The COVID-19 coronavirus claimed another prominent victim this week, this one a treasured member of the Jewish community.
Rabbi Avraham HaKohen ‘Romi’ Cohn, z’l, passed away Tuesday at the age of 92 after struggling for several days with pneumonia following hospitalization a few days prior with COVID-19 symptoms.
Rabbi Cohn z’l spent his life showering mitzvot upon countless Jewish male infants and their parents, all without fanfare, without publicity and without recompense. He was the brother of Rabbi Shlomo Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Melbourne, and was also known for having founded Keren Avrohom HaKohen.
Born in 1929 in Pressburg, Czechoslovakia, the rabbi grew up in a warm and caring Jewish family where local yeshiva students were often hosted – until 1942, when the Nazis invaded the country. Romi was smuggled by his parents into Hungary and for a while he was safe there learning in the Puppa Yeshiva University, but once the Nazis came to the country, Romi returned to Czechoslovakia to join the underground.
As a young partisan, he risked his life repeatedly to help others at the tender age of sixteen, yet he was instrumental in saving the lives of fifty six families during the Holocaust. He was later awarded the Silver Star Medal of Honor in recognition of his valor. The remarkable stories of his courage, his bravery, and his heroic endeavors during those horrific war years are recounted in his book, The Youngest Partisan.
Rabbi Cohn’s mother, two sisters, and two brothers perished in a concentration camp during the Holocaust but he miraculously survived. When he left Europe in 1950, he traveled by way of Canada to Brooklyn, where he met and married his wife Malvine.
A well-known businessman and developer in Staten Island’s construction industry, Romi Cohn headed a company that would build 3500 homes in the borough of Staten Island, and earn him the title of Vice President of the Home Builders Association and Director of the Chamber of Commerce in Staten Island. In recognition of his service to this community Wagner College awarded Romi Cohn an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
A Chossid of the Ribnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Zanvil Abramovitz, zt’l, Rabbi Romi Cohn z’l was a mohel who performed thousands of britei mila (circumcisions) for which he declined to receive payment. He also trained other young mohels, more than a hundred, in fact – on the condition they too would accept upon themselves the mitzvah of performing this service “l’shma” – for its own value, and specifically not for payment.
Rabbi Cohn also transmitted his knowledge by writing books; he was the author of ‘Bris Avraham HaKohen’ – a comprehensive tome on the mitzvah of circumcision – and served as chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision.
In addition, the rabbi established a scholarship foundation to support outstanding Torah scholars and their families. The foundation, established 35 years ago, is active to this day and has helped provide the safety net of support that has allowed budding rabbis to growing into becoming leaders of Jewish communities.
Last month, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rabbi Cohn delivered the Opening Prayer before the US House of Representatives.
Most recently, Romi Cohn published his newest and final book, The Ribnitzer Rebbe, which tells the story of his mentor, the Rebbe.
Baruch HaDayan HaEmet.