RJC President, Educator Howard Cohen Dies

Howard Cohen is smiling at a restaurant and he has a bowl of soup.
Howard Cohen | Photo courtesy of Sarah Cohen

Howard A. Cohen, 81, a teacher who worked under two presidents, served as president of the Greater Philadelphia Republican Jewish Committee and was deeply committed to Israel, died on May 21.

“Howard was a Republican who yearned for the days when Republicans and Democrats could speak civilly to each other, and I was a Democrat who yearned for the same,” said Ben Picker, a best friend for nearly 50 years and the godfather to his daughter, Sarah.

From 1971 to 1972 Cohen worked as a staff assistant to President Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel Charles Colson and also worked in the Ford administration. He had a stint as secretary of revenue for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, too.

Cohen was a longtime member of Har Zion Temple, where he served as president of its Men’s Club for a time and espoused his love for Israel.

“He cared very much about Israel and about Judaism. The biggest thing he wanted was to see my daughter bat mitzvahed,” Sarah Cohen said.

Cohen held positions as the executive vice president/CEO of ORT America and vice president/CEO of Operation Independence, which promoted economic growth in Israel.

“He was an adamant supporter of Israel and the survival of the Jewish people,” Picker said.
Professionally, Cohen was the founding chair of the Public Management Department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and taught for many years at the Fels School of Government.

He also was involved with Temple University’s Fox School of Business in multiple capacities for more than 15 years; that included teaching courses on business ethics and negotiation, serving as associate dean of development, helping with fundraising and serving as the executive director of Temple’s Dialogue Institute.

The institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue by conducting seminars for young leaders from around the world and introducing young people to many faiths, according to Majid Alsayegh, a longtime colleague of Cohen’s.

Cohen brought government experience to the board of the Dialogue Institute, which he served on before becoming the executive director and again afterward. While on the board, he pushed for the teaching of ethics to be incorporated into the teaching of religion and faith.

“He always spoke his mind and spoke up when something needed to be said. He was a voice of reason who added value when he spoke,” Alsayegh said.

He pushed for the board to bring on members of color and diverse faiths because the institute respected celebrations of diverse faiths and ethnicities; Cohen believed the board should reflect that, Alsayegh said.

According to friends and family, bringing people of diverse ideas together was an important part of who Cohen was.

“He loved the idea of bringing people to the table,” Sarah Cohen said.

Cohen believed economic security for Israel was a crucial part of ensuring the survival of the Jewish people, which was reflected in his involvement with Operation Independence.
Cohen was born in Newark, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1941.

He received a master’s of business administration in international business and transportation from George Washington University and both a law degree and a bachelor of arts in political science and economics from Rutgers University.

Later, he married his wife, Barbara, on July 8, 1972.

Cohen was dedicated to teaching, believed in education and wanted to help people improve themselves and succeed, according to Sarah Cohen. Because of the pandemic, he learned to use and teach on Zoom at 78 — all while fulfilling his duties as a grandfather.

“My dad wrote letters to my daughter, who is 11 years old. He would send her letters. If she wrote back, he’d send her a dollar. She’ll have those letters for the rest of her life,” Sarah Cohen said.

An avid reader, he followed the news every day and read many books on business, economics and other topics.

Hobbies included fishing, reading and woodworking. He built some of his furniture, including the dining table he shared with his wife.

“They used to sit and have breakfast together every morning. They sat and read the paper together,” Sarah Cohen said.

Cohen is survived by his wife, Barbara; his son, David; his daughter, Sarah; son-in-law, Jon; and two grandchildren.

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