who meets Miriam falls in love with her,” said Erica Nyberg, Director of Development at Jewish Family Service (JFS). “She's legitimately wonderful, and so charming. It’s no surprise that when Miriam and Mindy met, a few years back, they became allies and soon started working together on community causes.”
Erica was referring to Mindy Garvey, Senior Manager of Planned Giving & Endowment for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. It was Mindy to whom Miriam first expressed her desire to honor her parents with a JFS fund. Upon hearing of Miriam’s intentions, Erica arranged to meet with her. Erica’s perspectives on that meeting were then shared with this writer.
During one of the first snowy days of winter, Miriam warmly welcomed Erica into her home. After pleasantries, Miriam seemed excited and eager to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Sitting down at her desk—document before her, pen in hand—she looked up at Erica and said, “This is so fun! Thank you so much for letting me do this.” With a final flourish, she signed the document, and The Dorothy and Isidore Paris Fund was formally established by Miriam Paris Bresler Warshauer Cohen. This fund will help JFS provide assistance to the most vulnerable in the community. While the Cohen family will ensure the endowment will continue to grow, Miriam’s hope is that others will be inspired to give to it, as well.
With the formality of paperwork behind them, Miriam and Erica took time for a serious visit. When Erica commented on her host’s spry demeanor, Miriam laughed and said, “I tell my family I’m like the Hanukkah candles; I just keep going!”
Inevitably, the conversation turned to Dorothy and Isidore. Picking up some handwritten notes of her remembrances, Miriam began to read aloud:
My parents first met in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1926. It was love at first sight. They were married in 1927. Their love for each other was apparent for all to see! Words of endearment, mixed with a little Yiddish and kisses, and the loving looks exchanged made our household a safe and happy place, day after day.
Miriam explained how her parents began working together in their North Carolina business: a men’s clothing store. Before long, they owned and operated several of these stores. Miriam stressed how important her mother was to the couple’s business success. “Mother was his secretary, accountant, seamstress, and advisor.” She further noted that her parents’ business was among the few in the region to serve people of color.
“Their love for each other was apparent for all to see! Words of endearment, mixed with a little Yiddish and kisses, and the loving looks exchanged made our household a safe and happy place, day after day.”
Miriam shared how Dorothy, despite her busy schedule, took the time to organize a North Carolina chapter of Hadassah. (The first Hadassah, aka: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, was founded in New York in 1912, before women could vote and before Israel was a state.) Dorothy was inspired to do this, sadly, after her mother died, and her father chose to move to Mea Shearim, a neighborhood of Jerusalem. “Grandfather was still living in Israel when it became a state in 1948,” Miriam said. “My grandfather and [his close friend] Rabbi Kook are both buried at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.”
As Miriam continued to read her notes, her eyes lit up as she prepared to talk about her mother. "The truth is, Mother's involvement with Hadassah is what inspired me, years later, to give my time to the community," she said. "So much of her wisdom is forever embedded in my memory: ‘Never ask others to make decisions for you. Think about the dilemma and you will find the answer.’ In other words,” Miriam concluded, “develop trust in yourself. Mother never gave me advice; she gave me the confidence to find my own answers.”
Miriam would be forced to find her own answers far sooner than she ever would have wanted; Dorothy died at age 48, when Miriam was only 19. As for the confidence her mother had instilled in her—that would remain with her forever.
Dorothy’s advice to “develop trust in yourself” is precisely what gave Miriam the courage to begin a new career, in her forties, when she returned to college to become a licensed psychotherapist. “It was never work,” Miriam said with a profound smile.
Miriam then looked up from her notes; she was finished with her reading. Taking a long, slow sip from a cup of water, she looked up at Erica and said, “You know, it’s because of my late husband, Wilbur Cohen, that I get to do this,” she said. “Wilbur included me in his charitable trust. No gift could have been more meaningful to me. I am forever grateful.”
Mindy would later explain:
Following Wilbur’s passing [in 2020], the remainder of his charitable trust is annually divided among separate donor-advised funds [DAFs] that were set up for Miriam and each of his children. Since DAFs can only be used for charitable giving, Miriam is now able to give to her favorite charities—many of which were also Wilbur’s favorites—and, in that way, carry on in his honor. This endowment to JFS is just one example of her generosity. Miriam is incredibly philanthropic.
JFS Chief Operating Officer Linda Kean expressed similar feelings about Miriam and her late husband:
Miriam and Wilbur have given so much to JFS over the years. They’ve been great supporters of our annual campaign and have made important gifts to our Barbash Family Vital Support Center—as well as to our Russian Jewish Cultural Center. And since she was a psychotherapist, Miriam was a key driver on our mental health speaker committee—a dynamic group that chose mental health experts for our annual Miriam O. Smith Education Series. The series provided in-depth, professional development opportunities and presentations on mental health topics for the general community. Miriam was brilliant at narrowing in on the best speaker. The rest of us on the committee would say, ‘Well, she’s never been wrong before; let’s go with Miriam’s choice.’ And her instincts never let us down.
With the snow continuing to fall, Erica realized it was time to leave. She gathered her things and she and Miriam said their goodbyes. “Drive safe!” Miriam cautioned, before giving Erica a final friendly wave through the glass of the front door.
To learn more about giving to Jewish Family Service, please contact Erica Nyberg at 513-310-6622 or email@example.com.