President Barack Obama has indicated his intention to appoint Rabbi Abba Cohen to “a key Administration post,” according to a recent White House announcement. The proposed appointment would make Rabbi Cohen a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
The Commission is an independent federal agency, which was established 30 years ago through legislation introduced by the late Brooklyn Representative Stephen Solarz and the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Under the law, the Commission is to identify and report on endangered cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in Europe – associated with the heritage of U.S. citizens – and to obtain, in cooperation with the Department of State, assurances from the 29 governments of the region that the properties will be protected and preserved. Many Jewish sacred sites have been safeguarded and restored through the Commission’s efforts.
Rabbi Cohen, who serves as Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director, has over the past 25 years worked with top State Department officials, Commission members, Congressional leaders, and foreign representatives in facilitating such projects. He was introduced to this work by the late, revered Agudath Israel leaders Rabbi Moshe Sherer and Rabbi Chaskel Besser, who were trailblazers in making the protection and restoration of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and other religious and historic sites a Jewish community priority. Highlighting this critical need to Congressional leaders eventually led to the Commission’s establishment.
While the Commission is concerned with sites integral to the heritage of all Americans, communal properties that are associated with the history and culture of the Jewish people represent a particularly compelling need. The extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis was accompanied by the destruction, desecration, and deterioration of Jewish properties. This persisted under subsequent anti-Semitic Communist regimes, which hindered access to Americans who wanted to ensure preservation of the sites. Many Jewish properties continue to be endangered, particularly due to the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel of America’s Executive Vice President, said, “We at Agudath Israel are so proud of Rabbi Cohen. This is not only a well-deserved honor for him, it is a wonderful development for the vital cause the Commission was established to address. Abba brings to this position experience, intelligence, thoroughness, passion and know-how, and we have every confidence he will be a major asset to the Commission.”