January 17, 2019

f.y.i. / local report Good Hearts

Steven S. Cohen was a hard-working businessman, a good friend and the father of two young girls, ages 2 and 5, when he suffered a massive heart attack during a game of weekend basketball and died. He was 35.

His friends channeled their shock and grief into helping to discover how and why such a young, healthy man could die so suddenly, and without warning.

Cohen, who, at 5 feet 10 and 210 pounds, was a vigorous and powerful weekend athlete, had had a complete physical just two months before he died on Dec. 7, 1995. His blood-cholesterol level had been normal — 200 — and he had no family history of heart attack or stroke. But an autopsy revealed that Cohen had 90-percent occlusion in two arteries. So the good friend and loving husband became a statistic, one of some 250,000 Americans under 40 who die of sudden cardiac arrest.

A bypass could have saved Cohen, but the stress test that would have disclosed the occlusion is not routinely given to people his age. “Who, at 35, thinks they’re going to die of a heart attack?” asked his closest friend, Mark Litman.

Cohen ran a successful diamond business but quit after being held up at gunpoint and pistol-whipped outside a Beverly Hills jewelry store. “We always said he had nine lives,” Litman said.

Cohen then became a part owner of Doheny Travel in Beverly Hills. In his free time, he played basketball twice each week at the Mid Valley Athletic Club. “He worked hard and he played hard,” Litman said.

Just prior to collapsing, Cohen complained of a tingling in his arm and asked friends to call 911. By the time paramedics arrived, he had died.

Now painfully aware that such things happen, Cohen’s friends have created the Steven S. Cohen Heart Fund to support and promote Cedar-Sinai Medical Center’s ongoing research into the detection and prevention of early heart disease in adults, ages 20 to 40.

Supported by a charitable networking group of 15 San Fernando Valley businessmen, named the Boardroom Associates — to which Cohen belonged — the fund is underwriting the research directed by P.K. Shah, M.D., who is exploring ways of uncovering and treating early heart disease.

One promising development is the ultrafast CT scan, which uses MRI-like technology to take a cross-section view of the arteries. Another project is studying the presence of calcium deposits in coronary arteries as a marker of the early stages of heart disease.

Neither the research nor its fruits comes cheaply (Litman said that a superfast CT scan machine costs $2 million), but the Boardroom Associates have taken on the task to raise whatever is needed.

The Steven S. Cohen Heart Fund’s first annual fund-raiser will be held on May 10 at the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Los Angeles Clippers stars Jerome “Pooh” Richardson and Darrick Martin, the Indiana Pacers’ Mark Jackson and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Mitchell Butler are expected to attend. The $175-per-plate dinner will also feature a silent auction.

“It’s going to be an upbeat and fun event,” Litman said.

And that, he said, goes a long way toward describing Cohen himself. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

For more information on the Steven S. Cohen Heart Fund and its first annual fund-raiser, call

(818) 225-8783

The House of Lehman

It would be fair to say that German historian and newspaper editor Roland Flade has more than a passing interest in European Jewish history, particularly that of Jews in his native Bavaria. Flade, a Catholic, wrote two dissertations on the subject. The second work, published in 1987, caught the attention of U.S. Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr., who bought it in a Hamburg bookshop. Loeb was surprised to find no mention of his prominent Jewish family, so he telephoned Flade to inquire if there was a way to uncover his ancestors’ early German history.

That inquiry resulted in Flade’s newest book, “The Lehmans” (Königshausen & Neumann), an absorbing tale that begins in a Bavarian village prior to the French Revolution and concludes in the glittering stone canyons of Wall Street. What lies in between are the various fortunes and dramas of the legendary Lehmann banking family, whose members — whether through blood or marriage — read like a who’s who of finance, government and philanthropy. Occupying places on the family tree are Seagram’s CEO Edgar M. Bronfman Jr., New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and former New York Governor and Senator Herbert Lehmann, who managed to save dozens of relatives and others from the Holocaust.

Born in 1785, Abraham Lehmann lived in the village of Rimpar, but his sons left to seek their futures in America. After they emigrated to Montgomery, Ala., in the mid-19th century, they founded the Lehmann Brothers banking firm. As real estate investors, cotton merchants and advisers to the burgeoning retail world of department stores, Lehmann Brothers was already a force to be reckoned with by the early 20th century. The firm took a leading role in financing and advising retail giants Sears & Roebuck and F.W. Woolworth Co., as well as Jewish-owned outfits such as R.H. Macy & Co. and Gimbel Brothers.

Today, the family name graces everything from a wing of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to a high school in Dimona, Israel. What’s striking about this book is that although the Lehmanns move in a rarefied and affluent world of rainmakers, in important respects, their trials and successes mirror the larger European-Jewish immigrant experience in all its forms — merchants, victims, immigrant peddlers and, ultimately, pillars of the American establishment. –Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor

Copies of “The Lehmans” may be ordered from the Madison Avenue Bookshop at 800-535-4912.


Lost and Found

Hanna and Walter Kohner had one of the few Holocaust stories that ended happily. The two were childhood sweethearts in Czechoslovakia before the war, with big plans for the future. But, as Hitler’s armies closed in, Walter managed to get to the States, where he had brothers. Hanna was captured and survived internment in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

After the war, Walter heard that Hanna was alive from an American sergeant who helped liberate her (52 years ago this May 5). The couple reunited and settled in Los Angeles, where Walter became a theatrical agent. Hanna wrote their amazing story in a book, “Hanna and Walter, A Love Story” (Berkley, $5.99), which has been recently re-released.

Their daughter, Julie, 41, carries on their legacy by telling the Kohner story to school and community groups throughout the Southland. Her presentation, “Voices of the Generation,” has won raves from rabbis and educators. Julie recounts the story, shows a video about her parents that originally aired as an episode of “This Is Your Life” in 1953, and answers questions about her parents and the Holocaust. “What I’m doing,” she says, “is carrying on their legacy.”– R.E.

For more information on “Voices of the Generations,” call (310) 472-9283

The Grapevine

This week’s news off the grapevine is that Rabbi David Wolpe has been offered the post of senior rabbi at Sinai Temple. Wolpe, author, lecturer, and recently new father, will head west from his current post at the Jewish Theological Seminary…. And Sari Goodman has replaced Shaun Herschel as director of the Temple Isaiah Day School.

Wachtler Returns

I’ve never been a brilliant, drug-addicted judge with exacerbated manic depression, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the first chapter of Sol Wachtler’s memoir, “After the Madness” (Random House, $24). In it, the former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York describes the uppers, downers and depression that led him to stalk a former lover. Do the drugs and disorder excuse his crime? No, Wachtler makes clear; he accepts all the blame and offers sincere apologies for his actions.

Wachtler served 13 months’ hard time in a medium-security federal prison for his offenses. The heart of this book is his diary of prison life. It is disturbing, shocking, revealing, painful, frightening and frustrating. Wachtler, whom Alan Dershowitz once described as the nation’s finest judge, lived in the hell he had, without remorse, consigned others to. That near-fantastic turnaround gives him insights into a system that, he now believes, locks up far too many people with little benefit and at great expense. Not for nothing does Wachtler, who grew up as a beleaguered Jewish kid in mostly rural American towns, begin his book with a quote from the great sage Hillel: “Do not judge a person until you have been in his position — you do not understand even yourself until the day of your death.”– R.E.