Brandeis Society honors Justice Jeffrey Cohen as ‘Founding Father’
The Brooklyn Brandeis Society was initially formed by a group of six judges and lawyers in 2015 and on Friday the group formally thanked the person who helped guide them in the early stages — Justice Jeffrey A. Cohen.
Cohen, an associate justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial District, was given the 2018 Mensch Award by President Andrew Fallek during a ceremony at the Brooklyn Bar Association during the association’s annual luncheon.
Cohen created the Justice Brandeis Law Society after he was elected to the bench in 2006. Not only has he used that group to organize courthouse events and advocate on behalf of Jewish attorneys, but he also helps create Brandeis societies in other areas.
“He’s sort of the Ray Crock of Brandeis societies, he’s building little Brandeis societies around the metropolitan area,” said Fallek, referring to the person who popularized the McDonald’s franchise.
“When we came about the task of forming a Brandeis Society here he was very generous with his time, experience and wisdom,” Fallek said. “It wasn’t just in broad strokes — he gave us very specific information about the kind of events we should run, the kind of food we should serve and he’s really a founding father of this group.”
Fallek presented Cohen with the award, a magic eight ball with the symbol for “chai,” the Hebrew word for life, emblazoned across it. Cohen, who grew up an avid billiards player in Washington Heights, called it the perfect gift.
“I’m actually very impressed with that,” Cohen said. “It’s very cool. This is the perfect gift and you didn’t even know that.”
Cohen spoke about Brandeis and explained how he came about creating the Justice Brandeis Law Society more than 10 years ago as a way to increase advocacy for Jewish attorneys. He explained that he modeled it after the Columbian Lawyers Association, a bar association for Italian-Americans that was powerful in Westchester at the time.
“Initially I started with a couple of friends,” Cohen recalled. “It felt like Spanky and Our Gang. It was a club … the Italian lawyers were the rulers of Westchester … not so much anymore, but 10 or 15 years ago that was the most powerful bar in the county and still remains a successful bar so we modelled our bar association after them.”
Cohen said that the purpose for the bar association is not merely to host parties and give out awards, but to advocate on behalf of the Jewish people. He explained that attorneys of all backgrounds, not just Jews, should join bar associations.
“It is no secret at all that anti-Semitism has grown dramatically throughout the world, in the U.S. and New York,” Cohen said. “I believed then and I believe more so now that our battle isn’t just to have nice parties, but to actually do something about it before it gets too late.”
After receiving his award, Cohen stayed to swear in the officers and new directors of the society.
The officers sworn in included Fallek for another term as president, Justice Ellen Spodek as president-elect, Avery Eli Okin and Aimee Richter as vice presidents, Justice Katherine Levine as secretary and Richard Klass as treasurer.
The new directors sworn in included Justice Esther M. Morgenstern, Administrative Judge Lawrence Knipel, Justice Marsha Steinhardt and David Chidekel. Cohen himself is also counted among the new directors.
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