Jacob Xenab Cohen, papers
Scope and Content Note
The Papers of Jacob Xenab Cohen reflect his varied activities as an engineer and rabbi. Although the collection represents only a small portion of Rabbi Cohen's extant papers, there is a great deal of important material contained for the study of both American Jewish activism, and Jewish life in South America.
The collection is valuable to researchers interested in the history of the American Jewish Congress and its activities, in employment discrimination against American Jews, in anti-Semitism, in Jewish anti-Nazi activism, in liberal Jewish theology and in the Jewish communities of Brazil, Peru and Mexico, as well as the rest of Latin America.
The collection contains correspondence, memoranda, reports, articles, clippings, notes, speeches and ephemera. The vast majority of the items are in English, with some notations in Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese. Also included within the collection are condolences received by Sadie Cohen upon the death of her husband, and documentation on various institutions and programs endowed by her in his memory.
In compiling this Inventory, Rob Stephenson described the collection at the item level. Rob identified some seventeen separate folders (listed as "Items" in the Inventory) that ranged from loose-leaf binders, to folders, to small portfolios of handwritten notes taken by Rabbi Cohen on his travels. The researcher should note that items A and B, as referenced on the attached inventory, were loose-leaf binders which the Society's professional staff decided to disassemble in order to better preserve the items contained within them. Thus, while Rob's Inventory preserves the original order in which he found the collection, the researcher will find that the individual correspondence and materials listed under "Item A" and "Item B" have been transferred to file folders, and have been reorganized in a more sensible fashion. Each folder has been marked with an A or a B (or both, in some cases), to help the researcher correlate the item on the Inventory with the folders found in Box 1 of the collection.
- undated, 1913-1978
Language of Materials
The collection is in English, Hebrew, Portuguese, and Spanish.
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For reference questions, please email: email@example.com
Jacob Xenab Cohen (1889-1955)
Jacob Cohen was born in New York City to Lithuanian Jewish parents on August 15, 1889. As the eldest son of immigrant parents, young Jacob carried his parents' expectations for his success, as well as the responsibility of caring for numerous younger siblings after school. A quiet and dynamic young man, Jacob Cohen graduated from the Hebrew Technical Institute at the age of 17, and was immediately hired as a draftsman by a Brooklyn manufacturing company. In late 1906, the engineering firm of Herring and Fuller hired him, where by 1915 he had established his reputation as a sanitary engineer. Attending night school at Cooper Union, he achieved his B.S.C.E. in 1911, and was hired to teach night classes there in 1913. It was during this period that he adopted the middle name "Xenab" to distinguish himself from the other Jacob Cohens then living in New York.
In 1915, the newly-married "J. X." Cohen was hired by the City of Syracuse, New York, to design a Sewage Disposal Works. This work, carried out under the auspices of the Syracuse Intercepting Sewer Board, was completed in 1925. Long dedicated to Jewish liberalism and impressed by the example of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Cohen had been a founder of the Bronx Free Synagogue in 1914 and served as its first President. Thus, it was no surprise that, at the urging of friends, Cohen entered the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1925 to study for the rabbinate under Stephen Wise. By 1929, he had achieved both the rabbinical and M.H.L. degrees, and was immediately hired as Associate Rabbi of the Free Synagogue--a post he held for more than eleven years.
Cohen was also active with Stephen Wise in the American Jewish Congress, serving both on its Governing Council and as Chair of its National Committee on Economic Problems. From the latter post, he directed studies of employment discrimination of which the best known are "Jews, Jobs and Discrimination" (1937), "Helping to End Economic Discrimination" (1937), and "Toward Fair Play for Jewish Workers" (1938). Altogether, Cohen authored some 60 reports on employment discrimination against Jews and African Americans between 1930 and 1944. He was an outspoken advocate for FDR's Fair Employment Practices Commission. In 1940, he traveled to South America on behalf of the American Jewish Congress to survey the economic and political condition of Jewish communities throughout Latin America. The trip culminated in a book,"Jewish Life in South America," for which Stephen Wise penned a foreword.
J. X. demonstrated strong feelings for the welfare of others over the course of his career. In Syracuse, he was a member of the Board of Directors (later President) of the Jewish Communal Home and Secretary of the local Federation of Jewish Charities. He was subsequently appointed Executive Director of the Jewish Home for Aged. While at the Jewish Institute of Religion, he used these experiences in his masters thesis, titled "Ancient and Modern Care of the Aged--A Study of Paupers, Poorhouses and Pensions." As a rabbi, he continued his work for the less fortunate by chairing the Committee on the Jewish Chaplaincy of the New York Board of Rabbis and extending its work to hospitals, prison facilities and other institutions of social welfare.
acob X. Cohen's busy and dynamic career came to an abrupt end in 1950, when he was struck by a degenerative neurological illness which greatly depleted his physical capabilities. The last five years of his life were spent in his home, as a bedridden invalid, although he retained his mental faculties to the end. Hi died on April 24, 1955.
Cohen, Sadie Alta F. "Engineer of the Soul: A Biography of Rabbi J. X. Cohen (1889-1955)" (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1961). S. v., "Cohen, Jacob Xenab," "Universal Jewish Encyclopedia," vol. 3 (New York, 1941), p. 247.
- Born in Brooklyn, New York to Barnet Cohen and his wife Ida Weber Cohen, both originally from Meretz (Merkine), Lithuania
- Attended Hebrew Technical Institute; established lasting friendship with Principal Dr. Edgar Starr Barney
- May 1906
- Hired by Tuttle & Bailey Manufacturing Company (first job)
- Employed by Herring and Fuller, an engineering firm
- Attended Sundays meetings at the Hudson Theatre to hear Rabbi Stephen S. Wise
- Attended Cooper Union at night
- Graduated from Cooper Union with a B.S.C.E. degree; valedictorian of his class
- Met Sadie Alta Friedberg, a distant cousin
- Younger brother Henry dies of diphtheria
- Taught mechanical drawing at Cooper Union; completed ms. textbook on this subject
- Married Sadie Alta Friedberg
- Founded the Free Synagogue of the Bronx with Joseph M. Levine
- Hired by City of Syracuse, New York to design sewage disposal works
- April 1916
- Daughter Pauline born
- Enlisted in the Army Engineering Corps; assigned to Camp Knox, Kentucky
- Returned to Syracuse
- Appointed Executive Director of the Jewish Home for Aged of Central New York in Syracuse
- Sewer work in Syracuse completed; entered Jewish Institute of Religion
- Purchased land to construct his summer home at Mohegan Lake, near Peekskill
- Graduated Jewish Institute of Religion
- Hired as Associate Rabbi by the Free Synagogue and as Bursar of the Jewish Institute of Religion
- Executive Secretary of the Free Synagogue
- Appointed Chair of the Committee on Economic Problems of the American Jewish Congress
- Appointed Chair of the Peekskill Board of Water Commissioners
- Traveled to England, France, Germany and Russia with the Sherwood Eddy Seminar
- Traveled to Mexico with a group led by Dr. Hubert Herring
- President of the New York Board of Rabbis
- Traveled to South America with the Committee on Cultural Relations with Latin America as an official representative of the World Jewish Congress
- Became Chair of the Chaplaincy Committee of the New York Board of Rabbis
- Chaplaincy Committee and Psychiatric Department of Mount Sinai Hospital inaugurate a Chaplaincy Institute for "scientific" training of Jewish chaplains
- Took Leave of Absence from the Free Synagogue and the American Jewish Congress; later relinquishes all official duties
- April 1955
- Died of a degenerative neurological disorder
1.5 Linear Feet (3 manuscript boxes)
Consists of correspondence, articles, speeches, travel notes, ephemera and other documents pertaining to the career of a civil-engineer Jacob Xenab Cohen, who retired from that profession in 1924 to become a practicing rabbi. Includes materials from Cohen's campaigns against employment discrimination and Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe from 1932 to 1945.
The collection is organized into five series as follows:
- Series I: Biographical/Personal, undated, 1920, 1922-1978
- Series II: Engineering, undated, 1914, 1916-1917, 1919, 1921-1926, 1933
- Series III: Jewish Institute of Religion/Rabbinate, 1923-1978
- Series IV: American Jewish Congress, undated, 1931-1946
- Series V: Publications and Speeches, undated, 1925-1946
Donated by Sadie Alta Friedberg Cohen, widow of J. X. Cohen, in 1978.
- American Jewish Congress
- Argentina -- Social conditions
- Brazil -- Social conditions
- Cohen, Sadie Alta Friedberg
- Eddy, Sherwood, 1871-1963
- Jewish Institute of Religion (New York, N.Y.)
- New York Board of Rabbis
- Peru -- Social conditions
- Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (New York, N.Y.)
- Syracuse (N.Y.)
- United States. Committee on Fair Employment Practice
- Wise, Stephen S. (Stephen Samuel), 1874-1949
- Guide to the Papers of Jacob Xenab Cohen (1889-1955), undated, 1913-1978 *P-661
- Processed by Robert B. Stephenson, Holly Snyder (November 1994) and Marvin Rusinek (October 2006)
- © 2009
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- Description is in English.
- October 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.
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