January 5, 2006
Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home
When the doorbell rings at the Cohens' Pico-Robertson home -- or more accurately when the door edges open, since it's almost never locked -- the littlest of Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen's six kids grab their shoes. If it's someone dropping off donated food or clothing, they start shlepping things in while the older ones begin sorting and organizing. If it's someone coming to collect those items, the kids take them through the living room and yard to help them pack up the day's offerings -- unserved food salvaged from caterers; groceries donated by local markets; or furniture, clothing, toys and electronics that the area's wealthy families don't want, and that one of the 52 families that depend on the Cohens sorely needs.
The Cohens' cramped three-bedroom home is the headquarters, warehouse and distribution center for Global Kindness/L.A. Chesed, the network the Cohens founded less than three years ago.
With caring brown eyes peeking out of her broad face, Yaelle, in her late 30s, is a pint-sized Moroccan tornado in bright yellow-and-orange sneakers. In a perpetually hoarse voice, she answers about 35 phone calls a day from donors and people desperate for help.
The Cohens understand desperation. Eight years ago, Nouriel's beauty supply business went under, and the family had to give up their Beverly Hills home. He hasn't had steady employment since then and has had to rely on his parents and family to get by.
"But now when you look ahead, you can see that was all for the purpose of good, because we had to really feel what was going on in people's hearts and minds when they are really down," says Nouriel, whose distinguished gray beard and smiling blue eyes do little to attest to his Persian ancestry.
The Cohens raise money to help families with rent, bills, day-school tuition or transportation. They help with bar mitzvahs, and have sent families housekeepers and gardeners to restore dignity to rundown homes.
Late every Friday afternoon the family gets a load of challah the kosher bakeries didn't sell, and the kids, ages 1 through 12, wheel strollers and carts through the neighborhood doling out the loaves.
They host huge Shabbos lunches and singles events and help a handful of families in Canada, New York and Israel.
Often, they become de facto social workers, referring families to resources for abuse, addiction or mental health issues.
The Cohen operation shuts down from 5-8:30 p.m., so the family can have dinner, do homework and get through bedtime. But other than that, they're on.
And on Chanukah, the Cohens sent their clients' wish lists to Chabad of Malibu, where families purchased and wrapped the gifts. Those packages were set up in a dream-like display on the ornate furniture left over from wealthier times in the Cohen's living room/dining room.
Recently, Nouriel started a new business and it seems to be taking off. While he looks forward to giving his family more comfortable quarters, he thanks God for the new sensitivity they have.
"We see what people throw away -- thousands and thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothing," Nouriel says. "Why would someone throw it away? Because it means nothing. Money comes and goes. The main thing is what you are doing in this life."
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