Laura and Aaron Cohen aren’t passive supporters of the causes they champion. Laura is on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ; Aaron served on the board of the historic Central NJ federation.
They were joint presidents of their synagogue, Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, and they have both played leadership roles at the YM-YWHA of Union County.
So naturally, when it comes to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, their involvement is at an elevated level. They have been named Walk MS 2015 Ambassadors for the New Jersey Metro Chapter.
As they have since 2000, they will participate in this year’s MS fund-raiser walk, on Sunday, April 19, at the Orange Reservoir site in West Orange. (There are walks at numerous other sites in the state, most on April 18; see link.)
The Cohens, who live in Garwood and have been married for 40 years, got involved back in 2000 when an event brochure at a local barbershop caught Laura’s eye. Aaron had been living with MS for about 24 years at that point. Treatment options had been very limited.
“The only advice given by the doctors was: ‘Get your rest, reduce your level of activity, and try not to do anything to exacerbate the MS,’” said Aaron.
They decided to go public with his condition, and to get involved with the MS community.
In year one, Laura managed to raise about $2,000 for Walk MS. She established the Mitzvah Squad in 2002, walking with family and friends, and raised almost $13,000. The following year, Aaron’s brother Larry offered to match all Mitzvah Squad donations, bringing the team’s total to $46,675.
Their lifetime total so far stands at $633,000. Laura has been honored a number of times for raising record amounts.
The couple utilize the same skill set for MS fund-raising that they bring to their Jewish community activities. The answer, Laura said, is “reaching out to expand our influence, keeping good records, and communicating on a regular basis. I ask for support for a cause I believe in. I truly believe that donors receive psychic and spiritual benefit by doing this mitzva.
“Don’t ever downplay the value of passion for a cause, or believing in yourself.”
Last year, Laura had a medical problem of her own; the walk came just weeks before she underwent a hip replacement. “I used Aaron’s scooter to do the route because nothing would stand in my way,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be pain-free with my new hip this year. We hope that our extended group of friends and family will come out that day for fun and inspiration.”
Aaron uses the scooter to get around and is on medication, but he has suffered no cognitive impairment. He works as a senior technical executive consultant in the IT industry; Laura is senior credit analyst with HP Financial. The couple has three children and three grandchildren, and Aaron pointed out he has been around for all their milestones.
“I’ve been lucky,” Aaron said. “MS is a terribly strong, frustrating adversary, but we work hard every day to reduce its impact to that of mere annoyance. We look forward to that day in the near future when medical science can banish MS the way they can now replace a crippling bad hip.”
To learn more about the local MS walks and the work of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, go to nationalmssociety.org/Chapters/NJM.