New spiritual leader takes the reins at Temple Israel
Cohen took over his new post two weeks ago at the North End temple, which serves a conservative egalitarian Jewish congregation.
“It’s been two weeks, but it’s beautiful. One of the reasons I chose this pulpit, I really felt the call of green, the outside, woods and lakes,” said Cohen, who is 51.
Although he went to school in Boston, Cohen had never visited New Hampshire before taking the job at Temple Israel, in part because he didn’t own a car until last year, he said.
He takes over leadership of a congregation of about 100 people. They had been without a rabbi for about a year, after David Cohen-Henriquez left the temple.
Cohen said his religious practices — including observing the Sabbath and all holidays — are in the conservative tradition, but he can’t be called a conservative rabbi because he attended Hebrew College in Boston, a trans-denominational rabbinical school, and he was not ordained a conservative rabbi.
Two years ago, conservative rabbis agreed to accept the marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of openly gay people, Cohen said.
“It was quite emotional and quite traumatic. There was lots of passion, but clearly the momentum was for change,” he said.
Cohen said he’s fine with performing same-sex weddings, as long as both parties are Jewish.
“I don’t think I’m at the comfort level yet for interfaith marriages,” he said. But he added that he keeps an open mind, listens and grows.
Cohen grew up in a modern Orthodox home and attended the Ramaz Yeshivah Day School in New York City. He received a doctorate in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from Yale University.
He also worked as a pharmaceutical market research consultant for 15 years, and he taught at Farleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.
Steve Saulten, president of Temple Israel, praised Cohen for showing an engaging, gentle demeanor, a strong knowledge of religious services and rights, and a penchant for organization tempered with a great sense of humor.
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