Gay volunteer says Jewish agencies make a difference

Paul Cohen has spoken publicly on numerous occasions about his strong identity as a Jew, a gay man and a committed community member. But last week was different.

Standing before an audience of 230 people gathered at San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's 86th annual meeting, Cohen gave a speech of acceptance, both philosophically and literally.

Cohen praised the inclusiveness of the San Francisco Jewish community while accepting the JCF's 1996 Community Award of Excellence for Volunteer of the Year. Cohen's was one of many awards presented at the meeting, during which new officers were elected and Jewish community leaders, staff and programs honored.

"Every Jewish agency here has made a positive difference in the lives of gays and lesbians," said Cohen, who moved to the city from Pennsylvania in 1979, never intending to make it his permanent home.

He joined the San Francisco Jewish Community Center because he was "looking for a gym," but instead wound up working as a volunteer, chairing the board for New Life, a publication for Russian emigres. He went on to join Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, eventually becoming president of the synagogue, which provides outreach to the gay and lesbian Jewish community.

Most recently, he stepped in as acting executive director of San Francisco Hillel, and is credited with helping that entity progress through a difficult period of transition.

An active member of San Francisco's Jewish community for the last 18 years, the 49-year-old Cohen said it was his parents who taught him the importance of giving back to the community. His father, who served in World War II, was a member of the Jewish War Veterans and his mother was one of the first members of the United Order of True Sisters, the oldest Jewish women's organization in the country.

In addition to Cohen's award, other Community Awards of Excellence went to Sherie Koshover, Irwin Wiener, William Lowenberg, Max Garcia and Nechama Tamler.

Koshover was named Agency Staff Member of the Year for her work as director of community relations at the Jewish Home for the Aged. Koshover, who has been with the home for the past 22 years, was instrumental in expanding its creative arts department. She also coordinates the appearance of paintings, done by Jewish Home for the Aged residents, in biweekly Jewish Bulletin ads.

The Executive of the Year award honored Wiener, executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association. Wiener, who has worked in the Jewish community for over 40 years, joined the association five years ago. Since then he has successfully expanded the categories of loans offered, and has broadened the boundaries of areas served.

The award for Program of the Year went to the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps. This joint program of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Holocaust Center of Northern California culminated in a memorable ceremony at Emanu-El, an event at which 2,000 people gathered to honor 120 men and one woman who helped liberate the camps.

Accepting the award for the Holocaust Center was Max Garcia and, as event chair Bill Lowenberg was unable to attend, Judith Chapman on behalf of the JCRC.

Nechama Tamler received the JCF Staff Person of the Year award for her dedication to the federation over the last 12 years. Tamler, former program director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater San Jose, currently serves as the JCF's director of Jewish continuity planning. An observant Jew, Tamler holds a wealth of Jewish knowledge that is sought by professional colleagues and lay leaders alike.

Special Recognition Awards went to Martin Diamond, director of the UCSF/Mount Zion Medical Center, and Sanford Gallanter, chief executive officer for the United Jewish Community Centers.

Two highlights of the evening came with Allan Rothenberg's installation to succeed Doug Heller as the new JCF president, and the presentation of the 1996 Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for outstanding young leadership to Ellen Kahn, past chair of the Jewish Family Education Project.

Harold Zlot, who was recognized for his achievements as 1996 campaign chair, projected that $18.9 million would be the total raised when the JCF's annual campaign closes next week — a $300,000 increase from the 1995 allocation.

At a regular JCF board meeting prior to the annual meeting, campaign allocations to nearly 60 agencies and programs locally, nationally and overseas were approved by the federation's board of directors. That meeting also included the election of 1996-97 board members and officers, including first-term officeholders Norman Berkman, Judith Chapman, Susan Hamlin, Barbara Isackson, Michael Kapgan, Tom Kasten, Gale Mondry and Valerie Rubenstein.

Outgoing members honored were Marshall Denenberg, Russel Holdstein, Roean Iscoff, Ellen Kahn, Debra Pell, Stuart Seiler and David Steirman.