What an amazing Shabbat last weekend! The Cohon Memorial Foundation Award winners were such extraordinary people, and it was a great privilege to honor them at Congregation Beit Simcha last Friday night. This was the 15th Annual Award in memory of my grandparents, established by my parents as a way of honoring people who are selflessly doing exceptional work on behalf of our people. Each of them is doing amazing things, and their acceptance speeches highlighted their diversity and depth. It made you feel good not only about being Jewish, but about being human.
Saturday morning’s rededication of our Czech Memorial Torah Scroll was moving and meaningful in a very special, unique way: the story of the recovery of these Torahs from the Shoah and their journey to the west would make a great movie script, dramatic and powerful, sad and yet affirming. Our own scroll is now embellished with a beautiful covering dedicating it in memory of Rabbi Samuel S. Cohon and A. Irma Cohon, who worked tirelessly for the Jewish people throughout their lives. And as we now chant from this sacred Torah each week, we bring back to life a Jewish community that was destroyed.
I shared the complex story of how our own scroll came to us from Westminster Synagogue in London, where my great-uncle Rabbi Harold Reinhart founded the congregation and built the racks on which these Torahs, truly brands plucked from the fire, were housed when they arrived from Prague. And the story of how my son, Boaz and I carried the Torah home from England in a snowboard bag added a touch of humor to the proceedings.
These were truly exceptional Jewish experiences for our young congregation. Renewing Judaism and creating continuity means bringing our faith vibrantly to life in each generation. On a personal level, I am so grateful that Beit Simcha has helped me share this remarkable Shabbat with my father, Rabbi Baruch Cohon, brother Jonathan Cohon, son Boaz and daughter Cipora Cohon, and most of all with my congregational family and friends. And the Oneg Shabbat, thanks to Lorie Wolf and her helpers, was spectacularly delicious!
The three winners of the 2018 Cohon Award included Phyllis Folb, whose America Israel GAP Year organization helps young Jews connect to Israel in powerful, enduring ways that can shape their lives; Amy Israel Pregulman and John Pregulman, founders of Kavod, an organization that assists Holocaust Survivors throughout the US and Canada who are in financial difficulty, as well as documenting their images and stories for posterity, and that uses 100% of its funds for needy Survivors; and Joseph Gitler, the founder of Leket, which “gleans” leftover and unused food and provides it to the hungry and needy all over Israel, regardless of whether they are religious or secular Jews, Christian or Moslem Arabs or African immigrants.
May we all find ourselves inspired by these exceptional people to work for the good of Klal Yisrael, the entire peoplehood of Israel, and all humanity.