Rabbi Samuel Cohen, executive vice president of the Jewish National Fund for 20 years, died this week of pneumonia in Mount Sinai Hospital. He was 66.
A resident of Lawrence, L.I., Rabbi Cohen was credited with enhancing the image of JNF before leaving in 1997 in the wake of a controversy over how the charity was spending its money.
"He was a dedicated Jew … a very good administrator," said Sam Bloch, former director of the World Zionist Organization publications department. "There is hardly any Jewish charity he did not support."
Rabbi Cohen moved JNF from an organization that simply planted trees in Israel to one involved in a wide variety of infrastructure projects. He upgraded its fund-raising drive from about $5 million to more than $30 million a year, and introduced such private sector innovations as direct-mail campaigns and television commercials.
"He was a visionary. He changed the face of Jewish fund raising," says Stuart Paskow, national director of communications at JNF from 1986 to 1994. "His tremendous accomplishments were overshadowed by the unfortunate events at the end of his life."
After decades of image building around JNF’s role in developing Israel’s natural and environmental resources, a freelance journalist’s investigation in 1996 revealed that only 20 percent of the charity’s income was actually going to the Jewish state. The rest, according to an independent audit subsequently ordered by JNF, was being absorbed by administrative and educational costs outside of Israel.
Rabbi Cohen, who was near retirement age, resigned soon after the audit, though he was not accused of personally profiting from the unaccounted-for funds. He subsequently served as a private consultant.
A native of Asbury Park, N.J., Rabbi Cohen studied at Brooklyn College, Columbia University and Yeshiva University. He received his rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin Rabbinical Academy in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
He worked for several Jewish organizations, including the American Zionist Federation, B’nai B’rith and American Jewish Congress.
He is survived by his wife Mira; two sons, Baruch and Michoel; and one daughter, Miriam Silberberg.