Dr. Brad Cohen
Dr. Brad Cohen

A gaping hole was torn in thousands of hearts after news spread that Dr. Brad Cohen was missing in the piles of rubble in the Surfside condo collapse. An orthopedic surgeon in North Miami and Miami Beach, Cohen was spending time with his brother, Dr. Gary Cohen, in a condominium on the 11th floor of Champlain Towers South at the time of the collapse. Dr. Brad Cohen was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 16. His brother was identified a week earlier.

In addition to his loving family and grateful patients, Cohen was treasured by the Miami Jewish community. He was said to have loved nothing more than to share his Torah studies with others, refining his understanding through hearing others’ perspectives.

“It all began one day in the bank 25 years ago,” recalled Rabbi Yaakov Saacks, who directs the Jewish Chai Center in Dix Hills, N.Y., where Cohen grew up. “His mother, Deborah, whom I had never met before, came over to me and told me that her son Brad was finishing medical school in Cincinnati. During that time, he had befriended an Orthodox medical student, she said, and was interested in deepening his Jewish knowledge and observance.”

Brad soon became a regular participant in Saacks’s classes and programs. As his appreciation for Shabbat grew, he began spending every Shabbat in the Saacks home, drinking in the tranquility of the weekly holiday and enhancing his understanding of Jewish family life.

“He always asked great questions in class,” says Saacks. “He loved learning. Even as he was spending the lion’s share of his waking hours doing clinical rotations, he carved out time for Torah study. With audio cassettes and CDs, he made sure that his daily commute to and from the hospital were productively spent on Torah.”

When he married his wife, Soraya, Cohen established a fully observant home, passing on his passion for Judaism to his two children, Avi and Elisheva. In time, his passion for Judaism spread to his parents, Morton and Deborah Cohen, and to his elder brother, Gary, a physiatrist who relocated to Alabama, living in Birmingham and practicing in the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

The family came to national attention when 12-year-old Elisheva Cohen was seen standing near the site of the tragedy in Surfside late one night reading Psalms on her phone when Surfside mayor Charles Burkett came over to her.

“I had seen this little girl before, and I know because we had talked,” the mayor later shared. “She was sitting in a chair by herself with nobody around her, looking at her phone, and I knelt down and I asked her, so what are you doing? Are you OK? She was reading a Jewish prayer to herself, sitting at the site where one of her parents presumably is. And that really brought it home to me. I am going to find her, and I am going to tell her that we are all here for her.”