A Legacy of Leadership, Service and Love

October 29, 2020

A Legacy of Leadership, Service and Love

On July 29th, Jewish Family & Career Services lost two great champions, Judith and Elliott Cohen. They died as they lived, together and holding hands. Their influence extended beyond Atlanta. They built a beautiful and meaningful life focused on family, service and the community. They served on nearly every nonprofit board in the city, yet Judith’s passion was JF&CS. We are profoundly grateful for the lessons they taught us. Their loss has left a tremendous void in our hearts and in our community.

Judith was a devoted wife and mother driven by her deep desire to help others. It was her clear and early understanding of the challenge and opportunity to help Soviet Jewry that first led to her involvement with Jewish Family & Career Services. Judith's tenacity, commitment, compassion, concern, and ability were formidable. She was proud to serve JF&CS as President and remained active with the organization throughout her life. She led the agency, Jewish Family Services, through its decision to merge with Jewish Vocational Services creating Jewish Family & Career Services. Judith's hard work, sacrifice and outstanding leadership changed the lives of thousands of people, many of whom she never met.

In 2004, JF&CS established the Judith N. Cohen (JNC) Society to honor Judith’s enduring commitment to the agency. The intent of this society was to establish a foundation for the annual campaign’s success. The society recognized the steadfast generous donors who were unwavering to the agency to pledge an annual sustaining gift of at least $10,000.

Elliott was one of the founding partners of the law firm now known as Cohen Pollock Merlin Turner. Elliott served as a Director with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for over twenty years. He also served on the executive board of many local nonprofits, including Jewish Family & Career Services while Judith was president.

We had the opportunity to talk with their daughter, Jill Cohen; and friends, Carol Cooper, Linda Briks, Michael Merlin and Gary Miller about their reflections of Judith and Elliott and the agency.

Jill Cohen shared that her parents were “committed to community and philanthropy and they instilled these values into our family. They lived their values. I clearly remember being home from college and my parents sat me and my brother down. They explained that it was time for us to start giving to the community in our own names. The amount did not matter, it was the participation and the commitment.”

Jill recalls her mother getting involved in Jewish Family Services as an empty nester. She first became very active during the resettlement of Soviet Jewry in the late 1980s. Judith worked as an executive volunteer along with Linda Briks, the volunteer coordinator. Judith came in several times a week to craft standards, regulations and match local families with incoming Russian families.

Linda said, “Judith became the face of resettlement.” She recalled that it was a marvelous partnership. Jill was later told that members of the community remember being at the airport and Judith was the one giving them a piece of paper with the name of their newly adopted Russian family.

Many members of the community thanked Judith for creating these meaningful life-long relationships. When resettlement stabilized in Atlanta, Judith spent two months in Ladispoli, Italy teaching English to Russian Jews who had been able to leave the Former Soviet Union but who had not yet received admission to the US or Israel. She lived and breathed her dedication and passion for helping families make a new life.

According to Carol Cooper JFS Past President, “Judith was a partner in every sense of the word. There were times when I called on her to lead a meeting at the last minute or fill in for me at certain engagements. Even though she often didn’t have time to prepare, she accepted the request with unwavering loyalty to me and JFS. I will always remember how she gave her heart and soul to the Agency.”

Gary Miller, former Executive Director and CEO spoke of Judith’s leadership as president of JF&CS. “She represented the agency in its merger to Jewish Vocational Services.” Gary fondly recalled that it was Judith’s idea to celebrate this historic merger, with a wedding ceremony to mark the occasion at the Annual Meeting. Judith was so proud to be the first president to serve Jewish Family & Career Services.

Judith and Elliott inspired others to give of themselves and get involved. They led by example by speaking up, getting involved, and making a financial commitment. One of the many people they inspired was Michael Merlin.

“Elliott was one of the greatest mentors I ever had. Many of the lessons I learned about community and leadership came from Judith and Elliott,” he said.

Judith and Elliott made an indelible impact on everyone they met. We will continue to honor their legacy through the gifts of generosity and compassion.

May their memories be a blessing and continue to inspire us all to lead meaningful lives of service to others.

From L to R: Rabbi Judith Beiner, Judith Cohen, Terri Bonoff, CEO and Jeff Alperin, Board President