Cohen, Henry

views updated


COHEN, HENRY (1863–1952), U.S. Reform rabbi and humanitarian. Cohen was born in London. He studied for the rabbinate at Jews' College, interrupting his studies during 1881–83 to work in South Africa as an interpreter of native dialects. He occupied pulpits in Kingston, Jamaica (1884–85), and Woodville, Mississippi (1885–88), then was rabbi of the Reform Congregation B'nai Israel of Galveston, Texas. An important shipping and commercial center with an affluent Jewish community, Galveston was the site of a hurricane in 1900 that took the lives of over 3,500 people. Cohen achieved national prominence for his heroic relief efforts after the disaster. In 1907 Cohen was drawn into the "*Galveston plan," which undertook to divert a part of the stream of East European Jewish immigration from the overcrowded slums of the Eastern sea board to the interior of the country, where there was a shortage of labor. Galveston was selected as port of entry, and over 10,000 Jews were served by the Jewish Immigrants' Information Bureau under Rabbi Cohen during 1907–14. Throughout his Galveston ministry, Cohen carried on a vigorous campaign against inhumane conditions in the Texas penal system and against public indifference to released prisoners. He was a pioneer in the rehabilitation of former convicts. Cohen was appointed a member of the Texas Prison Board by the governor (1927) and later chairman of the advisory committee of the Southwestern Probation and Parole Conference (1936). He was deeply involved in many other humanitarian activities.


A. Cohen et al., Man Who Stayed in Texas (1941); A. Dreyfus (ed.), Henry Cohen, Messenger of the Lord (1963).

[A. Stanley Dreyfus]