New York City Rabbi Avraham Hakohen “Romi” Cohn, who survived the Holocaust and saved dozens of families from the genocide, has died of complications from coronavirus, a family member said Thursday. He was 91.
Cohn, who led the House of Representatives in opening prayer in January for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, died on Tuesday after being hospitalized last Friday, according to his sister-in-law, Judy Geld, and great nephew, Shulem Geldzahler.
Geldzahler said Cohn’s death certificate indicates he died of acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by pneumonia and Covid-19. Geldzahler said Cohn was tested for coronavirus but he was not aware of the result.
Rep. Max Rose, who represents the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn where Cohn served, recalled the rabbi’s “life of service” via Twitter on Tuesday, posting video of Cohn’s prayer before the House in January.
“Rabbi Cohn lived an incredible life of service, helping 56 families escape Nazi tyranny,” Rose wrote.
A native of Pressburg, Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia, Cohn was a 16-year-old member of the underground resistance when he helped save 56 families from the Holocaust — an episode recounted in his book, “The Youngest Partisan,” according to Yeshiva World News and a biography of the rabbi posted on Rose’s congressional website in January. He was born in 1929.
“Some people take four lives to live his life,” Geld said. “He died on his Hebrew birthday at 91 years old, which is a big deal in our Jewish religion. God gave him a full life to the last day.”
His mother, two sisters and two brothers died during the Holocaust, according to the biography.
Cohn later settled in New York, where he met his wife, Malvine, while living in Brooklyn, the biography said.
He started working in construction and eventually became a developer on Staten Island, where he ran a company that built 3,500 homes, according to the bio and his relatives.
Cohn was trained in the ritual of circumcision — a mohel — and performed thousands of circumcisions for which he refused payment, the bio said.
Considered an authority on the ritual, Cohn wrote an internationally recognized textbook on circumcision and was executive chairman of the American Board of Certified Mohelim.
“He was powerful,” Geld said. “He was decisive. He was extremely generous. He was a mohel — he gave circumcisions and he never took a dime. He did thousands of them.”
The rabbi established a scholarship foundation for Torah scholars and their families more than three decades ago, according to the bio on Rose’s website.
“He was a very humble guy,” Geldzahler said. “Everyone that knew him had an open door to him. No one was too small for him to talk to or explain something to. His house was always open for people to come and go.
“He was always with a smile and he always appreciated coming to him with the kids. He would give treats to the kids — lollipops and dollars.”
Geld said, “He was very good in the kitchen making potato pancakes. I used to say Rami’s are the best in the world. He loved to have guests in the house.”
Mendy Mirocznik, president of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Staten Island, called Cohn “a leader in commerce, a captain of the industry.”
“As powerful and as prestigious as he was in the real estate industry as a builder and developer, by the same token he was a humble, regular man,” Mirocznik said. “There was no ego, no aura of greatness with him. He made you feel like a million dollars.”