Rabbi Barry Cohen Offers Connection, Support

Two older men are sitting at a table having a friendly conversation. One man with white hair and glasses is wearing a dark shirt, while the other, in a checkered shirt, is gesturing with his hands. They share a deep connection as their discussion flows in the well-lit room with neutral off-white walls.

The Jewish community chaplain, Rabbi Barry Cohen, is going to be spending more time at Cedar Sinai Park!

“Before Covid, Rabbi Barry used to come to breakfast once a week to spend time with the residents and have conversations,” said Spiritual Life Coordinator Cathy Zheutlin. “Now that Covid is on the wane, he will be here for one-to-one visits throughout the campus every Monday. In addition to occasionally leading Shabbat and other holiday services, he’ll offer some educational opportunities.”

Rabbi Barry grew up in Memphis, but was in the Midwest for school and much of his career. He and his family moved to Oregon in 2018, and Rabbi Barry joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland as its community chaplain.

Besides Cedar Sinai Park, Rabbi Barry visits seniors at 11 other retirement communities in the Portland area.

“A lot of people feel like they are on the outside looking in when they are Jewish living at a non-Jewish facility,” he said. “There are definitely times during the year when Jewish residents in non-Jewish facilities feel very lonely.

“In elder communities all across the city, people are really looking for connections. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the same or different religion, most elders are looking for someone to spend time with them.

“You never know what kind of interaction you’re going to have,” added Rabbi Barry. “Sometimes, it’s surface level, and other times it’s a very engaging conversation, and then once we have a personal connection, it can go deeper into the spiritual arena.”

“What I’m offering is support, where I’m present and actively listening, being as compassionate as possible.”

Robison Jewish Health Center/Harold Schnitzer Center for Living resident David Cohen (no relation to Rabbi Barry) said the Rabbi’s visits are wonderful. “I never really went to synagogue, but it’s nice to be able to talk to a rabbi,” he said.

“This is a good place,” said Rabbi Barry. “I like how it’s filled with a diversity of residents, but at the same time, you know you’re walking into a Jewish space.

“When you meet the residents and find out where they’re from, it doesn’t take long before you’ve made a connection. And then that connection leads to a conversation with someone else, and then that leads to a class you’re teaching on a Jewish topic or a worship service you’re leading, and the conversation goes from there.

“It’s hard to quantify, but when you walk into Rose Schnitzer Manor, it feels different here.”