When the Westchester Jewish Council celebrates its achievements at its 41st Anniversary Gala next week, honorees Paul B. Warhit, outgoing president of WJC, and Jeff Kohn, outgoing vice president, will be recognized for their contributions to the organization and the larger Westchester community.
“As the 12th president of the Council, Paul distinguished himself by his principled leadership,” said Elliot Forchheimer, executive director of the Westchester Jewish Council. “He reminded us of the critical leadership trait of at times leaving one’s own agenda at the door in order to unite and serve the needs of the greater community and further the communal good.”
Similarly, “Jeff is an example of the wisdom of asking busy people to take on big tasks,” Forchheimer said. “As a council vice president, Jeff also served as a managing partner at a major corporate law firm. Despite his professional responsibilities, Jeff always found the time to enrich the Jewish community and the council with his viewpoints and expertise on a wide range of matters and initiatives.”
It’s probably safe to say that Paul Warhit’s earliest years wouldn’t have predicted his involvement with the organized Jewish community.
“I hated every minute of Hebrew school,” admitted Warhit, a Westchester native and a retired businessman who remains active in property management. When his wife, Ilissa, brought him to Temple Israel of New Rochelle, he “fell in love with it” — so much so that Warhit became the Reform congregation’s president in 2005.
Warhit, a graduate of Boston University, has made one of his missions at the WJC, to be “consistently reminded that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”
“I see the council as continuing its mission of helping make the Jewish community stronger,” he said.
One of Warhit’s key initiatives was working with the council to develop a program, “Israel Matters,” two years ago. A group of 20 members of the WJC, representing a wide diversity of views, meet once a month to discuss Israel and the relationship American Jews have to Israel.
“This gives us a greater understanding of each other’s point of view, while reminding us we’re still all part of the same community,” said Warhit, who emphasizes that the group, whose second cohort is underway, is about conversation and discussion, not taking action.
Warhit is also pleased that “WJC is way ahead of the curve” on interfaith efforts. “If tomorrow there’s a crisis, and we needed to reach out to Interfaith partners, we can,” he said.
Community involvement is second nature to Warhit, and his family, which includes three children. Some of his other leadership positions have included service to the New Rochelle Public Library Foundation, the Jewish Deaf Resource Center and the Giving Circle of Lower Westchester.
While Warhit has “thoroughly enjoyed” his service to the WJC, he said, “it’s good to pass the torch. I’m interested in doing more advocacy about Israel and the American Jewish community’s relation with Israel, which is near and dear to my heart.”
Stepping up to the plate at WJC was a logical progression for Jeff Kohn of Chappaqua, where he lives with his wife, Martha. They have two adult children.
Kohn, the managing partner of the international law firm, O’Melveny & Myers LLP’s, New York office, had previously served as the president of Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bed ford Corners as well as a board member for the synagogue.
Kohn’s involvement with Jewish communal life began in childhood, when his parents started a Reform synagogue in Queens. When they moved to Stony Brook, his father held leadership positions in their synagogue and his mother worked in the religious school; even today, his father serves as president of his Delray Beach, Fla., synagogue.
Some of the issues that particularly resonate with Kohn include security, anti-Semitism, educational programs and the BDS movement on college campuses.
“We are a voice of Westchester,” said Kohn. “We are the eyes and ears within the community. We are keeping our eyes open, and addressing issues through statements and supporting our organizations. It’s not advocacy; it’s being a resource for people.”
What motivates Kohn is a desire to “connect with people and learn from people, to work with people. “I don’t need to be out front,” he said. As a legal expert in board matters — some of his professional activity involves advising boards — Kohn feels he brought a distinct sensibility to his role.
Kohn also dedicates his time to NYU Law School, Cornell University’s School and Industrial & Labor Relations, and the George Washington University Law School, his alma mater, as a member of these institutions’ advisory boards.
The Westchester Jewish Council’s 41st Anniversary Gala will take place on Feb. 4 at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains. For more information, please visit wjcouncil.org or call (914) 328-7001.