Monday marked the day after the Jewish day of Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning when Jews acknowledge various tragedies throughout history.
It was a fitting day to bury Brad Cohen, who perished alongside his older brother in the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside, members of the Shul of Bal Harbour noted during Cohen’s burial service Monday afternoon at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Northwest Miami-Dade.
In speeches eulogizing the well-known orthopedic surgeon, Shul congregant, family member and friend, Cohen was described as kind, patient, loving and a lifelong learner, motivated by the pursuit of knowledge and an innate curiosity about the world around him.
“Every time I sat with him, which was many many times, our conversations inspired me,” Shul of Bal Harbour Rabbi Sholom Lipskar said during the service. “He took me into a space that is exclusive, only held for special people.”
Cohen, 51, lived with his wife and two children in unit 1110 at the tower, which suddenly collapsed June 24. Cohen’s wife of 21 years, Soraya, and daughter, 12-year-old Elisheva, were staying at another apartment in Miami Beach on the night the building fell. Their teenage son, Avi, was days into a kibbutz program in Israel, and rushed home when he heard the news.
Cohen and his older brother, who was visiting, were among the last residents identified as rescuers start to wind down the meticulous process of sifting through rubble for victims.
Gary Cohen, 58, had traveled from his home in Birmingham, Alabama, to stay with his brother so they could visit their father, who is ill, in Boynton Beach. The brothers were both recovered from the rubble July 7, almost exactly two weeks after the collapse.
The Cohens grew up in the Northeast, where they spent their childhoods in the company of immediate extended family, playing in their grandparents’ Great Neck, New York, backyard and reveling in the joy of a bar or bat mitzvah. They both relocated to the South, became doctors and were devoted fathers to two children each.
“You are the youngest of our three sons. So curious, fun-loving, quick to learn and adventurous … I would give anything for this terrible accident to never have happened,” their mother, Deborah Cohen, said about Brad. She recalled a young Brad sampling her perfume, dancing at family events and accepting an “F” grade on a school paper because he’d rather delve into topics outside the prompt.
“You have always danced to your own tune, Brad,” she said.
Cohen was a popular orthopedic surgeon, who owned Aventura Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, with offices in North Miami and Miami Beach. He swam competitively and studied computer science at Williams College, where his father attended school. He went on to study medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Friends remember him driving home from long shifts at the hospital while he was in school, listening to Torah tapes.
“He did not waste a moment,” said Rabbi Yakov Saacks, a longtime family friend who officiated Brad and Soraya’s wedding.
‘You’ll always be a part of me’
To his family, Brad Cohen was the quietly persistent, youngest son who was always pushing himself to be the best person he could be.
His cousin Jennifer Cohen, who is the same age as Brad, said they were close as children and remained close as adults. She remembers relishing time with him in Ohio when he was in medical school and she was in law school. He recently took up calling her to ask questions about baking challah, a skill he hoped to perfect.
“I thought that Brad and I would grow old at the same pace,” she said, in tears. “But I know he’ll be with me and all of us as we do things that he loved and that remind us of him, no matter what.”
To his children, Brad was a dedicated father and teacher who loved to spend quality time fishing for shells in the ocean, playing challenging games like chess and Connect Four, baking for Shabbat and bonding over “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter.”
Soraya Cohen told the Miami Herald shortly after the collapse that she last spoke to her husband between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. the night of the collapse before she went to sleep. Brad had been living in the condo building for about six months, she said.
“It’s hard,” she said. “You’re just thinking about if you could have had a last conversation and what you could have said.”
Their daughter, Elisheva, made the news earlier this month after Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett found her standing alone praying near rubble a few days after the collapse. He still wears a beaded bracelet Elisheva made on his wrist.
At the funeral, Elisheva showed a scrapbook she has been making, with photos and memories of her father. The pink cellophane glistened as she held it up to attendees of the ceremony. The cover said “Dad” with a photo of a smiling Brad.
“My favorite outdoor activity was when we went bicycling on the beach path on Father’s Day, the Sunday before the collapse,” she said. “I love you so much and I always will. Thank you so much for everything you’ve ever done for me. I’ll miss you, so so much.”
Avi said he will never forget his father’s disposition, and the way he used logic to debate and his dedication to learning Jewish history. He was “just so perfectly well-rounded,” he said.
“Dad, I don’t know how I’m going to move on without you,” he said. “Dad, you’ll always be a part of me, always be the voice in my head telling me what’s right.”
Herald staff writer Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.
Here are the names and stories of the missing and dead in Surfside condo collapse