“Can I grab a chair and swing it around?” said Rabbi Barry Cohen, community chaplain, as he approached a nearly full table in Rose Schnitzer Manor’s Newmark Dining Room. With Rabbi Cohen, there’s always space at the table for one more. He pulls out the remaining chair and joins the group over veggie omelettes, bagels and lox, fresh fruit, coffee and tea. “How’re things?” he asks. “How’s breakfast?”
Welcome to Breakfast with Rabbi Barry Cohen. Take a seat.
Originally from Memphis and now a Portland transplant from the Chicago suburbs, Rabbi Cohen was ordained a Reform rabbi in 1998, and he engaged in extra training to become a chaplain. He and his family, including 15-year-old fraternal twins, moved to Portland in August 2018.
Prior to summer 2018 the Federation had committed to creating a community chaplain position to fill the myriad of gaps that had become recognized over time, particularly for the unaffiliated. But Rabbi Cohen — officially the community chaplain of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland — has greatly expanded his original job description.
Marc Blattner, the Federation’s executive director explained, “In partnership with the Oregon Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Federation felt it was important to have a community chaplain to support the needs of non-synagogue members. Rabbi Barry Cohen has extended his efforts to reach out to Jews wherever they are, including Rose Schnitzer Manor, to bring comfort, care, and activities to seniors and others in our community.”
Rabbi Cohen’s own mother is in a Houston-based residence that he says is similar to Rose Schnitzer Manor (RSM). He said he’s aware how connected she remains to the Jewish community there and how important that is to her emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. He wanted to create a similar inroad to keep connections alive for our own at RSM. “They’ve given so much to the Jewish community,” he said of RSM’s Jewish residents. “I just want them to know, ‘You’re still a part of us.’”