Klal Yisroel lost one of its pioneering Torah builders and Torah soldiers on Tuesday with the passing of Rav Henoch Cohen, longtime chairman of Chinuch Atzmai.
Rav Henoch was a member of the pioneering generation of North American bnei Torah who were raised on American shores before the Holocaust and became swept up in the holy fire of the profound ahavas haTorah of the gedolim they met.
Rav Henoch spent most of his life working on behalf of chinuch for children in Eretz Yisroel under the auspices of Chinuch Atzmai. He became the right-hand man of Rav Aharon Kotler, working hand in hand with the illustrious rosh yeshiva for nine years, and he continued working under the other gedolei Yisroel decades thereafter. His mesirus nefesh to meet the budgetary needs of the organization and the holy fire of ahavas haTorah that burned within him and spurred him to accomplish on behalf of chinuch of Jewish children were felt by anyone who came into contact with him.
Rav Henoch was raised in Ottawa, Ontario by deeply G-d-fearing parents who were moser nefesh for their children to receive a Torah-true chinuch. As a young boy, he was sent by his parents to Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, where he was greatly inspired by his rabbeim.
Rav Cohen spent decades working with gedolei Yisroel, led by Rav Aharon Kotler, in the battle for the souls, faith and religiosity of Jewish children in the Holy Land. He was a treasure trove of enthralling stories about the painstaking efforts and labor that were invested in this sacred task, as he long served as an important figure in the undertaking.
Rav Aharon Kotler, who felt a tremendous sense of responsibility for what was happening in Eretz Yisroel, founded Chinuch Atzmai and enlisted the help of rabbonim, roshei yeshiva and rebbes to assist him in getting the enterprise up and running and maintaining it.
Rav Aharon asked Rav Henoch to help out for a short time, but those few months turned out to be more than 50 years.
Rav Henoch was a talmid at Yeshivas Torah Vodaas when the rosh yeshiva, Rav Gedaliah Schorr, asked him to go to Los Angeles with Rav Simcha Wasserman to establish a yeshiva there. The mesivta opened with 14 bar-mitzvah-age boys and Rav Henoch taught them Gemara. Rav Henoch was there for two-and-a-half years, and it was just before Pesach when Rav Henoch went home to New York. His mother asked him to stay in town until Elul for shidduch purposes, because in those days, the journey from New York to California was very long.
One week after Pesach, Rav Henoch got a call from Rav Aharon Kotler, whose talmid, R’ Yaakov Weisberg, had known Rav Henoch from childhood and recommended to Rav Aharon that Rav Henoch be asked to join Chinuch Atzmai. Rav Aharon told him that he had heard that he was going to stay in New York at least until Elul. Rav Aharon was planning to host the first dinner for Chinuch Atzmai and he asked Rav Henoch to join for three months to help organize the dinner.
The dinner was supposed to take place a few days after Sukkos, but in the end it was delayed and was held in Teves, 5716. For Rav Henoch, the “delay” went on for a good many years more, turning into a yovel.
From then until his last years, Rav Henoch was director and representative of Chinuch Atzmai in America, a role he filled with great dedication and success.
In a remarkable letter written to Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in the 1950s that provides insight into the tremendous esteem that Rav Aharon had for Rav Henoch, Rav Aharon says: “Rav Henoch Cohen, the menahel of our office, is travelling to Eretz Yisroel today. He displays tremendous mesirus nefesh in the way that he runs the office and he is a very dear and special bochur, who is a yirei Shomayim with upright middos. He is a former maggid shiur at the yeshiva in Los Angeles led by Rav Simcha Wasserman, the son of Hagaon Rav Elchonon zt”l, Hy”d… He will update you and brief you on everything…”
Rav Henoch accrued tremendous zechusim throughout his lifetime, and he goes to the Olam Ha’emes with the Torah and mitzvos of thousands of Jewish children to his credit.
A number of years ago, Rav Henoch realized his lifelong dream of moving to Eretz Yisroel, where his two children lived. Rav Henoch was predeceased by his wife and by his son, Rav Mordechai Cohen zt”l, who tragically passed away two years ago. He is survived by his daughter, Mrs. Ahuva Svei, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichro boruch.