Ruth Cohen – A Tribute

Ruth Cohen z”l

Ruth Cohen passed away very suddenly on 28 January 2023 at home after a short spell in hospital. It was a peaceful end, with her family at her bedside.

Ruth was a child of the Second World War. Like many other children from the London area she was separated from her parents and sent to a rural part of northern England to escape German bombing. The post-war years were tough and I believe framed her steely character. For steely she was – but with a big heart and innate understanding of the human psyche. This was her style in her leadership years  –  in the British Reform Movement in the 1980s and early 1990s (please click here for separate tribute from the Movement for Reform Judaism) and later in the international Progressive Movement (Chair of the WUPJ).

Ruth led from the front. In every sense. She was well prepared for meetings, read and raised questions on material that was presented to her, was there for every important meeting and occasion. She spoke with sincerity and authority – whether at a committee meeting or at a major event. She gave of her best and was unaccepting of those who did not. Ruth was a demanding leader who led by example.

Ruth rose to prominence in the WUPJ in the late 1990s. She was English and a woman – in an American male-dominated WUPJ leadership. I remember how she stood out at a long-term planning meeting of the WUPJ Executive in New York in 1995 which she moderated. She would not let the meeting conclude without clear action points and defined personal responsibilities.

As Chair of the WUPJ Ruth was particularly active in the European scene at a time of geographic expansion of the Progressive movement. There were key meetings in Germany concerning recognition. With confidence and style, Ruth presented herself as the senior lay leader of a worldwide movement. This was gender equality in action! After Ruth had completed her term as Chair of the WUPJ she became President and then Honorary Life President of the EUPJ.

Ruth was the ever-charming hostess whose fridge could produce miraculous ‘snacks’ at short notice as well as a groaning Shabbat dinner table for family and friends.  In their later years Ruth and Harvey z’l built their dream house in Israel which they enjoyed together while Harvey was still alive. Ruth continued to live there with her beloved cats after Harvey’s death, enjoying visits from her grandchildren who played in her beautiful garden.

Ruth and Harvey, who passed away four years ago, were more than a devoted couple; they operated as a smooth-running partnership. Harvey supported Ruth’s activities with keen interest and Ruth relied on Harvey’s wise sense of judgement.

We will remember Ruth as an outstanding leader of our Movement at congregational, national, regional and international levels. May her memory be for a blessing.

Leslie Bergman
EUPJ Honorary Life President

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