James Cohen

Blog

Written by Fray Hochstein, on behalf of Team ROI

How many of us can say that we not only talk the talk but also walk the walk? Boston-born James was living in Miami with his two foster (now adopted) children and working in the hospitality and food-distribution sector. He would often spend his days off volunteering with his family. As they were leaving a homeless shelter at the end of one such day, his son said to him: “Abba, you are so happy when you do volunteer work, and not so happy when you come home from your real work. So why not do more of that?” Out of the mouths of babes, as they say. James realized that there was no reason why his skills, honed in the corporate arena, couldn’t be used to try and make the world a better place. He decided to switch course and left the for-profit world to fundraise for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. A staunch LGBTQ activist, when the opportunity came to work for Keshet, a Boston-based organization working towards LGBTQ equality in the Jewish community, he took his family back up north.  

Although raised in a secular Jewish family, James’ journey led him to become increasingly committed to Judaism and to pluralism in the Jewish community, as well as to ensuring that all Jews have access to the full gamut of ritual and practice. To that end, in addition to working at Keshet James also serves on the board of the local Hevra Kadisha, which prepares the Jewish dead for burial. Although not perhaps an obvious choice, James has come to learn how deeply spiritual it is to serve the dead on this last part of their journey. He also saw that although there are separate rituals for male and female bodies, there was none for transgender and nonbinary bodies, and is now working to create them. In addition, James’ experience of raising two black children in a mostly white Jewish community has led to his involvement in antiracism issues, including organizing a two-part gathering in Boston for local synagogues and Jewish community relations councils on anti-racist best practices, a program enabled by an ROI Grassroots Events grant. 

James became interested in ROI after being told that it was a community of doers, people actively working for change in the Jewish community, and the best place to connect with people who were getting things done. He has not been disappointed. “Being in ROI is like having access to a rolodex (and yes I know that I’m really dating myself now!) full of the people you want to talk to. It enabled me to be a better professional and broaden my impact in the Jewish community. When I have a question or something I need, I know that there is this bunch of talented people who will take my call.” It has also enhanced his social activism and his sense of what he as an individual and a professional can accomplish. James, now a Schusterman Fellow, also credits ROI with expanding his Jewish identity. “It brought home to me that there is this global Jewish community and that I am a part of that. I knew that Jews are everywhere, but meeting people from “everywhere” and having these connections to them is incredible.” 

Photo credit of hero image: Noa Magger Photography