By Donna Johns

Two old friends sit in the sun, serenaded by bumblebees, chatting about their plans for the summer.  He thinks she should travel more.  She thinks he needs a puppy.  They don’t look too far ahead.  They resolutely refuse to look at the rear view mirror.

They met in seventh grade, assigned by virtue of their IQ sores to the top academic group.

Within days, they were friends, oddballs clinging together in a sea of conformity.  For Halloween, they recruited two others and went Trick or Treating as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  She draped their sheets over cold weather gear.  He did the makeup.

They sat on the stage during high school graduation.  He was the salutatorian, and she was the class poet.  They hugged goodbye and moved on to different parts of the country.  He didn’t come home for vacations, and they eventually stopped keeping in touch.

A few weeks before she moved to Washington to start her first professional job, she dropped by Brandeis to visit a friend on campus.  She heard a familiar voice call her name.  There he was, moving swiftly toward her, his full-length blue cape billowing in the wind.  They chatted for a few minutes in the cold.  He was starting grad school and promised to come to Washington to visit.  He never did.

He became a professional opera singer, much in demand for his counter tenor skills.  She became a librarian, a wife, and a mother.  She was much in demand, crisscrossing the country inspiring teens to read.

His voice began to strain, and he moved on to train managers for a financial company, traveling the world and living out of suitcases.  Her marriage failed, and she came back to her childhood home to start over.

They found each other at a high school reunion.  They left the festivities early and spent the rest of the night catching up over coffee and cookies.  He was preparing to leave his lucrative job to become a minister.  He was in love.  She was working two jobs and raising children.  They promised not to lose touch.  This time, they kept the promise.

She went to his ordination.  He provided comfort at her father’s funeral.  He was diagnosed as HIV positive.  She battled breast cancer.  They both survived blood clots.  They send funny notes to each other.  They meet three or four times a year, for coffee and conversation.

Two old friends sit in the sun.  The skyline of the city they love twinkles with light.  He baked a lemon coffee cake, and she brought fresh berries.  A perfect combination–like their friendship.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Donna Johns

Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater, and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.



By Harris Traiger

Joe Cohen (Photo by Harris Traiger)


I first met Joe Cohen in a BOLLI Photography class in which he was a new member. He had been a skilled photographer for many years, and during one particular class, the SGL, Art Sharenow asked Joe to talk about his specialty, portrait photography.  Joe talked about many of the techniques of portrait photography and showed the class examples of the work he had done over many years. In following semesters, Joe became an SGL as well as a BOLLI student.

Joe studied photography at the New School for Social Research in New York, working with a number of photographers including Philipe Hallsman, who is known for his many Life magazine covers.  Joe also taught courses in photography at CW Post, Queensboro Community College, Queens College, Hofstra, and numerous adult education programs.  His talent is certainly clear in these family photos provided by his daughter Beth.

Joe’s Wife Sonia


His Mother Bahia


His Father Aaron and Niece Susan


Daughter Beth


Friend Anjali


When teaching, Joe’s approach was always kind, positive and generous. We would present our latest photos in class and, from Joe, learned many of the finer points of composition.  Joe’s critiques were always thoughtful, leaving each of us  with good feelings about how to improve.  At the end of a session, Joe would comment that “this is a class of artists.”

Joe Cohen was born in New York City to Jewish Syrian parents in a household where Arabic was the spoken language. Following the death of his wife, Joe relocated to Cambridge to be near his daughter who lives in Watertown. Beth is a performing violinist who is on the faculty of Tufts University and the Berklee School of Music.

In addition to photography and his family, Joe’s other love is poetry. He meets monthly with a poetry group and has given poetry readings at a number of venues. Joe published a collection of his poems, “A Full Life,” in 2005, and his second collection, “A New Path,” has just been published by Ibbetson Street.   Click here for a short review of “A New Path” from the Globe.

One of Joe’s poems, entitled “South to North Africa,”  is a moving recollection of his time with the US Army in North Africa prior to the invasion of Sicily during World War II. He recalls his meeting and befriending a young Arab street orphan in Morocco, their relationship during those very difficult times, and the sadness of their separation when he left.



By Joseph Cohen

                                        After eighteen stormy days at sea,                                                                              Casablanca’s warmth permeated                                          my eager but seasick body.

                                         Exotic scents of orange trees and                                                                              rosewater pastries flavored the air.                                                                                      Street-wise kids swarmed                                                                               around, offering to bring us coffee or girls,                                                                    asking for cigarettes or bonbons                                                 in exchange.

                                               Drawing myself up with the                                                                                          dignity of an Imam, I chanted                                                                                           in Arabic that they brought                                                                                                    shame on themselves,                                                                                               with such words and actions.                                                                                       Silently, they bent their heads                                                in disgrace.

                                       With a dark mood hanging heavily,                                                                                      a newcomer ran to me with                                                                                             the usual cries reserved for                                                                                               the foreign men in khaki.                                                                                            The leader of the dock urchins                                                                               smacked him a powerful blow, saying,                                                                  “Be quiet, we do not beg from one of us.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Clearing a manure-soaked pasture,                                                                             we set up tents, preparing to stay.                                                                                Blue-eyed, ragged, Mustapha sat                                                                                 by my pup tent smiling radiantly.                                                                     He adopted this Arabic-speaking American,                                                                          offering always to be of help.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    When not running errands,                                                                                                he was a fixture in front                                                                                             of my canvas home in the field.                                                                             Of a Sunday, my little Moroccan friend                                                                            and I went to dine on the town.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             French colonialism turned ugly                                                                              when refusing to serve an Arab child.                                                                     Naturally, we walked out until he said,                                                                                       “Yousef, I am hungry.”                                                                                     We compromised and ate in the kitchen                                                                where Arab waiters fed him a king’s feast.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Soon, orders had us preparing to leave                                                                   by convoy through the Atlas Mountains                                         to invade Italy from Algiers.

                                     Early one morning, drivers were gunning                                                   engines, girlfriends waved goodbye to soldier lovers                                                            while Mustapha stood by me,                                                                                            with tears streaking down                                                                      his unwashed face, crying “Allah Maahak ya Yousef,”                         May God be with you, oh Joseph.

                                                For me it was a tender moment                                                                                  in the war.  For him, a role model                                                                                          and father figure was lost.                                                         Sadly, he would return to the streets.

Algerian Children (photo by Joe)


During World War II, Joe fought in North Africa, Italy and France. In the summer of 2016, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor in a ceremony at the residence of the French Consul in Cambridge for his army service in France during the war.

Medal of Honor Recipient Joe


Those of us who have been privileged to know Joe feel that his being a part of the BOLLI community has brought honor to Brandeis and BOLLI–we are happy to now honor Joseph Cohen in return.

Joe will turn one hundred years old on July 13, 2017–which, by the way, is officially JOSEPH A. COHEN DAY (Click here for more information)  in Cambridge.  Happy Birthday, Joe–from all of us!


Writer Harris Traiger

A familiar face at  Turner Street, Harris has been an active BOLLI member for several years.  His photography has been on display in our classrooms and has been featured in issues of The Banner and The BOLLI Journal as well.



“Home Cooking Jazz” DJ’s Judith Stone and Nancy Connery with Trivia Maven Sue Wurster

After the successful launch of our term’s end “Radio Free BOLLI” show last spring, the cast and crew returned for an even more spectacular lunchtime presentation on Tuesday, December 6.  For the uninitiated, “Radio Free BOLLI” features the dulcet tones of members Judith Stone and Nancy Connery who provide a weekly “Home Cooking Jazz” show on Monday afternoons from 1-3 on the Brandeis station WBRS 100.1 FM.

This time around, Judith and Nancy–teamed, once again, with Sue as trivia maven, Emily Ostrower as show manager, and Megan Curtis as technician–provided a stroll down “The Great White Way” with Broadway numbers from shows spanning the decades.  All along the way, BOLLI members won amazing prizes in the form of stunning, top-quality plastic refrigerator magnets–but the event ended with a grand prize drawing in which members won places in our winter seminars and even a spring term membership!

As the show got going, the audience did too–eventually just breaking out into a Broadway sing-along thoroughly enjoyed by one and all!  It was an afternoon of hooting, humming, and simple hilarity–so watch for the springtime version of “Radio Free BOLLI!”

Steve Messinger nails a trivia question for a round of enthusiastic applause.
Steve Messinger nails a trivia question for a round of enthusiastic applause.
Sophie Freud, Naomi Schmidt, and Joyce Holman relish a
Sophie Freud, Naomi Schmidt, and Joyce Holman relish a “South Pacific” moment
Harriet Gould and Libby Saks join the hilarity as Phyllis Freeman and Susan Bradford, in the background, prepare to take the next trivia question.
Harriet Gould and Libby Saks join the hilarity as Phyllis Freeman and Susan Bradford, in the background, prepare to take the next trivia question.
Lynn Chernoff and Hella Hakerem inspect the high quality, rare, artistically arresting refrigerator magnet awarded for correctly identifying a number from The Pajama Game.
Lynn Chernoff and Hella Hakerem inspect the high quality, rare, artistically arresting refrigerator magnet awarded for correctly identifying a number from The Pajama Game (or maybe it was Cats…)
And, finally, show manager Emily Ostrower holds the winning ticket for
And, finally, show manager Emily Ostrower holds the winning ticket for “Radio Free BOLLI’s” Grand Prize spring membership winner!

Be sure to join us for our spring edition of “Radio Free BOLLI” when we return to Broadway’s Golden Age for another rousing sing-along and trivia fest!

The “Radio Free BOLLI” Production Crew

From left, our crew consists of Megan Curtis, Technical Director; Sue Wurster, Trivia Maven and “Gypsy” Dancer; Nancy Connery, Co-Creator and DJ Deluxe; Emily Ostrower, Production Manager and Prize Guru; and Judith Stone, the Other Co-Creator and DJ Extraordinaire.