From the moment I met the Cohen family, I knew that they would be the key to our success as the first and only official Jewish organization on the campus of Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville, MS. It was the summer of 2009, at the Union for Reform Judaism Henry S. Jacobs camp in Utica, Mississippi. In the sweltering heat of July, I met Avery Cohen, daughter of John Cohen, the future Head Baseball Coach at MSU.
While the camp is located in Mississippi, the heart of Bulldog country, the majority of its campers reside in Memphis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Little Rock, and other towns and cities in the southeast with larger Jewish populations. Therefore, most campers are not fans of the land grant institution of Mississippi, affectionately referred to as State.
However, one camper out of the scores of rival institution fans was wearing a maroon MSU hat; I knew I had to ask her who she was and if she truly was a fan of my future alma mater. At the time, I was an incoming freshman, and was ecstatic and in disbelief that her father was to be our new baseball coach. That upcoming year, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to tutor Avery Cohen for her Bat Mitzvah while forging a relationship with a family that I will always be thankful for.
In 2009, Coach John Cohen had just accepted a job offer at his alma mater, even rejecting a 10 year contract from the University of Kentucky to become the skipper in his dream job. Only five short years later, Cohen led his “diamond dawgs” to the highest levels of success with a berth in the College World Series Championship Game for the first time in school history. Although the bulldogs did not walk away victorious, we did leave as second in the country and extremely proud of our coach. Prouder still, besides his family, is the Hillel family.
Without the generous contributions and hospitality that the Cohen family has shared with Hillel at MSU, our existence and success may never have even gotten to first base. John’s wife Nelle has been tremendous in making sure we always have a place to socialize for Chanukah dinners or back to school parties. Nelle has never hesitated to host an event for us, including bagel brunches and Jewish holiday socials. She is our single greatest supporter and we wouldn't be here without her.
That freshman year, in the fall of 2009, with the help of Rachael Frost, we co-founded what would become the Hillel we love and know today. We may be one of the newest Hillels, but I bet we have the best family support in the Cohen’s. We are truly thankful for everything they have done for us and would like to wish the Cohen Family mazel tov for their recent success and we hope to get back to Omaha soon and return with the title.
Daniel Snyder is the Director of Development for Hillel of Mississippi State University.