Since becoming the rabbi of Young Israel of Oak Park in 2008, Rabbi Michael Cohen has emulated the piety with which G-d interacts with all people, including those “whose spirits are humble” and “whose hearts are downtrodden,” as described in the Book of Isaiah (57:15).
“I really take my inspiration as a rabbi from this verse,” Rabbi Cohen says. “I aim to be available and accessible to congregants at all times, to have sincere and honest interactions with them, and to revive their spirits when they are troubled.”
Personal engagement with Jews of all stripes has been the hallmark of Rabbi Cohen’s career, from outreach efforts in areas of Western Canada where no Torah centers had ever existed before to growing Detroit’s largest Sephardic synagogue.
Born in London, England, Rabbi Cohen went to Carmel College for secondary school in Wallingford, England, and then to Gateshead Yeshiva in the north of England. He then attended the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim and obtained smicha from Yeshivat Nishmat Israel in Bayit VeGan.
“I loved my years in Israel,” Rabbi Cohen recalls. There he met and married his wife Devora, a daughter of philosopher Rabbi Nathan Lopes-Cardozo, and the couple started a family, with the births of daughters Tzipporah and Leah.
In 1993 Rabbi Cohen was invited to Edmonton, a city with a Jewish population of 6,000, to start a Kollel, as well as the Westridge Outreach Centre in West Edmonton, a shul in the western suburbs of Edmonton.
“It was cold, and Canadian and we felt like pioneers,” Rabbi Cohen says, remarking at the stark contrast between the two countries. “But the people were welcoming, and they quickly warmed to our Torah center.” While there, Rabbi Cohen acted mainly as a teacher, introducing people to Shabbat through Friday night dinners, and starting a K-12 day school. Daughter Tzivyah was born there, as well.
In 1996, the family moved to Seattle, where Rabbi Cohen had been recruited to reinvigorate the kollel, which had dwindled to one rabbi. He also taught at Northwest Yeshiva School, and the family added a son, Yakov. By the time they left Seattle in 2002, six rabbis were running the kollel.
The 2002 move brought the family to Keter Torah Synagogue in West Bloomfield, which at the time was Detroit’s only Sephardic minyan. As rabbi, Rabbi Cohen expanded membership from 25 to 85 families, and gives much credit for that growth to Devora, an expert cook who was “constantly hosting” and making the kiddush every week in shul.
In 2008 Rabbi Cohen assumed the mantle at Young Israel of Oak Park, Michigan’s largest Orthodox shul, which comprises 200 families and offers an array of programming from Israel-centered activities through B’nai Akiva, lunch and learn, women’s classes, Beit Midrash, Ulpan, and youth programs.
According to members, Rabbi Cohen, who enjoys exercise and biking outdoors, has distinguished himself by being approachable on a variety of topics, from personal to professional.
“Rabbi Cohen and Devora Cohen are there for the lifecycles of the entire community,” says member Adam Kaplan.
“It’s a privilege to have this relationship with a shul community,” Rabbi Cohen says. “I like to think I have a personal connection with each member.”
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Welcome to YIOP -
Young Israel of Oak Park
YIOP comes together as a community of Orthodox Zionist Jews committed to prayer, study, and social interaction.
We engage in these to further our spiritual growth, both individually and as a community, bringing us closer to G-d.
15140 West 10 Mile Road
Oak Park, MI 48237
Fax: (248) 967-4272