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Papa: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

December 18, 2015

papa deli

At my grandfather’s funeral this past Wednesday, I walked up to the pulpit, lifted my cell phone to my ear and said to everyone, “I’m sorry, I really need to take this call.” Then, ignoring their shocked expressions, I spoke into the phone.

“Hi Papa! How was your trip? God, we miss you already. Yes, everyone’s fine, they’re all here and say hi. Yes, everything was as you planned, you made it super easy. What? No, I’m not wearing a skirt. Yes, we all rode here together in a limo. Don’t worry, Sidney had a coupon. Yes, we’ll give the driver a good tip. Sure, I’ll send everyone your love. Talk to you soon. Love you.” Then I hung up, looked out at the smiling faces of family and friends and said, “Papa says hi.”

papa color

A picture of Papa that my sister Jackie and I colored, 1978

In that brief moment as I pretended to speak to Papa, we all forgot our sadness, forgot that he was gone, because in those few seconds I brought him back to life. In truth, I brought my grandfather back to life five years earlier when our book came out. At 89, Papa was feeling the affects of old age and sufferings past, but the book sparked a renewed will to live, validating his survival and showed him he still had much to offer.

And even though he’s now gone, he still has much to offer.

In the last few years Papa and I spent a lot of time together sitting in his kitchen eating ice cream in our pajamas and talking about life or at speaking engagements to hundreds of school children. But of all the lessons Papa taught me about saving money and being a good person, the most important came from working alongside him in his Brooklyn grocery store.

I was eight years old when I first put on his white apron and stepped behind the counter to work the cash register. Papa trusted me to give the correct change. Working side by side, watching this larger than life figure slice pastrami behind the deli counter, reading glasses perched on top of his head, a smile on his face, never felt like work, just time spent with Papa.

Years later, trusting me once again, Papa handed me his life’s story. And in all the years I spent writing, editing and researching the book, it never felt like work, just, once again, time with Papa. The amazing thing is, all this time I thought the book was a gift from me to him, but now, I realize, it was Papa who had given me the gift. And the only way I can ever repay him is by continuing to talk about the man who, if it hadn’t been for his courage and determination to survive, I would not be here today.

Thank you Papa.

Here is a link to Murray Schwartzbaum’s Obituary in the New York Times





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  1. french permalink

    I get it! I know why you are so unique. Lucky me to have know, and played endless softball, with Felice Cohen.

  2. Sara Ringler permalink

    Hi Felice and family,

    What a tribute to all of youŠ. That was beautifully expressed, I love what you wrote. Neil and I and the rest of the family send our love. May you always have such a wonderful perspective on family and your heritage. You are so fortunate to have been able to have shared so much and to have had a window into your grandfather¹s story.

    Love to everyone, Sara and family

    From: Felice Cohen Reply-To: Felice Cohen Date: Friday, December 18, 2015 at 4:17 PM To: Sara Ringler Subject: [New post] Papa: The Gift that Keeps on Giving Felice Cohen posted: ” At my grandfather¹s funeral this past Wednesday, I walked up to the pulpit, lifted my cell phone to my ear and said to everyone, ³I¹m sorry, I really need to take this call.² Then, ignoring their shocked expressions, I spoke into the phone. ³Hi Papa! H”

  3. Oh, Felice. I am so sorry to hear about this. Your grandfather was truly an amazing man. CL

  4. David Schwartz permalink

    Beautiful blog piece — made me tear up. I feel so fortunate to have met your grandfather through your writing. His legacy lives on.

  5. Madalyn Hillis-Dineen permalink

    Hi Felice:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Please give my love to your Mom… Papa is an inspiration to all of us. Please keep writing about him.

    Fond regards, Madalyn (from the Holocaust Memorial Service last year)

    Madalyn Hillis-Dineen

    Director of Marketing

    Astrolabe, Inc.



    Visit our website,

    Since 200 A.D., astrologers have depended on the Astrolabe to map the stars. THEY STILL DO!

    Felice Cohen wrote: > > Felice Cohen posted: ” At my grandfather’s funeral this past Wednesday, I walked up to the pulpit, lifted my cell phone to my ear and said to > everyone, “I’m sorry, I really need to take this call.” Then, ignoring their shocked expressions, I spoke into the phone. “Hi Papa! H” >

  6. Michael Gnat permalink

    I too grew up working alongside my grandparents in their grocery — called a ‘delicatessen’, but basically a Jewish bodega. I am often amazed at how formative an experience that proved to be.

    Your teaming up with with your grandfather years later, to tell his story and do ‘something good’, was a real mitzvah.

  7. Betty Bullen permalink

    This is an amazing story of intimacy. I love it. Imani

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Alexis Fishman permalink

    Love it!

    Sent from my iPhone


  9. Duffie Cohen permalink


    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your grandfather. I know you’ve been very close and it’s been very moving to follow the stories you’ve written about his life and your relationship.

    Warm regards,

    Ps – I actually thought about you this morning at the Journalism School commencement!

    Duffie Cohen
    Executive Director
    “Invest in CUNY” Campaign Office
    230 West 41st Street
    New York, NY 10036

  10. Deborah Golden permalink

    I am sad but I know you gave your Papa lots of love and joy and vice versa. The gift is what you shared through the years and he will always be a part of you. I am very sorry to hear of your loss.

  11. Dana Arschin permalink


    Sent from my iPhone


  12. thank you for sharing about your Papa – what a tribute to him!

  13. electchester permalink

    Felice, Larry and I are so sorry to hear about Murray.  He was a wonderful person.  I have to tell you, he was crazy about you.  You were all he would talk about.  I know you both had a special bond and that is beautiful and he will be in your heart forever. How is Mark doing?   Please e-mail back your moms address.  With our deepest sympathy, Sharon & Larry

  14. Joe F. permalink

    What a great tribute from you to your grandfather. Tremendous ! The only regret that I have is that I never had the honor of meeting your grandfather.

  15. Sue Eleftherakis permalink

    A very eloquent post which is a beautiful and loving tribute to your beloved Papa. Our heartfelt condolences.

  16. My condolences, I felt like I knew him a little bit through your posts. What a beautiful soul.

  17. Felice, I’m sorry for the loss of your dear grandfather. Such a remarkable relationship, you two lovely people had. I think you and your Papa were true blessings in each other’s life.

  18. permalink

    As always a beautiful tribute from a beautiful granddaughter about a beautiful man. We love you all


  19. Marilyn Solomon permalink

    What an amazing young woman you are! Your blog about Papa touched us greatly. Wish we could be around you and your family at this time. All our love to Mark. We miss you.
    Marilyn and Norm 😘

  20. Dear Felice, I know how much your grandpa meant to you and I am sorry for your loss. You have so many beautiful memories together and that is surely a blessing. Thank you for sharing this info with me. Please tell mom, dad and the rest of the family that we send our love and will hold you all in our hearts and prayers. Much love, Maxine and Paul

    Sent from my iPhone


  21. Jenny Landry permalink

    Only you could pull that off. I love you tons. hugs..Jen

  22. A phone call from your Papa… Uniquely you :-)!

  23. Richard Aberson permalink

    Nothing and no one could ever defeat your Papa. He was a gift and inspiration to all of us.

  24. Roger J Bass permalink

    Love this post. Remind me to tell you about my time with Sarah Vyborny. Roger

    Sent from my iPad


  25. I’m so sorry to hear about Poppa I know how close you was with him and when we work together and I had to drive you someplace you always talked about him and how you and he wanted to write the book and when you finally did it your book was the first book I ever read cover to cover once I started it I couldn’t put it down I gave the book to Jennifer and it was wrapped up she said to me what is it I said it’s something everyone should read and no one should ever forget about . my heart goes out to you and your family if ther;s anything I can do for you don’t hesitate to call be well

  26. Ali permalink

    Sorry for your loss… how fortunate that you had such a close relationship with him and was able to write his story! Beautiful blog…. wishing you well…Ali

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