Rabbi Aviva (nee Spring) Cohen, 53, has been in the rabbinate for over 25 years, the past 13 at Congregation Mishkan Or, a small, independent synagogue in Walford, NJ, about 15 miles east of Philadelphia. She had moved to Walford when she had decided she no longer wanted to be a highly paid, but unfulfilled, assistant rabbi at a large synagogue in Philadelphia that would not promote her to the senior rabbi position. Part of her move involved divorcing her second husband; she had divorced her first when he had been offered a tenure-track position in Central New Jersey just as she had been offered the assistant rabbi job in Philadelphia. She is single and not looking to change her marital status, has no kids and does not regret her decision, and lives alone in a small townhouse with her cat and several bird feeders. She describes herself as ”five foot nothing, and shrinking,” and “too short to be Rubenesque, and too zaftig to be pleasingly plump.” An unrepentant hippie, she is still in mourning for the ‘60s.

AVIVA’S FAMILY (in chronological order):

Aviva’s mother, Selma Cohen, 92, widowed for 18 years, lives in an assisted living facility in Boston. She has been known to cheat at chess and has recently begun to play video games, which she generally wins, with her great grandsons. She, too, is in mourning for the Sixties, when she smoked pot and demonstrated with the best of them.

Aviva’s sister, Jean Meisner, 70, lives in Florida with her dog. She, too, is a widow, but does not miss the Sixties. She and Aviva always had a difficult relationship, in part because of the age difference, and in a large part because of their different views on society and politics. She has never been able to accept her daughter’s choice in career or partner, and has never acknowledged their son.

Aviva’s niece, Trudy Meisner, 48, is a computer whiz who cashed out of the dotcom boom before it crashed. She does web designs and computer consulting and lives very comfortably off the interest on her investments.

Trudy’s life partner, Sherry Finkel, 45, and she have been together for 17 years. Sherry is the director of the Student Counseling Center at Walford U.

Trudy and Sherry’s son, Josh, 6 (almost 7), is frighteningly bright but also has Asperger’s Syndrome. Josh is Sherry’s biological son, conceived via artificial insemination.

Aviva’s nephew, Larry Meisner, 45, is the apple of his mother’s eye. He lives in Boston, where he sells insurance, with his wife and two children. He visits his grandmother Selma often.


Boyfriend Marty Siegel, with whom she lived in a commune while she was a rabbinical student, now grows organic grapes for Kosher wine in California.

First husband Steven Goldfarb, whom she married on the rebound, is now a professor of Sociology and Criminology at Crescent State College, near Princeton, and has just been hired as a consultant and interim Director of Public Safety for Walford, making him a new neighbor of Aviva’s. Ellie, his second wife, is a law professor at Crescent State. She was a widow with two children whom he raised as his own.

Second husband Keith Rubenstein, a Philadelphia lawyer, was working for a Poverty Law Center when they first met and married. Aviva realized the marriage was doomed when accepted a job at a corporate law firm. He married another lawyer who was happy being on the Mommy Track.


The deceased, William Phillips, 61, was a much disliked and rather unscrupulous land developer and builder

His mother, Henrietta, 85, was born Yetta, but won’t admit to it, just as she won’t admit to her age.

His first wife and children:
Sylvia, 58
oldest son: Ken, 34
Ken’s wife: Kayla, 33
Their daughter: Sophie, 2
younger son: Brian, 32 (divorced, no kids)

His second wife: Marilyn, 43
oldest daughter: Madison, 20
younger daughter: Tiffany, 16

His third wife: Jennifer, 29
daughter: Samantha, 3 mo.

His mistress: Tyler Jackson, 20

Madison’s mentor: Crystal Love, nee Carla Levy, an instructor in the Women’s Studies and Religion departments at Walford U., and a priestess of a New Millennial Wiccan coven.

Friend of Trudy and Sherry: Marsha Collins, professor of environmental science at Walford U.,


Aviva’s best friend, Caryn Brant, works as for her family at Ruben Funeral Home. Her ex-husband is Allan Brant and her two sons are Dan, a graduate student in journalism at Northwestern, and Jon, a junior at Walford U.

Walford Police: Lieutenant Joe Merino, in charge of investigating the case

Congregation Mishkan Or Employees And Congregants:

Secretary: Liz Smithers, a retired school librarian and widow.

Cantor and Principal: Ron Finegold, who doubles as a house husband to his wife Brenda Fishman, a professor of literature at Walford U.

President: Meryl Felsner


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