Indian River High School honors Dana Cohen

by | Jan 27, 2015 | Other News

Dana Cohen is greeted by Craig Blackman.

Dana Cohen is greeted by Craig Blackman.

Dana Cohen does not seem to like to be the center of attention, though that was the case on Friday, Jan. 9, as it was “Dana Cohen Day” at Indian River High School in Chesapeake. Master teacher Craig Blackman, the Holocaust Commission’s Esther Goldman Education award-winning teacher for whom Cohen has been a longtime guest speaker, came up with the idea and worked with his students to plan a full day of programming in her honor.

Walking into the school, no one could miss the banner proclaiming Indian River’s Holocaust Memorial day. Though the school’s marqee outside welcomed her by name, Cohen arrived at Indian River expecting to take part in the Commission’s What We Carry program, which tells her survival story. Coehn has been coming with this program for Blackman’s students for the last three years. When Blackman and his students approached her in the hallway with a single rose and a round of applause, she didn’t quite know what to make of all the attention.

After the surprise settled in, Cohen, surrounded by many of her friends from the Holocaust Commission, was ushered to the orchestra room, where she enjoyed a piece the school orchestra had learned just for her. Next, in front of an exhibition of six remarkable portraits and paintings, student artists explained to Cohen how they created their artwork representing her and her journey from the Holocaust to today. One student presented Cohen with a beautiful pencil sketch of two foxes, based on their ability to escape, and on Cohen’s love of animals. She wanted to give Cohen something to keep to remember the day.

In the auditorium, students dedicated additional performances, including piano, ballet and poetry, to her. Between each portion of the program, Cohen and Commission members were invited to enjoy cookies and brownies and other treats baked by students, adding another level of sweetness to the heartfelt effort made to honor Cohen and all those affected by the Holocaust. (Blackman had hoped that Kitty Saks, another What We Carry survivor could have been there, and so he also welcomed her on the signs. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend.)

Back in the classroom, with the principal and several other administrators in the standing room only crowd, the What We Carry presentation allowed students to better understand Cohen’s journey during the Holocaust, making them appreciate and respect her and other survivors even more. Cohen answered questions from the students and adults before two more student performances, one vocal and one on violin, closed the presentation.

The day concluded with the dedication of a pink crepe myrtle sapling planted at the school in Cohen’s honor. This is not the first tree Blackman has planted, however. Several years ago he planted a Bradford Pear tree in honor of David Katz, of blessed memory, to thank him for his long service to Indian River’s students. As with that tree, a plaque mounted on a nearby school wall, will remind current students of the wonderful day they spent with Dana Cohen, and encourage future students to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.

For all involved, spending “Dana Cohen Day” at Indian River High School with such a thoughtful group of students was truly a privilege.

by Elka Mednick