Born and raised in Newton, the late Rebecca Cohan was known by her children and the community as the “queen of the bake sale.”
Known for bringing people together – from those at her kids’ school to work to temple – with her various pies, brownies, breads, cakes, and other assorted pastries, she always used to say baking “was her therapy.”
When Rebecca Cohan passed away unexpectedly in December 2020, her daughter Sarah Cohan decided to honor her by writing a cookbook – titled “Rebecca’s Kitchen” – filled with her mother’s “favorite and most beloved recipes.”
Cohan created the cookbook, alongside her long-time friend, Abigail Stewart, and they hope to raise money towards establishing a scholarship by June 30, 2022 at Simmons University.
The scholarship would go to underrepresented students seeking a graduate education in social work.
“This was something that we felt could connect her expertise and passion for teaching in [social work] with her drive for social activism and justice and equity,” Cohan said.
Cohan first witnessed her mom’s desire to bake for the community when she was a child.
“When I was a kid back when bake sales on Election Day were a lot more common, she ran the Mason-Rice bake sale every year,” Cohan said. “People would order whole cakes from her in advance, and she would arrive at the bake sale with boxes of cakes ready to be picked up in exchange for donations to the school. She was incredibly generous and giving and organized.”
Rebecca Cohan grew up in Newton Centre and completed her undergraduate degree at UMass Amherst. She obtained a master’s degree in social work at Simmons University, eventually becoming a clinical therapist.
“Central in her life really and truly was service to other people. She did it so well and had such wonderful ways of giving to and helping other people,” Stephen Prior , who was a close friend to Rebecca Cohan, said. “She and her husband made all the food for my wedding. That was just a gift to us, one of many.”
Later in her career, Rebecca Cohan founded a family mediation practice and handled high conflict parenting coordination, according to her daughter.
Rebecca Cohan’s son, Ben Cohan, said his mother extended some of her professional expertise into her parenting.
“She taught me to master myself,” he said. “She told me I had a temper problem. She gave me some coping skills. If I was disorganized, she gave me strategies.”
In her work-related peer groups, Rebecca Cohan brought her passion for baking to her colleagues, her daughter recalled.
“Often on Friday mornings or other days, I would find her and a group of colleagues sitting around our kitchen table eating pastries she baked and having coffee while they discussed professional issues,” Cohan said.
Through her job as a social worker at Human Relations Service, a non-profit mental health agency, Rebecca Cohan ran a supervision group for local graduate students studying mental health.
“She was an incredible teacher, so this scholarship is something that would be the perfect memorialization for her and would provide something that’s important to the field of mental health,” Cohan said.
Beyond baking and her clinical work, Rebecca Cohan had another devotion in life – pursuing social justice, activism, and giving back to the community.
“In her spare time, she was politically active. She was involved with her temple but also with liberal democratic politics, like getting the vote out and trying to help build a better society,” Prior said.
Roberta Rosenberg, who was friends with Rebecca Cohan for about 40 years, first met her through their eldest childrens’ elementary school PTA. Rosenberg described her as “the kind of person who was always just there for other people.”
“There’s a group [in our temple] called Caring Community, and it has several facets to several subgroups. I was in a group that makes dinners for families who are under stress,” Rosenberg said. “[Rebecca] made these shawls for people who were under stress, and they were so soft and so wonderful.”
To learn more about the scholarship, visit https://www.givecampus.com/schools/SimmonsUniversity/rebecca-m-cohan-72msw-scholarship.