Local humanitarian remembered for his work with the Jewish community

Local humanitarian remembered for his work with the Jewish community

Humanitarian with a passion for Cuban Jewish community

Stanley Cohen, a Pittsburgh native recognized for his humanitarian work and the tireless efforts he made for Jews throughout the world, died on June 22. He was 84.

Cohen was the president and chairman of the board for the Pittsburgh Jewish National Fund.

Board President Steve Schwartz recalled that, “The board of trustees looked up to him for guidance and insight during his time as president. During Stanley’s presidency locally, JNF was a thriving fund, having the capabilities to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Israel.”

While at JNF, he created the “Guardian of Israel Award” which, according to Amy Cohen, the fund’s director, “best exemplifies the highest standard of devotion and service to our community and the state of Israel.” Twenty-five Pittsburghers have received the award since it was created.

More than 1,000 trees have been donated to Israel as part of Cohen’s work with JNF.

Cohen also served on the board of directors of B’nai B’rith International, the oldest Jewish service organization in the world. In 1995, he created the B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief project. The not-for-profit’s mission includes bringing religious materials to the Jewish population in Cuba, as well as medicine and other necessities.

His son, Andrew, remembers that, “after he retired he worked full time for the Jews in Cuba. That was his work and his passion.”

According to Rhonda Love, vice president of programming for B’nai B’rith International, “When B’nai B’rith began its Cuban Jewish Relief Project … the Jewish community was just emerging from decades of struggle to preserve its traditions and culture. B’nai B’rith was one of the first humanitarian organizations … to spearhead the bright revival of Jewish life in Cuba. Stan served as chair of the project and was an integral part of the project’s goal to bring humanitarian relief and hands-on support to the Cuban Jewish community.”

Cohen wrote about why he felt moved to help the Cuban Jewish community.

“I traveled alone to Cuba. The Soviets had taken $6 billion out of the Cuban economy. Life was very hard. I found desperate need. The synagogues were in disrepair. The main synagogue in Havana was falling apart and the entire Jewish population was in need.”

His work in the southern hemisphere wasn’t confined to Cuba.

Love explained, “He was instrumental in creating the B’nai B’rith Communities in Crisis project [while] serving as the chair of the Brother’s Brother Foundation, which receives donated medical supplies and pharmaceuticals from drug manufacturers.” The project brought aid to the people of Argentina and was expanded to other countries in Latin America, where it continues today.

While working with Brother’s Brother, Cohen visited Nicaragua and El Salvador, bringing supplies and assessing needs. While there, an earthquake occurred. Cohen worked with various agencies to provide food from the H.J. Heinz Co.

Cohen was detained briefly by the KGB during a mission to the Soviet Union with the United Jewish Federation. As part of the mission, “we provided religious supplies to the Jewish community. I worked with the ‘Refuseniks,’ persons wanting to immigrate to Israel. The KGB detained me for bringing certain items they claimed were not permitted.”

He worked on the board of other not-for-profit Jewish organizations as well, including Israel Bonds and The Holocaust Commission at the United Jewish Federation. In 2004, Cohen was awarded the National Man of the Year award from B’nai Zion.

While he will be remembered for his international work, Cohen strove to make a difference locally as well. He was a board member at Tree of Life synagogue and served on other local boards.

Cohen spent 37 years leading his family’s business with his brother Paul, the Art. R. Cohen Co., an international store fixture and display company. Paul Cohen remembered him as a “wonderful brother. We were in business together for 40 years. What a wonderful relationship we had.”

His son, Andrew, recalled his father, “had a very, very positive view of the world and for everybody. He especially loved his family.”

In addition to his son and brother, Cohen is survived by his grandson, Samuel, as well as nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews.  pjc

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@