Rabbi Hillel Cohn

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Rabbi Hillel Cohn served as rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino from 1963 to 2001. A native of Germany, he was brought to the United States as an infant by his parents who were refugees from Nazism. Rabbi Cohn grew up in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. He received a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA in 1959. His rabbinical training was received at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and Cincinnati where he was ordained as a rabbi in 1963 and received a Master of Arts degree. He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Claremont School of Theology in 1984 specializing in ethics and communication. In 1988 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the Hebrew Union College.

Rabbi Cohn came to Congregation Emanu El in 1963 to serve as assistant rabbi to Rabbi Norman F. Feldheym. In 1964 he was named co-rabbi. Upon the retirement of Rabbi Feldheym in 1971 Rabbi Cohn became the senior rabbi of the Congregation. During his tenure he compiled numerous prayer books, oversaw the construction of the Norman F. Feldheym Religious Education Center and wrote two national award-winning curriculums for the Congregation’s Jewish education program. On the occasion of his 25th year of service to the Congregation the Social Hall was named the Rabbi Hillel Cohn Social Hall. The Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowment Fund was also established in his honor. Upon his retirement in June, 2001 Sisterhood established the Rabbi Hillel and Rita Cohn Campership Fund.

Rabbi Cohn has been active in many community organizations in the San Bernardino area. He now serves on the Institutional Review Board at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. He serves as a member of the Diocesan Health Care Committee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino. He was the founding chairperson of the City of San Bernardino Human Relations Commission and currently serves as a member of that commission. He produced and hosted “The Many Faces of San Bernardino: Dialogues on Diversity”, a regular half-hour program on KCSB (Channel 3). He was one of the founders of Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC). He currently serves as a board member of The Community Foundation of Riverside and San Bernardino, Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, The Unforgettables Foundation and The Brightest Star. 

Rabbi Cohn served for a number of years on the National Commission on Rabbinic-Congregational Relations of the reform movement, mediating problems between congregations and rabbis. He was the editor of two publications on rabbinic contracts. From 1999-2001 Rabbi Cohn served as Treasurer of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the national organization of reform rabbis. From 2001-2008 he served as editor of the CCAR Newsletter, the monthly publication of all reform rabbis in the world. He has served as president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. He is a past-president of the San Bernardino Clergy Association, the interdenominational ministerial group of the area. He served as president of the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis and now serves as editor of its newsletter, Ohr L’Naorrr and webmaster of its website.

Among other current activities he recently completed his second term as the chair of the Inland and Desert Hillel Council which serves Jewish students of the region.  He is an advisory board member of the Morrow McCombs Memorial Lecture Committee, and board member of St. Bernardine Medical Center Foundation.  In 2010 he chaired the Bicentennial Commission of the City of San Bernardino. He is currently a member of the Citizen’s Charter Review Committee of the City of San Bernardino.

For the past 30 years he has been a member of the Priest-Rabbi Dialogue, a project jointly sponsored by the Archdioecese of Los Angeles and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

In 1996 Rabbi Cohn was one of 5,000 Americans honored for being a Community Hero by carrying the Olympic Torch. Among mnhy other awards he has received are the "Man in the Spirit of Martin Luther King" Award from the African-American Churches of the Inland Empire ,  the Dale Evans-Roy Rogers Award for a Lifetime of Commitment to the Spirituality of Children from the Loma Linda University Medical Center, Leaders of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award from the Business Press of the Inland Empire. Community Honoree by the Western Inland Empire Coalition Against Hate. He has also been honored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at California State University San Bernardino.