Longtime Community Advocate Passes Away

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Carole Karp Cohen of Great Neck passes at age 84

Carole Karp Cohen
(Photo provided by the Cohen Family)

Carole Karp Cohen peacefully passed away in her Great Neck home in October. Carole was 84 years old and passed surrounded by her loving family. Many people in the Great Neck, Glen Cove, and surrounding communities remember Carole as an advocate for the homeless and her social justice activism.

Carole is survived by her daughters Deborah Cohen and partner Paul Dennis of Northampton, Mass., Laura Cohen and partner Neil Pergament and their daughter Jacie Colette Cohen Pergament of Brooklyn, NY. The Great Neck Record spoke to Carole’s daughters, Deborah and Laura, about their mother and her contributions to the community.

“I think everyone thinks their parents or their mom is special. But I think she really was kind of extraordinary in a lot of ways,” said Laura. “And I feel like the world is a little less peaceful without her. I know there are a lot of people who are homeless or almost homeless that are just feeling the loss tremendously.”

Carole was a first-generation American, born in New York on April 9, 1938, and raised in the Bronx and Queens. Her parents, Beatrice and Edward Karp, fled Russia when hundreds of thousands of Jews were being murdered by pogroms.

Deborah feels that their grandmother’s strength in escaping to the United States partly inspired Carole to be such a strong activist for people.

“[My mother] didn’t really believe in citizenship,” said Deborah. “She just believed that we’re all citizens of the planet and should all share the resources and care for one another. And it doesn’t matter where you were born, but a human being is a human being.”

One of Carole’s favorite t-shirts said, ‘No human is illegal.’ Undocumented people were often, and sometimes still are, referred to as illegals. Deborah shared that her mother “felt like nobody is illegal just because you were born in a certain place.”

“For us, it just always seemed like she had this fine-tuned moral compass,” said Laura. “If asked, she always seemed to say that you do something because it’s the right thing to do.”

Carole completed her master’s degree at Bank Street College of Education in New York and taught pre-K at the Little Red School House in New York City. After marrying Richard Cohen in 1962, Carole stopped teaching and remained an outspoken supporter of civil rights.

She co-founded Mothers (and Others) Against the Draft. She was active in many social justice groups, including SANE, a citizen’s organization for nuclear disarmament, and CARECEN, the Central American Refugee Center based in Hempstead, NY. In 1995, the Town of Hempstead recognized Carole for her lifelong community service.

The organization Carole co-founded, Mothers (and Others) Against the Draft, allowed her to go to schools and talk to students about the realities of war.

“She would pull away the curtain of glamour and let people know about options for being a conscientious objector,” said Deborah.

Deborah and Laura both remember their mother protesting and organizing for social justice. Whether marching on the street corners of Great Neck or organizing buses to march in Washington, Carole was a part of it.

“My mother always had a very keen eye and awareness about over-policing in communities of color and how the criminal punishment system was so inequitable in terms of how black people were treated versus white people,” said Deborah. “And she used to go with some homeless people to court to advocate for them. She’d see that they couldn’t afford a lawyer and that if they went on their own, they had a lower chance of getting away with the things that white people just get away with all the time.”

Carole was very involved with the North Shore Soup Kitchen and North Shore Shelter Program, both in Glen Cove. She helped establish the North Shore Shelter Program after two men, in separate instances, froze to death on the streets of Glen Cove. Carole and other outraged community members and the clergy helped form the shelter program in the First Presbyterian Church of Glen Cove.

Carole has volunteered at the soup kitchen since it opened its doors in 1989. She cooked and served meals to those in need, taught English classes, collected and distributed clothing, and met people to help with whatever circumstance they were in.

With Thanksgiving passing recently, Deborah and Laura recalled how important that holiday was for their mother. Carole’s Thanksgiving celebrations could last days because of providing hot meals to those who didn’t have a place to celebrate.

“With her involvement at the soup kitchen, if there were anyone there, whether they were volunteers or soup kitchen guests that didn’t have somewhere to go, she would bring them home,” said Laura. “So our Thanksgiving meals could have upwards of 35 people. It was always really special.”

“Anybody who didn’t have a place to go is always welcome, but there were always people who were political exiles or people who were escaping war,” said Deborah.

At one Thanksgiving, Carole had the Mothers of the Disappeared, a group of women from Nicaragua whose husbands and sons had been killed. These women’s husbands and sons disappeared because the Nicaragua contras were killing civilians. Groups of women marched to the police station and demanded to know what was happening to their husbands and sons, and these women were tortured, shared Deborah.

“So my mother was part of a group that had funded and brought these women to the United States to speak before Congress to try to get some help,” said Deborah. “They showed up at our Thanksgiving table and there was a woman who sat across from me who was missing an eye because she had been tortured. And on the one hand, I was traumatized, but on the other hand, I was so amazed at my mother that she would have the courage and the hutzpah to do what nobody else was doing.”

Carole’s dedication to activism and being an advocate was equivalent to her commitment to her family. Laura and Deborah remember how much she adored family and children and how important quality time was to her.

“She had a pin that said ‘Give a damn.’ She felt strongly that you should be an involved citizen,” said Laura. “And if something doesn’t seem right, you should say something. It was a part of what we grew up with, knowing that we should stand up and try and make a change.”

“She was a great role model for all of us and for her granddaughter,” said Laura. “So I do feel so grateful that we had her for as long as we did, but it’s never enough.”

According to information shared with the Great Neck Record, “Carole’s generous spirit and open heart helped her survive personal loss and unending grief. Her son, Jonathan Cohen, died after a battle with cancer in 2003. Her husband, Dr. Richard Cohen, retired chief of surgery at Parson’s Hospital in Queens, died in 2015 after a long illness. He was 83. They had been married for 52 years. Carole’s unofficially adopted son, Michael Lofton, died in 2020.”

A memorial celebration of Carole’s life is being planned for Spring 2023. For information contact: carolecohenmemorial@gmail.com. Donations can be made in Carole Cohen’s name to North Shore Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 168, Glen Cove, NY, 11542. https://www.northshoresoupkitchen.org

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