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Kindler of Souls. Rabbi Henry Cohen of Texas

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Kindler of Souls. Rabbi Henry Cohen of Texas. By Rabbi Henry Cohen II. Focus on American History Series. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2007. Pg. 176. 8 b&w Photos.) ISBN 10: 0-292-71461-0. ISBN 13: 978-0-292-71461-0.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 16, 2007

Kindler of Souls is the long overdue biography of Rabbi Henry Cohen of Texas, one of the most influential American Rabbis of his time. Born in England in 1863, he was ordained as a Rabbi in 1884. His first assignment took him to Kingston, Jamaica and from there to Mississippi, and later to Galveston, Texas which was to be his final home. Arriving in Galveston in 1888, he began work as the Rabbi for Temple B'nai Israel. Until his death in 1952, Rabbi Cohen was active in Jewish affairs and during the course of his long career he worked on Hurricane Relief missions, took on the Klu Klux Klan, served as a lieutenant in France during World War I, was an active participant in the Galveston movement, prison and immigration reform and he helped to develop a strong and well-organized Jewish community in Galveston.

In this detailed biography, written by Rabbi Cohen's grandson, Rabbi Henry Cohen II, the author provides a complete overview of Rabbi Cohen's life and deeds. Touching on both the Rabbi's private and public life, Rabbi Cohen II paints an intimate portrait of his grandfather, and illuminates just how influential he was in the community and in regard to American Jewish life as a whole. For example, in 1930, Rabbi Stephen Wise was asked to make a list of the "ten foremost religious leaders in this country" for publication in the New York Times. Of the ten men he named, the only Rabbi listed was Rabbi Cohen. He even came to the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, who called him the "Foremost Citizen of Texas." Rabbi Cohen was instrumental in helping to facilitate the Galveston Movement, a plan which was aimed at redirecting newly arriving Jewish immigrants from Eastern ports such as New York, to Galveston - both for political and economic reasons. Rabbi Cohen helped these new immigrants adjust to their new surroundings, helping them to find jobs and to establish homes throughout the South and Midwest. As well, according to The News Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, he "established a nationwide reputation for his broad-minded humanitarianism..."

As this book explains, Rabbi Cohen followed a reform philosophy, and he worked tirelessly for the betterment of both Jews and non-Jews alike, and even after he retired, he kept on working, as a Rabbi and as an activist. Unfortunately, like many great Rabbis, Rabbi Cohen is all but forgotten. Hopefully this book will rekindle interest in Rabbi Cohen's life and his service to the Jewish Community. This book is organized chronologically, and it includes the text of some of Rabbi Cohen's poems. (He once taught poetry at a lady's seminary!) From beginning to end, Kindler of Souls is a moving and loving account of a remarkable man. This book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Texas or Jewish History.

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