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Cohen, Jacob Xenab


COHEN, JACOB XENAB (1889–1955), U.S. Reform rabbi. Cohen was born in New York City and began studying for the rabbinate only after starting a career as a civil engineer. He received his rabbinic ordination and M.H.L. degree at the Jewish Institute for Religion in 1929 and was appointed associate rabbi and executive secretary of the Free Synagogue in New York that same year. He also served as executive secretary of its philanthropic institute, the Free Synagogue Social Service Inc., and bursar of the Jewish Institute for Religion. In 1939, he became president of the New York Board of Jewish Ministers (renamed the New York Board of Rabbis in 1946) and was credited with revitalizing the organization and its various missions. He was the first to recognize the importance of public relations for the Jewish community, of cooperation with other religious and philanthropic bodies, and of the special impact of radio for educating the general public about Judaism. During his chairmanship, the Board was recognized to be on a par with the Catholic Diocese and the Protestant City Mission Society for the designation of chaplains, and Cohen was appointed the first Jewish member of the Mayor's Committee on Chaplaincy. In 1948, as chairman of the New York Board of Rabbis' Chaplaincy Committee, Cohen inaugurated, with the Psychiatric Department of Mount Sinai Hospital, a Chaplaincy Institute for the scientific training of chaplains serving in city, state, and federal institutions. An activist, Cohen was a member of the Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress, and chairman of its National Commission on Economic Problems; his widely circulated reports – Jews, Jobs and Discrimination, Helping to End Economic Discrimination, and Towards Fair Play for Jewish Workers, among many others – called attention to the issue of antisemitism in the workplace. At the same time, he spoke out about discrimination against other minorities as well. He also investigated the problem of restrictive quotas against Jewish applicants to U.S. medical and dental schools for the aj Congress Special Committee on Discrimination in Medical Schools. He traveled widely throughout the world, interviewing government leaders in North America, Latin America, and Europe, warning about the rise of Nazism and documenting antisemitic outbreaks for the World Jewish Congress. Cohen also chronicled Jewish Life in South America, publishing a book under this title in 1941. He is the subject of a biography, Engineer of the Soul, written by his wife, Sadie Alta Cohen (1961).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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