Rabbi Karen Thomashow, Associate Rabbi at Wise Temple, began her eulogy for Rabbi Sissy Coran with the following words: “Our world is in pain. Rabbi David Abudraham of Medieval Spain confirms this for us. He says that we count the days between Passover and Shavuot because the world is in pain from Passover to Shavuot. Part of that pain historically is due to the judgment of the grains and the trees and part of that pain historically is because of the decrees that led to the pogroms of our people during this time in years past. Most of that pain right now is because of our broken heartedness over Sissy.”
Rabbi Sigma Faye Coran (Sissy) was born on March 23, 1966 in St. Louis, Missouri to Aubie and Susan Coran. Her family moved to Akron, Ohio when she was three years old and where she spent her formative years. Her family belonged to Temple Israel and Rabbi David Horowitz became one of several lifelong mentors.
Sissy’s brothers, Steve and Jeff, recall their baby sister in pigtails carrying her doll around the house. Sissy was the peace keeper on family car trips, sitting between her two brothers in the back seat. Her father Aubie describes how over time the dynamic changed as Sissy and her brothers grew closer to one another. Her mother, Susan, passed away when Sissy was sixteen. Sissy showed her great capacity for caring for others at a young age. She joined the swim team, which she was not very good at, to give her father a distraction during such a trying time.
Sissy met her husband, Matthew, when they were campers at Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI), and they started dating when they were both students at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) (Cincinnati). They chose an engagement ring while visiting Matthew’s brother and his wife in Philadelphia, and on the same trip decided to get in engaged in Rhode Island before actually purchasing the ring, and got married in 1991. They have four children Jacob and his wife Kim, Shirah, Micah, and Eden. Her daughter Eden wrote, a couple of years ago, in a Mother’s Day card “You are my everyday Wonder Woman… You give and make me yummy meals…. I love you to Pluto and back now and always will.” She encouraged all her children to be themselves, speak for themselves, do their best, and be caring to others.
Rabbi Coran studied Clinical Psychology and Biology at Tufts University. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Cincinnati, Ohio in 1993. Before coming to Rockdale, Rabbi Coran served at Temple Beth Emeth (Ann Arbor) 1993-1994, Temple Emanuel (Worcester, MA 1994-1999), and as Associate Jewish Chaplain, Williams College (2000-2004). She attained a Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College in honor of her 25 years in the rabbinate.
Rabbi Coran became Senior Rabbi of K.K. Bene Israel Rockdale Temple on July 1, 2004, and was the first female Senior Rabbi to serve a Cincinnati congregation. Rabbi David Ellenson, Chancellor Emeritus of HUC-JIR said “My wife, Rabbi Jackie Koch Ellenson, and I were friends with Sissy for more than a quarter century. It seems like only yesterday, that Jackie installed her as rabbi at Rockdale and that I had the privilege of blessing her on that occasion. Like all whose lives she touched, our hearts are broken at her death.”
Rabbi Meredith Kahan, Associate Rabbi at Rockdale Temple said that Rabbi Coran served her community as spiritual guide, pastor, counselor, and torah teacher. Shep Englander, CEO of Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, commenting on her pastoral care said “Of all her many strengths, her courage for pastoral care was probably the most amazing. She had an endless capacity to hold those in pain. Each of our two sons needed to be hospitalized suddenly, a decade apart. And although we were not members of her congregation, she showed up immediately and again and again always overflowing with concern, warmth and humor. When she was there, everything was alright. I learned so much.” Rabbi Coran accompanied people on their journey during their difficult moments.
Rabbi Kahan added that each shepherd has their own special nigun, their own style, inspired by the place they shepherd. Rabbi Coran, she said, came to Rockdale Temple at a time of transition and successfully shepherded the congregation through that time and onward to significant growth and success. Rabbi David Ellenson said “Her role in the renaissance of Rockdale Temple and her impact on the Cincinnati Jewish community will always be emblazoned on the soul of your community.” Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, Senior Rabbi at Wise Temple, added “She guided Rockdale Temple to strength by her own commitment to shaping a vibrant community and inspiring others to work alongside her. “ Shep Englander said “Sixteen years ago, Rabbi Coran and I moved our families to Cincinnati the same month to start new professional roles here. Last Friday, I lost an indispensable colleague and friend. And our community lost a strong, compassionate, funny, wise leader--a true mensch. We must have lost more than one person. Because how could one person have led the rebuilding the Rockdale Temple congregation, been an inspired community leader, while also a devoted mother of four and a teacher, mentor and friend to hundreds around the world?”
Rabbi Kahan talked at length that Rabbi Coran was a rabbi’s rabbi. Rabbi Kahan was an intern at Rockdale before she was ordained and offered a position at Rockdale Temple. Rabbi Kahan expressed how special it was that her rabbi, teacher, mentor, and friend not only installed her but was also her day to day colleague at Rockdale Temple. Among the reasons Rabbi Coran loved being in Cincinnati was it gave her the opportunity to be active in alumni affairs and help mentor students at HUC. Dr. Andrew Rehfeld, President of HUC said “Sissy loved Hebrew Union College. She was a huge supporter of her alma mater, providing mentoring to dozens of rabbinical students who interned at Rockdale Temple. She helped many other students shape their High Holy Day and Senior sermons. She, along with her husband Rabbi Matthew Kraus, and children Jacob and Kim, Shirah, Micah and Eden often hosted students and colleagues at her home for Shabbat and for holidays. She has left a lasting legacy in the sacred work of the many rabbinical students she mentored over the years, who will forever be inspired by her example as dedicated leaders of the Jewish People.” Rabbi Kamrass said, “we are so fortunate in this community to have a rabbinic family with colleagues who work well in partnership and care for another. Sissy was at the center of that fabric of rabbinic leadership. I will miss her in our work together and in friendship. But whether personally, in rabbinic circles, as leader of her congregation or in the larger community, we are all enriched by her strong and lasting legacy of leadership, service, friendship and love. We all think of her family and embrace them in their mourning."
Rabbi Coran was dedicated to Camp GUCI. As a child she was a camper and the later she was a staff member. She and Matthew were star faculty at camp where they served two weeks almost every summer. All her children went to GUCI and the older ones have been staff members as well. Rabbi Coran encouraged many Rockdale kids to attend camp to experience a summer of Jewish growth and community.
Rabbi Coran was active in a variety of Jewish communal organizations and social justice organizations like Ohio Religious Action Center and Rockwern Academy. Shep Englander said “She took community needs as seriously as those of her congregation. When the community needed to gather, remember or grieve or advocate, she was always there. She was a passionate member of the Cincinnati 2020 Steering Committee, which developed our community's first vision. If she thought the meetings were not happening regularly enough, she would press me to gather the committee. And last month, despite the acceleration of her illness, she attended the Cincinnati 2030 Advisory Committee meeting. Even after she's left us, she will be an inspiration for that group and so many others.”
Sissy loved to travel. Whether it was on her honeymoon in Alaska and Vancouver, on subsequent trips with her family or on congregational trips to Europe and Israel she was enthusiastic on experiencing the history of the places she visited.
Rabbi Shena Potter Jaffee, a close personal friend of Rabbi Sissy Coran, put it best. “"Rabbi Sissy Coran was a dear friend, mentor and rabbi to so many. She was the consummate mother, wife, hugger-of-babies, Diet Coke drinker, sister, daughter, advice giver, multi-tasker, and partner. Sissy, was driven, modest, direct, whip smart, and most of all, fully present as a friend and as a pastoral care giver. If there was ever someone you wanted by your side when walking through a difficult time or at your hospital bedside, Sissy was that rabbi. "
Rabbi Sissy Coran, age 54, passed away May 8, 2020. She was the beloved daughter of Aubie (Sandy) Coran and the late Susan Coran and daughter-in-law of Marvin and Gerry Kraus; devoted spouse of Rabbi Matthew Kraus; loving mother of Jacob (Kim) Kraus-Preminger, and Shirah, Micah, & Eden Kraus; dear sister of Steve (Laurie) Coran & Jeff (Kim) Coran; also survived by many loving nieces, nephews, friends, colleagues, and Rockdale Temple family.
Funeral services took place on May 10, 2020 at Rockdale Temple, Rabbi Meredith Kahan and Rabbi Karen Thomashow officiating. Due to Covid-19 only the immediate family was present in the sanctuary but at least another 1500 people viewed the live stream. Interment took place at Walnut Hills Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions to Rockdale Temple or Goldman Union Camp Institute would be appreciated.
(Author’s note: My daughter was in Micah’s class at Rockwern Academy. When I first met Sissy in August, 2004 it was as the dedicated parent of a classmate who did birthday parties and car pools. In March, 2005 Sissy paid a shiva call after my wife passed away and her words at the time provided both comfort and hope for the future. She will be missed. May her memory always be for a blessing.)