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Guest Blogger Tamar Orvell: Happy 90th Birthday Rabbi Jack Cohen

While I am away in New York City for a couple of weeks, a fantastic group of elderbloggers and elderblog readers agreed to fill in for me. Today it is Tamar Orvell, a writer, editor, content developer and blogging enthusiast - at Only Connect. She lives in two hemispheres (USA and Israel) - one at a time, where she helps organizations (big and small, publicly-traded and nonprofit) to communicate online.

Dearest Jack,

I was not yet twelve years old when my beloved father, Dr. Israel S. Chipkin, died. Minutes before his funeral, my mother, sister, his siblings and I stood in your study. Your kind face, gentle manner and soft voice calmed me in my shock, turmoil and pain.

And then, you gave a blessing that I heard for the first time in my life: "Baruch...dayan ha-emet" (Blessed is the judge of truth).

Frozen and bewildered, my inner voice demanded, How could this wonderful rabbi, my father's beloved friend and student utter a blessing so stinging, so cruel? And throughout the funeral, in a word soup of eulogy and the "el maleh rachamim" [God full of compassion] prayer for the dead, "Baruch...dayan ha-emet" floated to the top. Only in my twenties did I begin to understand its meaning. And, I continue to wrestle with the verse.

Who is Rabbi Dr. Jack J. Cohen?

And why did I share with him this earliest memory?

As he neared his 91st year, Jack's family and friends celebrated last week, in Jerusalem, his rich life of leadership in Jewish education and religious pluralism in Israel and the USA. His children invited guests across generations and around the globe to share personal memories for inclusion in an album they gave him during the celebration.

Today, Jack is the Emeritus Director of the Hillel Foundation of the Hebrew University. Before making aliya (ascension) in the 1960s, he was Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), in New York City where he was a disciple of Rabbi Dr. Mordechai M. Kaplan. Dr. Kaplan, who founded Reconstructionist Judaism and cofounded the SAJ, officiated at the funeral of my father, a pioneering American Jewish educator and colleague. Dr. Kaplan began the eulogy, "He was dearer to me than a brother."

Thank you, Jack, for your enduring friendship, guidance, compassion, and example. Mazal tov and happy birthday!

* * *

Writing this post, I found most helpful Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman's scholarly and creative — origins, purpose, and alternatives. And, in their Jewish healing service, Rabbi Joy Levitt and colleagues offer a similarly helpful discussion on the "el maleh rachamim" prayer.

Jack Cohen

EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, The Elder Storytelling Place is on hiatus. You can read past stories here. And if you are inclined, you could send in stories for publication when I return. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.


NOTE Writing this post, I found most helpful Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman's scholarly and creative discussion on "Baruch... dayan ha-emet"— origins, purpose, and alternatives. In fact, the more I ponder the blessing, the more Hoffman's discussion "helps."

I appreciate your post today, Tamar especially for the link to Hoffman's discussion. i found much food for thought there and also another way to reflect on the recent death of my husband.

"He was dearer to me than a brother". That is the highest praise that anyone can give; better than "he was like a brother to me" that is often said.

Jack (my father was called Jack) is obviously a wonderful man.

Rabbi Hoffman's reflection is a great gift. Thanks for the link.

I too thank you for this post and the link. Much food for thought and reflection.

Thank you so much for this thoughtful post.

Though my father more times than not exhibited his flawed side, as an adult daughter, I came to understand what begat those flaws, and was able to love the man I knew loved me more than he could express easily.

I can't imagine losing my father at age 12. (Though there were those times when I wished him dead - when my childhood anger and disappointment got the better of me.)

I am not of the Jewish faith, but the teachings of your admired Rabbi know no denomination limits.

Thank you for the sharing.

Thank you for a thought stimulating tribute here to a Rabbi who has had such significance in your life and now, perhaps, some of ours in some way.

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