REMEMBER AMALEK – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
“Remember Amalek,” says this week’s special Torah reading for Shabat Zakhor, the Sabbath of Remembrance, preceding Purim. Our ancestors deliberately remembered brutal and crafty enemies like Amalek, and our sages linked them to subsequent threats like Haman, whose downfall we will commemorate on Purim. Appropriately, the Cohon Memorial Foundation will take this Sabbath to honor a man whose career involves remembering and recognizing enemies of the Jewish people, past and present, and working to defeat them today. That man is Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is the winner of the 2015 Cohon Award. This annual cash award, named for my parents, Rabbi Samuel S. and A. Irma Cohon, honors individuals for outstanding service that benefits Klal Yisrael – the entire Jewish People. Rabbi Cooper will be honored in a special ceremony during Friday evening services at Temple Emanu-el in Tucson Arizona. Previous winners have qualified in one of four areas: Unity, Education/Information, Creative Arts, and Rescue. This year, the winner qualifies in all four. Let me tell you about him.
From his headquarters at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Cooper’s work takes him all over the world. Among his accomplishments are his Rescue efforts for Soviet Jewry in the ’70s, and his nearly 30 years work with the late Simon Wiesenthal himself, probably the most influential survivor of the Holocaust. Along with the Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier he established the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which hosts hundreds of young students every weekday, as well as thousands of adult visitors through the year. He is now building a companion museum in Jerusalem. Other Informational and Educational efforts of Rabbi Cooper’s include co-producing live exhibitions and film documentaries on Anne Frank and other Holocaust subjects, his editorship of Response Magazine, and his editorials in leading newspapers in America, Europe and Asia. Frequently he is in the news for his negotiations with heads of state and with UN officials. Just recently at the Vatican, he opened a UNESCO exhibit which he designed, a Creative display of Jewish history, values and connection to the Land of Israel, commemorating 50 years of positive Catholic-Jewish relations.
Cited by Newsweek magazine in 2007 among the topmost influential rabbis in the United States, Rabbi Cooper also travelled to Khartoum in 2004 to meet with Sudan’s president, and has met with the king of Jordan, president of Indonesia, and former Grand Mufti of Egypt. In Asia he helped counter negative stereotypes and opened new dialogues in Japan, South Korea, China and India. As the Cohon Foundation honors those whose work benefits the Jewish people of the world, not limited to national residence or religious affiliation, Rabbi Cooper offers a prime example of that work. An ordained Orthodox rabbi, he fights for all his people, from the most secular to the most pious. Unity is certainly a goal of his.
Yes, he remembers Amalek. Remembering is not enough, though. Not for him and not for us. We have work to do and wars to fight, to defeat Amalek’s descendants today. Our Purim tradition reminds us that Haman was one of those descendants. So were Tormquemada, Chmelnitzky, Hitler, Arafat. And some current enemies join that list. We bless Rabbi Cooper for his many achievements in defeating them. May we merit to follow his example.