Helen Herz Cohen

Creator of Camp for Inner City Children, Lifelong Mentor to Girls
1912 – 2006
by Ann Gross

Creator of camp for inner city children and lifelong mentor to girls, Helen Herz Cohen at Camp Walden (1912-2006).

Photo courtesy of Camp Walden.

Dear Miss Herz,

This gift of yours touches me so deeply on levels that transcend years and ages. First, the story of the Log Drive pen is that it was made from a "birch log that was found at the bottom of Cold Steam Pond in northern Maine." (Its artists figure the log was cut between 1840 and 1890.) It was "on its way to the Penobscot River, destined for Old Town or Bangor." And from there it was to be shipped on to England, "like many other birch logs were," the explanation reads. But, along the way, it sank! As the story about the pen goes, since Henry David Thoreau used to drive along Maine near the Penobscot River, perhaps he saw the log.

Well, the log was rescued and from that log was hewn the pen you gave me. Miss Herz—we, your Waldenites, and all the girls from MAIN IDEA, going back to 1969 when you labored to give life and breath to your vision of a camping experience for inner city girls and girls from rural Maine-are all like that log. We could have been just like other girls, sent off to blend in with everyone else, instead of finding our voices and speaking up for fairness and what is right for ourselves and for others. But we had the fortune to be rescued by an artist in Maine, an artist who could look at us and see masterpieces.

When I opened this gift, all of the symbolism and memories and magic came rushing forth.

First of all, my writing skills and experience have you at the beginning of the story, and now all through the story. It was you who insisted I learn to "touch type" that summer of, I think it was 1965. Your steady hand in being clear that I needed to learn to touch type was the beginning of endless possibilities for me. It was the beginning of any kind of serious writing for me. I am the kind of "writer" who composes at the keyboard. And it was you who taught my fingers to take wing and fly. How did you ever know that? How did you ever see that in me? All Waldenites have wondered, "How did she know?" How did you know just what each of us needed? And how did you ever find the time and energy to give it to each of us? These are your secrets only you understand.

And let's not forget about the time you insisted that I have a singing part in Guys and Dolls, (1969, Bunk 12), as you insisted I could sing. And sing I did! In fact, I sang "Fugue for Tinhorns," with Betsy Neisner, as I played "Rusty" in Guys and Dolls. I had solos in the "Fugue," I had parts in all the group songs. I had the time of my life. And I will never get over how you saw something in me that I couldn't see in myself. That you believed in me when I couldn't imagine why. And 24 years later, don't you think I stood up on the Bimah and chanted my Torah portion, and sang the "Hashkivenu," and knew I could do it. I just pretended we were all in the Mission house, singing, "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." And I remembered how exhilarated I was when I performed in "Fugue for Tinhorns." I was hardly nervous at all!

And then there was my Bunk 12 year, when I stopped waterskiing, and oh yeah, I sort of stopped eating as well, because, as Camp/Council President, I had many worries about my camp and my campers. You zeroed in on my behavior and my sense of responsibility and helped me see that I needed to be back out waterskiing, and I needed to eat, and I needed to have fun and be with my friends, just like I did during all my other summers. And in those moments, you taught me that while leaders have critical responsibilities to others, they also have responsibilities to themselves. You taught me that being a leader doesn't have to mean having no fun. And what kind of leader offers a role model of having no fun, anyway? And then I looked at you, and saw how much fun leaders could have!

But here's the crystallization: This pen represents to me the best a person can be. That you gave it to me to celebrate my milestone, even as I near 50 (yikes!), means the world to me. When I pick up this pen to use it, I will remember so much of what you taught me, not the least of which is to dare to try. To go for it. And I will remember the lessons you taught me of believing in myself, of responsibility and honor and consideration for others and how we must give back, and, of the endless possibilities of creativity. And, oh yes, to have fun…. And these are all themes for me that have reached a critical juncture: I need to believe in myself. I need to write. I need to give back. And I need to cherish my friends and have fun.

Thank you, Miss Herz, from the top and bottom and all places in between, in my heart. I am clear that whatever is good in me, and whatever represents the highest places to which I can soar for myself and for others, all comes from the Maine woods.

Love always,
Annie Gross, Bunk 12, '69

1 Comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

I will say you wrote an article which is really informative for us. now I wills har it with others too as will come back from the new york.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Helen Herz Cohen, 1912 - 2006." (Viewed on February 28, 2024) <http://jwa.org/weremember/cohen-helen>.