Public interest lobbyist and Tifereth Israel Congregation member David Cohen died on Sunday of a heart attack at his son Aaron Cohen’s Westport, Conn., home, according to The Washington Post. He was 79.
A 1957 graduate of Temple University with a B.A. in history, since the 1960s Cohen was active in many social justice and political reform movements, including leading a fight for Congress to end its support of the Vietnam War and serving as president of good-government group Common Cause from 1975 to 1981.
Tifereth Israel Rabbi Ethan Seidel called Cohen a “calm and optimistic presence” who was respectful and an excellent listener who in turn was “very much admired” in the congregation.
“He was one of the lions of the synagogue. He didn’t have a big ego or anything but he just really stood for a lot of what Tifereth Israel is about — learning and involvement in our tradition but also consciousness and social justice,” said Seidel.
He led the Professionals Coalition for Nuclear Arms Control from 1982 to 1992. In the mid-1980s Cohen co-founded The Advocacy Institute with Michael Pertschuk. According to Cohen’s biography on his website, while at The Advocacy Institute he “pioneered the Institute’s work in its international capacity building programs.”
Cohen, a Washington resident, served on the advisory council for J Street, the self-described pro-peace, pro-Israel lobbying group.
“I had the chance to meet him in the very early stages of forming J Street, and it was such a privilege to be able to draw on the decades and decades of experience that David had in moving the public debate on difficult and contentious issues,” recalled J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. “He was so wise and so strategic, and of all the people that I met over the course of the years as we were putting this together I found him to be one of the most insightful and valuable advisers that we had.” He said he was “deeply saddened to have lost him as a friend and adviser.”
David Pesach Cohen was born in Philadelphia on Oct. 10, 1936. His father immigrated to the United States from England and his mother was from Eastern Europe.
His wife, Carla Furstenberg Cohen, who died in 2010, was a co-owner of the independent Washington bookstore Politics and Prose. The couple had been married 52 years.
In addition to the couple’s son, Cohen is survived by a daughter, Eve Cohen of San Francisco, and grandchildren Ry and Georgia Cohen, according to The Washington Post.
In a 2013 Labor Day interview with Pacific Standard, Cohen defended the profession of lobbying the government for the public good.
“Lobbying is part of practicing democracy,” said Cohen. “My mission is to take the mystery out of its tribal rites and make it sufficiently understood that others will enter the fray to pursue public interest ends. That’s good enough for me. I don’t need to be blessed for having done what I did.”