Gary and Mindy Cohen
Gary and Mindy Cohen

The tight-knit Jewish community of Birmingham, Ala., has been united in grief upon learning that Dr. Gary (Tzvi Nosson Hakohen) Cohen had died under the piles of rubble in the Surfside condominium collapse.

A consummate student of Torah, he loved nothing more than to share his studies with others, refining his understanding through hearing others’ perspectives.

A physiatrist who was originally from Dix Hills, N.Y., he had relocated to Alabama, living in Birmingham and practicing in the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

Inspired by his younger brother, Dr. Brad Cohen, as well as the rabbis and congregants at Chabad of Alabama, he had embraced more and more Jewish practice, all the while deepening his knowledge and understanding of Torah. Dr. Brad Cohen was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 16.

“In recent years, Judaism has taken an increasingly central place in the lives of Gary and Mindy Cohen,” says Rabbi Yossi Friedman, program director at Chabad of Alabama. Dedicated to keeping Shabbat, and determined not to drive on the sacred day of rest, they either observed it alone at home, which is too far to walk to the Chabad center, or with friends, who live closer to Chabad.

Obtaining kosher food is also quite challenging in Alabama, a state with a tiny observant population and no kosher dining options, yet the Cohens gladly kept a kosher home.

“Gary was always coming over to me and sharing what he learned online or had read,” says Freidman. “With a unique persistence, he would always probe, ask, debate and discover. He was not shy about sharing his understanding, but he was always willing to listen to others and concede to them when he thought they were right. It was amazing to watch him grow and learn.”

In Florida to visit his parents, he was spending time together with his brother in a condominium on the 11th floor of the Champlain Towers South at the time of the collapse. Gary’s remains were discovered in the rubble on Wednesday, while Brad’s fate is still unknown.

In addition to his wife, Gary Cohen is survived by his parents, Morton and Deborah Cohen, and sons, Jarred (Stephanie) and Seth Cohen.