Book Tour for Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen

Originally Published May 19, 2017 by The Jewish Press

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A new book on the life and times of Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, z”l, will be the focus of a book tour beginning this weekend.

The book, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace (Urim) by Yechiel Frisch and Yedidya HaCohen, tells the story of a unique leader who, among his many other accomplishments, fought in the battle for Jerusalem (1948); became chief rabbi on four levels; was deputy mayor of Jerusalem (encompassing 1967); headed Israel’s delegation to the Vatican; was president of Machon Harry Fischel; and founded Ariel.

With the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem upon us, it should be noted that Rabbi Cohen authored the official prayer for Yom Yerushalayim. The text of the prayer is included in the book, as is a link to its recitation by a chazzan with a symphony orchestra accompaniment (here).

Speaking on the tour will be Rabbi I. Reichel, Esq., a nephew of Rabbi Cohen and the administrator of the Harry and Jane Fischel Foundation who has authored and edited various books, including The Maverick Rabbi, on the Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, father-in-law of Rabbi Cohen. (Reichel edited the English translation of the new Cohen biography and added a chapter.)

The tentative schedule includes a seuda shlishit or pre-Minchah lecture at the Young Israel of Long Beach, May 20; West Side Institutional Synagogue, May 27; Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, June 3; Ramat Orah, June 10; Jewish Center, June 24. [In addition,] Radio icon Zev Brenner has taped an interview.

Books will be available during the week at a reduced rate on an honor system to people who say they attended. The book tour is arranged by the Harry and Jane Fischel Foundation.

Young Israel of Long Beach: May 20
West Side Institutional Synagogue: May 27
Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills: June 3
Ramat Orah: June 10
Jewish Center: June 24

Confirm the above times and dates in advance. To arrange additional presentations at your synagogue or another organization, email

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace
Urim Publications, 2017


Anti-tank trenches and Jerusalem’s survival

By Alan Jay Gerber

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This week’s essay is devoted to one short chapter in the life and rich legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, when the fate of Jerusalem was determined as the Jewish state was re-established in May 1948.


The two works under review that are the sources for  this episode are “Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General” (Urim Publications, 2006) by Shalom Freedman, and “With Might and Strength: An Autobiography” (Maggid Books, 2016), by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, edited by Avi Rath and translated by Miryam Blum.

Right after the declaration of the state of Israel’s independence, Israeli army intelligence was informed that at 11 am on Shabbat, the Arab Legion was planning a tank invasion of the western sector of Jerusalem, where the new state’s capital was situated.

How to bloc this planned tank invasion of civilian targets on a Shabbat required not just military planning but civilian assistance in the digging — on Friday night — of a large anti-tank network along the northwest corridor bordering the very center of the city. It was to be this very timing that brought into play the involvement of Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others to determine the legitimate nature of the threat that would warrant an apparent desecration of Shabbat to save both lives and property.

Here is Shalom Freedman’s relatively brief take on this largely forgotten saga:

“There is a remarkable incident from the War of Independence reported in the ‘Army Encyclopedia.’ It relates to the siege of Jerusalem. According to the encyclopedia, on May 14 the commander of the Jerusalem forces came to Rabbi Goren and told him that the Jordanians were about to invade. He said that there was no available manpower to dig trenches that could protect the city in the north from where the invaders were to come. He asked Rabbi Goren to mobilize the yeshiva students, the only available population capable of doing the work.

“Rabbi Goren resisted, as this would involve causing a massive violation of the Sabbath. He said that he could not do this on his own authority, and went to Chief Rabbi Herzog who gave his heter. But this was not enough. He had to go as well to Rav [Yosef Tzvi] Dushinsky of the Eida HaHareidit, and ask his permission. Rav Dushinsky was sympathetic, but said he himself could not give permission.

“Rabbi Goren realized that the fate of the city was in his hands. So he went himself from yeshiva to yeshiva, mobilizing students for the work. Rabbi Goren, by his great conviction, was able to convince yeshiva students that the piku’ach nefesh involved in saving the city required doing this work on Shabbat, making it not a sin at all, but indeed a requirement. The students were persuaded by Rabbi Goren, and worked all night digging trenches in the northern part of the city.

“On the morning of the next day, the Jordanian tanks approached the city and the first tank that entered fell into one of the anti-tank trenches that had been built. When a second started to go in, the rest of the tanks turned around and went back.

“The city was saved from the Jordanian forces in great part due to the initiative and determination of Rabbi Goren.”

A far more detailed description of this saga is related in Rabbi Goren’s auto-biography, based on his diary from that time. With these two accounts, you will realize a greater appreciation of the risks taken by those over 1,000 yeshiva students, their leaders, and by Rabbi Goren himself.

The areas immediately affected by this effort are very familiar to us today: Rachavia, Geula, Me’ah She’arim, Beit Yisrael and Batei Ungarin. Many of these communities now constitute the very center of western Jerusalem and are the religious and cultural heart of the city.

The anti-tank effort of digging these ditches served to save a city and, by extension, the nation itself. For had Jerusalem been overtaken and destroyed, it would not have taken long for the rest of the newly created Jewish state to have been decimated.

We all have much to learn this very important chapter in the history of the Holy City, lessons dealing in true religious leadership, bravery in both word and action — urgent action that resulted in the very saving of lives, lives so precious to our people especially coming on the cusp of the Holocaust.

As we approach to the observance of Yom Yerushalayim this coming Tuesday night and on Wednesday, the saga related above of a history from 69 years ago should allow us all to better appreciate the final unification of Jerusalem 50 years ago.

This appreciation will best be commemorated in our liturgy and prayers on that day themed to the recitation of Hallel, of Tehillim, of praise and thanksgiving as befits our religious traditions.


Originally published May 14, 2017 on

Rabbi Shlomo Goren
Urim Publications, 2017
Hardcover, 223 pages

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen and his father, The Nazir

p214 (2)

Rabbi Cohen arrives at his wedding wearing his Air Force uniform, standing next to his father HaRav HaNazir, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook is on the far left in the back.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace pp. 214, Urim Publications, 2017

“A few days after the wedding, on 17th Shevat (2nd Februaty), the Nazir wrote in his diary:

“I love my new daughter as I love my own soul. My daughter-in-law, Naomi, came into my life by great mazal and good fortune. Naomi is meticulous in observing the Torah, and is a vegetarian, like my own son, whose very soul is linked to mine – and now they are one.

Purchase Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen to read more.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace
pp. 212, Urim Publications, 2017

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: On the Day the Kotel was Liberated


With his father, the Nazir, and an IDF soldier on the day the Kotel was liberated

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace
pp.234-5, Urim Publications, 2017

“The first Shavuot holiday after the liberation of Jerusalem tookplace exactly one week later, on Wednesday, June 14. The road to the Kotel was opened, a plaza had been cleared in front of it, and access was granted through the Zion Gate. To those many tens of thousands of pilgrims, it was as if they had been reborn after a hiatus of almost twenty years. The never-ending crowds of people going to and from the Old City on that first Shavuot after the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem brought home more than anything else that this time Jerusalem had been truly liberated and unified!

This is how Rabbi Cohen recalls the moments when he took part with tens of thousands of Am Yisrael on their first Shavuot pilgrimage to the Kotel in a reunited Jerusalem.

I was extremely fortunate to be caught in the middle of that mass of people, because I happened to chance upon the great, unforgettable Tzaddik of Jerusalem, that devoted and generous mensch, Reb Aryeh Levin (1885-1969). Reb Aryeh had been one of the best-loved students of the great Chief Rabbi Kook. And Reb Aryeh was also happy to see me. He warmly embraced me, and so we walked together for some time without speaking, silent and deep in thought. And then he began to talk in Yiddush – almost in a whisper: ‘My whole life I have not been able to understand what is meant by those words of Scripture: When the Lord accompanied the captivity of Zion on their return – we were like dreamers…’. But now, I understand!’

I asked him: “What do you understand?” Reb Aryeh replied: “It is characteristic of a dream that in a single instant a person can see events that have actually taken place over a long period. In a dream you can sometimes see something that has lasted for many years, but you actually see it in a single instant. In the twinkling of an eye the whole picture becomes clear to you. Through a ‘dream moment’ you comprehend a whole era, a whole history, a whole story. In that very instant you experience the entire existence of generations past….

“This is exactly what is happening to us now. We are just about to enter the Old City, walking on foot to the Kotel. Are we not ‘like dreamers’? At this very moment we are connected to the many millions of Jews who have prayed throughout the generations for what we are experiencing right now. Right now, we can see everything. We can ‘see’ the long years of Galut, the Shoah, the Underground [where I visited you and others in Latrun Prison], the War of Liberation, and, most recently, the Six-Day War. This very second, while you and I are walking together to the Kotel, everything is happening as if in a dream.””

Purchase Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen to read more.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen
pp. 236, Urim Publications, 2017

Kaytek the Wizard on Stage: Puppetry Teaches Students Powerful Lessons


C.A.S.E. is an after school tutoring program, but it’s also more than that. It’s an opportunity to expand the worldview of middle schoolers. This year alone we have attended professional dance performances, listened to panels discuss race relations after a film about it, and visited refugee families. Students have not only learned about other cultures and global issues, they’ve been able to put faces on these things. By exposing middle schoolers to these types of events, they have the opportunity to discover a world bigger than what they would otherwise see.

Kaytek blog 2
Audience members were captivated by the creative form of storytelling and the lessons taught through the production.  

Last week, our C.A.S.E. students had the opportunity to attend Emmy-award winner Brian Hull’s production of Kaytek the Wizard at The Arts at Center Street! The show was free to youth ages 9 and up and one hour in length.

What made this production special is that it was live puppetry! Many of the C.A.S.E. students had never seen a puppet show before and didn’t know about the famous novel written by Janusz Korczak, who was also a physician, educator, and defender of children’s rights in Warsaw.

The storyline follows Kaytek, a mischievous schoolboy who wants to become a wizard, and is surprised to discover that he is able to perform magic spells and change reality. The story unfolds to teach the lesson that power does not come without responsibility or repercussions and how gifts should be utilized for good.

Kaytek blog 1
Brian Hull and his colleague Mary answer questions from students about the content of the production

After the show Brian and his colleague Mary got a chance to explain the story in greater detail as well as answer any of the students’ questions. The Q & A included wonderful “How did you’s?” and “Who made those?” On our way back to the C.A.S.E. site, students shared how they enjoyed the show not only because it was a good story but they genuinely thought the puppetry and music was interesting and new. I asked them, “What did you like about the play?”, and many responded, “It was so different, I liked the story, the actors were funny, I’ve never seen a show like that before.”

We are so thankful for Brian Hull and team from the Nashville Public Library who donated the show to NAZA. NAZA in turn, offered two free showings of the production to any of its sites. Of course, we jumped on the opportunity! Joining in on the generosity, the Arts at Center Street donated the use of its venue, sound engineer, hospitality, ushers, ticketing services and advertising for the event, culminating in a full house! The kids at C.A.S.E. were just one group that benefitted from the production. Others from the Hopewell neighborhood and a large crowd from the Academy for G.O.D. also joined in for the production.

The event made me really happy because I know when young students are exposed to a diversity of communication styles, even stories outside their own culture, they are more likely to accept differences in their day-to-day. The ability for youth to appreciate the diversity of human communication is a step towards tolerance and peace for the future. We’re thrilled to have collaboration with other generous organizations who create opportunities like this as often as we can. For my C.A.S.E. students, I know they won’t forget it.

Originally published on
Review by Craig Duffy

Kaytek the Wizard, Penlight Publications 2012
Hardcover, 272 pages

Rabbi Shear Yashuv: The Role of Providence in a shidduch


Rabbi Cohen is betrothed to his wife Naomi under the chuppah. Chief Rabbi Herzog, the officiating rabbi, is on the right.
Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace pp. 214, Urim Publications, 2017

“On the subject of Divine Providence present at every shidduch, Rabbi Cohen recalls the words of the Gemara in Tractate Moed Katan, p. 18b: “We learn from the Torah, from the Prophets, and from the Writings that it is from God that a particular woman [is destined] to a particular man.” Rabbi Cohen explains the need for the three-fold repetition: “It is natural for a person to think that it is through his own initiative that he has managed to find a wife and marry her. This is why the Torah emphasizes three times the belief in Divine Providence: ‘From God is a woman [destined] to a man.’ This idea is expressed in Genesis 24:50, Judges 14:4, and Proverbs 19:14.”

Rabbi Cohen further recalls: “It is plain that Divine Providence was in control of [mine and Naomi’s] destinies. For it transpired that during the three years that Naomi had been living in Jerusalem as a student before I met her, many mutual friends had been trying to get us together, wither by inviting both of us to Shabbat morning Kiddush, or to afternoon tea. However, on every single occasion, one or the other of us could not make it.”

Rabbanit Cohen elaborates: “Our meeting was delayed by Heaven, in order to make sure that we would first mature in the same direction and be ready to tie our lives together.”

Purchase Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen to read more.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace
pp. 212, Urim Publications, 2017

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Chief IDF Rabbi


Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Airforce

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace
pp. 184, Urim Publications, 2017

Rabbi Cohen’s first rabbinic experience was as a military chaplain. In this capacity, he conducted scores of weddings, supervised the kashrut in the military bases, and generally instilled Jewish values in the soldiers. Rabbi Cohen served in a number of different capacities, and was eventually appointed to the position of Chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, a position which he held until the year 5715 (1954/5), when he was released with the rank of major. Even after his “release,” however, he continued to serve in the reserves for over twenty years, until after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, despite his own war injury. During the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Cohen served as a chaplain of the front command division, under the charge of his friend, Maj. -Gen. Ariel (Arik) Sharon (1928-2014), who later became the Prime Minister of Israel.

Purchase Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen to read more.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen
pp. 184, Urim Publications, 2017

To Zion: Review of American Interests in the Holy Land

To Zion


American Interests jpost blog postPossibly one of the first photos of Jews at the Western Wall (1859), by Mendel Diness, a yeshiva student who turned Christian preacher. (photo credit:SPECIAL COLLECTIONS/FINE ARTS LIBRARY/HARVARD UNIVERSITY. ALL IMAGES WERE EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION)

April 6, 2017

A new book presents Jewish life in the Holy Land through historical photos, with a special focus on the connection between America and the Land of Israel.

The intricate connection between Zion – as a physical and a metaphysical idea – and America, the “Land of the Free,” is a remarkably interesting one. Many of the early settlers in New England saw themselves as the new Israelites and America as the new Promised Land.

This is why Lenny Ben-David’s book American Interests in the Holy Land begins its journey with the Puritans and their fascinating connection to the spirit of the Bible and the concept of Zion. However, we quickly move to the book’s real point of departure, the 19th century, which saw the beginning of modern photography, and was a turning point in Jewish as well as American presence in Palestine.

The book is a sort of Zionist coffee-table book for curious readers with a taste for visual history, built in the form of short, independent photo-essays, each presenting the reader with a specific story, or figure, through related photographs.

One of these, for example, is the story of John Mendenhall Diness – an ex-Jewish yeshiva student who was born in Odessa, studied in Heidelberg (Germany), finding himself eventually in Jerusalem. There, he converted to Christianity and became one of the earliest professional photographers in Palestine, providing valuable documentation of Jerusalem and its surroundings (Diness’s photographic heritage left us, for example, one of the earliest photos of Jews at the Western Wall, taken in 1859).

He eventually moved to the US, where he became a preacher. His collection of photos and the man behind them were completely unknown to scholars and research until the end of the 1980s, when the photos were accidentally found in a garage sale by a photography expert. This discovery led to them being made available to the public.

Each chapter is accompanied with photographs related to its subject matter.

The format is clear: A short story, quotes, and of course photos.

The author also included many – and sometimes very long (albeit interesting) – excerpts from 19th century accounts from travelers and enthusiasts about Palestine (ranging from Mark Twain to president Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state), and especially about its Jewish and American populations.

An intriguing figure that Ben-David dedicates a chapter to is Lydia Von Finkelstein Montford, a performer, lecturer about the Land of Israel and a journalist.

She was born in Jerusalem in 1855 and died in the US in 1917, and her interesting accounts of life in Jerusalem, as quoted in the book, offer a unique viewpoint.

The industrious reader will start his or her journey in the 19th century and will move on, with some detours, to the 20th century, and the establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence in 1948.

BEN-DAVID’S book is a very personal endeavor…. In the introduction, he explains that “perhaps by oversight or malicious intent, some historic photographic albums and collections ignore the graphic proof of Jewish life in the Holy Land over the last 160 years.”

This book, we are led to understand, strives to redress this misrepresentation….

The general feeling of the book is that of an interested observer who has undertaken the mission to explain his overall message – that the Jews have been here for a very long time, contrary to widespread propaganda. Indeed, this book actually started out as a blogger’s quest and most of the photos in the book are available and accessible for anyone to see online, through the author’s website – – that preceded the book.

Ben-David is not a historian, but he understands the power of photography and clearly enjoys it.

The fact that this is not an academic book has advantages, as well as obvious disadvantages. One of the pluses is that the reader may feel a certain companionship with the author, who can be seen as giving his guest a tour in his private gallery. The downside is that not everything is satisfactorily explained.

Nonetheless, anyone who picks up this book will surely be interested in meandering through its pages, with a 100% chance of coming across something that will spark his or her curiosity.

American Interests in the Holy Land, Lenny Ben David
Urim Publications, 2017
Hardcover, 184 pages

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Review of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring by Joseph Polak

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A similarly artful framing may be found in Joseph Polak’s slender work After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring. Like Kulka, Polak was a child survivor. Whereas the Israeli historian was a boy of seven when the family’s nightmare started in Prague, Polak was a mere infant when his mother became an inmate at Bergen Belsen in 1944. The older child had suppressed personal recollections of the Shoah for the sake of scientific inquiry. The infant from the Hague had pushed off recalling his first steps among the corpses by becoming a noted professor and rabbi at Boston University.

Polak’s memoir also struggles with language explicitly. A key chapter in his book takes the shape of a metaphysical drama, a play for two voices deeply anchored in Jewish texts. The soul of the infant and his angel are arguing moments before the mother starts giving birth. Both are able to see across worlds and time. Both know about the disaster that is already leading more than a million children to their deaths. Rightfully, the infant’s soul proclaims: “I am not going into that inferno.” [Joseph Polak, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2015), 4.16 Ibid., 30.]

The angel, hastened by the mother’s dilating cervix, wants to cut the conversation short, but at the same time the heavenly messenger cannot lie. He explains to the child that he is condemned not to be among the martyred children but among those who will have to bear witness. The question for both the angel and the soul centers on where is God.

Only a highly evocative writer can picture for us the Beit Midrash, the Celestial Study Hall, where God has exiled himself to be both near and far from the murdered children’s crying. In the Hall of Judgment, where God should have been, sit the children, “their faces ashen, their hair grey, weeping, weeping, not understanding.” These are not exactly stage directions in a conventional literary sense, but they do guide the moral imagination into crevices where theories of phatic language cannot penetrate. Pared down to the bare bones, these words create a listening space in which the reader is both accosted and elevated.

This double impact is more powerful for not being sought. The best writers about the Shoah are those who allow the reader to glimpse their own reluctance to enter the nightmare. Kulka, like Levi and Polak, avoids reading and adding to Holocaust literature. He confronts the Shoah within himself and does not become one of the easily classified Holocaust writers. This confrontation takes place despite words. It is as if language had been squeezed through the roughest wringer and only its darkest stains remain. Kulka speaks eloquently about the thwarted desire to “smash and shatter the invisible wall of the city forbidden to me”—the city in which life goes on as if the Shoah did not happen (82). But the metropolis of death keeps reclaiming him. The boy who skirted “piles of skeletons of the corpses” on the way to the youth hut to practice music and black humor keeps haunting the historian who had already addressed Nazi ideology in his scientific research (84). The willful doubling up of the language of death haunts the reader as well, and thereby casts a new light upon the Shoah.

Similarly, Polak, draws us into the barracks of Bergen Belsen where typhus infected inmates are literally drowning in their own feces. Terrence Des Pres had already circled this nightmare skillfully in his 1976 book The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps. What is new in Polak’s evocation of the “excremental assault” is the understated but forceful tone that the twenty-first century needs in order to stem the tide of willful forgetting. This tone is most evident in small details about a mother who weighs less than fifty pounds and who is so weak that she cannot lift her buttocks off the floor while yellow stool bubbles on her thighs. No one wants to linger on this image, none of us wants to inhale the stench. Neither does the author, the son of a cultured woman reduced to the kind of helplessness we all want to avoid. But it is precisely in allowing avoidance its linguistic space that we are enabled to see what is impossible to conceive.

Vera Schwarcz, “To Catch the Echo: Rethinking Acts of Witnessing to the Shoah” in History and Theory 54 (October 2015), 436–437.