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For the week ending 4 February 2017 / 8 Shevat 5777

Rabbi Avraham Cohen

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Age: 51
Born: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Raised: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Northwestern University, BA in Humanities, 1987
Yeshivat Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem
Hertz Ohr Lagolah Program, Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem
Semicha: Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg
Major in US Air Force
Wing Chaplain, Mansfield Air National Guard Base, Mansfield, Ohio
Chief Rabbi of Menorah Park, Cleveland, Ohio

Some like to spend the Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days) at the shul wherethey normally daven; some in the Yeshiva Gedola of their youth; some go to Uman; some to a hotel in Jerusalem or Miami Beach. Very few would choose to spend Rosh Hashana in Kandahar and Yom Kippur in Jalalabad. Rabbi Avraham Cohen did. They are, to date, among the highlights of his service in the US Air Force.

Rabbi Cohen grew up in a secular but somewhat traditional conservative home in Pittsburgh. His father, a securities lawyer, is from Pittsburgh, and his mother from Cleveland. After finishing college and being exposed to Yiddishkeit in Chicago, he decided to come to Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem and delve into his heritage.

After learning in the Yeshiva for a couple of years he married and spent time in Rabbi Shakovitzki’s Kollel in Arzei HaBira, followed by learning in the Kollel of Yeshivas HaRan in Beitar, and then came back to Ohr Somayach for the Hertz Ohr Lagolah Program, which prepared him for his career as a rabbinical leader.

He joined the US Air Force as a Chaplain, and was posted to the Pentagon where he ministered to the military and civilian employees. Although he was a rabbi, both Jews and non-Jews sought his counsel and empathetic ear. During that time he attended two yearly Chanukah parties at the White House, where he and his wife met and had festive kosher meals with President George W. Bush and the First Lady.

Rabbi Cohen was posted to Iraq for about a year in 2006, and then to Afghanistan for a month in 2007. While in Kandahar, a city said to be founded by Alexander the Great, which is the second largest city in Afghanistan and a provincial capital, he conducted an abbreviated Rosh Hashana service for himself and two Canadian special-forces soldiers — both kohanim. (In a counter-eponymous twist, Rabbi Cohen is a levi, rather than a kohen.) In spite of the Taliban, or maybe because of them, the U’nasaneh Tokef prayer had extra significance. The phrase “Who shall live and who shall die” has an immediate relevance in a war zone. As to the special mitzvah of the day, Rabbi Cohen says: “I feel that HaKodesh Baruch Hu placed me there to blow the shofar as a remembrance for all the Jewish neshamos (souls) that had been in that place from the time of Alexander until today.”

Ten day later he was in Jalalabad with the same two Canadian special-forces soldiers and another ten congregants. This time they were able to daven the entirety of the Yom Kippur service and fast until nightfall.

After completing active duty in 2012, Rabbi Cohen and his family moved to St. Louis where he worked as an investment advisor at Morgan Stanley, Inc. for three years. In 2015 he saw an ad for the position of Chief Rabbi of Menorah Park in Cleveland, Ohio — a large residential complex of assisted living, elderly and nursing homes in Beachwood, a largely Jewish suburb of Cleveland. The position includes not only counseling and visitation but also kashrut supervision (there are six kitchens) and supervision of a rabbinical staff of five rabbis. With his experience in the military he felt confident that he could handle the multi-tasked position. “The military has taught me to be a good organizational head. There is no better leadership education; it is second to none.” Apparently the directors of Menorah Park thought so too. He was hired immediately and moved to Cleveland in the summer of 2015. Rabbi Cohen has a son, now learning in Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, who gets to see his grandmother daily as she is a resident of Menorah Park.

In addition to his work in Cleveland, Major Cohen continues his Chaplaincy work in Mansfield, Ohio as the Wing Chaplain for the Mansfield Air National Guard Base. Rabbi Cohen recently paid a visit to the Yeshiva. He was in Jerusalem for the bris of his first grandson. “Kein Yirbu” — May there be many more to come!

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