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June 23, 1995 - Image 49

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-06-23

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Community Builder


Though he doesn't
talk much about
himself, Judge
Avern Cohn, this
year's Yeshiva Beth
Yehudah honoree,
is a pillar of
Jewish education
and other causes.

aybe it was a coincidence
that Avern Cohn was
earlier this year dedi-
cating the new beis
medresh (study hall) at
Yeshiva Beth Yehudah
in honor of his mother,
Sadie, and in memory of
his father, the late Irwin
Irwin Cohn chaired
the Yeshiva's building
committee 30 years ago.
This is, after all, hal-
lowed ground for the
Cohn family. Maybe ... maybe it
was just where the U.S. District
Court judge should have been.
Yet, in Judaism, we tend to
think more in terms of besherit
than coincidence.
There's something to be said
about the month of October in
Judge Cohn's life as well. On Oct.
9, 1979, Avern Cohn, then an at-
torney with the distinguished De-
troit firm of Honigman Miller
Schwartz and Cohn, was ap-
pointed to the federal bench by
President Jimmy Carter. On Oct.
22, Judge Cohn will be honored by
the Yeshiva at its annual dinner.
It should be no surprise that
Judge Cohn, 71, was named by
the Yeshiva as its 1995 honoree.
For years, he's served important
roles in support of the school, in-
cluding chairman of the dinner.
Much deeper than that, though,
comes a family commitment to
the entire Detroit Jewish com-
"My father had an important
interest in the Orthodox com-
munity," he recalled. "He grew
up in an Orthodox home. He al-
ways supported Orthodox Jew-
ish causes. And he was general
chairman of the Yeshiva dinner
as well.
"I have great respect for what
the school has done for this com-
munity. I'm trying to do my part."
Judge Cohn does his part in a
way that many respect. He's
short on words, some would say
tough. Inside, though, is a man
who listens to what he hears in a
way that mixes the analytical
with things and feelings Jewish.
Not surprisingly, he was reluc-
tant to talk of himself. But oth-
ers weren't.
"Avern is unique," said Alan E.
Schwartz, a colleague and friend
for some 60 years. "He has un-
limited energy, an enormous in-
terest and capacity to learn and
to absorb. He is a renaissance
man in the sense that he appre-

ciates so much that is out there
— science, culture, arts, the law.
I don't know of anyone more pas-
sionate in the pursuit of justice
than Avern."
Mr. Schwartz remembers Av-
ern Cohn as a friend of his older
brother, Cyril. Mr. Schwartz
tagged around with his brother
and Mr. Cohn.
"It was a family friendship,"
said Mr. Schwartz. "We always
knew each other. We really be-
came friends after he became an
attorney in Detroit and after I be-
came an attorney in Detroit."
Mr. Cohn joined Mr.
Schwartz's law firm in 1961 and
worked as a partner until his ju-
dicial appointment.
Another friend of Judge Cohn
is longtime U.S. District Court
Judge John Feikens, who was ap-
pointed to the bench by the late
President Richard M. Nixon in
"Avern is a very bright and en-
thusiastic individual and an ex-
cellent colleague," said Judge
Feikens. "He's untiring, always
looking for solutions when there
don't seem to be obvious answers.
I think he's the conscience of our
court. That doesn't mean I always
agree with him."
Judge Cohn and Judge
Feikens worked closely on the
dedication and renaming of the
U.S. District Court building in
honor of the late Judge Theodore
Before his judicial appoint-
ment, Judge Cohn held positions
on the Michigan Social Welfare
Commission, the Michigan Civil
Rights Commission and the De-
troit Board of Police Commis-
He is a past president of the
Jewish Welfare Federation and
past vice president of the Amer-
ican Jewish Committee.
"He has a strong commitment
to our Jewish history in Detroit,
as well as a sense about the fu-
ture," said another Jewish com-
munity leader, David Hermelin.
"He's a great example of perpet-
uating from generation to gener-
ation. I think Avern's a great gift
to this community. He says
what's on his mind and you know
where you stand with him. He's
so decisive."
"Judge Cohn is a man of great
intellect," said Yeshiva Beth
Yehudah President Gary Torgow.
"His vision and foresight and as-
sociation with the Yeshiva is a
source of great inspiration to the

Judge Cohn: Community leader and builder.

entire institution." His special
qualities are valued by the Jew-
ish community, as well.
"We've got a highly organized
Jewish community," Judge Cohn
said. 'There are many, many fine
people at work. And we're the
type of community that finds new
projects on which to focus our en-
ergies. Maybe the biggest chal-
lenge we face as a community,
though, is outside influence and
"It's important for our com-
munity to maintain its core val-
ues — you need that as a people
to survive. You see that at a place
such as the Yeshiva.
"You know, there was a time
that when you went to confirma-
tion exercises, you saw the pho-
tos of the high-school kids, and
you'd see that they came from
only two or three schools in the
area, because that's where the
Jews lived. But that's changed.
Now our Jewish community is
widespread and assimilating.

Now you see kids from 18 or 19
different schools.
"I went to Central High School
where 80 percent of the school
was Jewish. You don't see that
anymore. That's why you have a
day-school movement. Living as
a Jew is different for many. Most
remember a time when almost
everyone walked to synagogue on
Shabbat, when we all lived in the
same neighborhoods. We did
everything together. Now, we're
all over the community.
"So that makes it more impor-
tant than ever to educate our chil-
dren as Jews. A school like the
Yeshiva provides that role, be-
cause our world isn't as internal-
ly Jewish as it once was."
Maybe this community leader
has his finger on exactly the di-
rection the Jewish community
needs to go. But there's hardly
a maybe when it comes to his
work with the Jewish communi-
ty and the Yeshiva. In both cas-
es, it's got to be besherit.

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