JWRP Sister Spotlight: Alyson Cohn
When Alyson Cohn’s older son began preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, Alyson realized that she lacked the necessary Jewish knowledge to support him the way she wanted to. So, she enrolled in her synagogue’s adult Bat Mitzvah program, learned how to read Hebrew at the age of 43 — with the help of her son, and celebrated her Bat Mitzvah a few months before he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. For Alyson, that was only the beginning.
Over the next few years, Alyson joined her synagogue’s ritual committee and board, served as the vice president of the religious school, and became the synagogue president. In November 2016, Alyson fulfilled another dream when she traveled to Israel with the JWRP. We spoke to Alyson about how traveling to Israel has impacted her presidency and inspired her activism.
Why did you decide to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
Before visiting Israel, I used to joke that I was the only synagogue president who had never been to Israel. I had always wanted to, but life got in the way. When a member of my synagogue returned from a MOMentum Trip, she told me that I needed to go. So, I went ahead and filled out the application. I was thrilled to finally have the chance to not only explore Israel but to do so alongside other women. It was a very empowering experience!
Tell us about a trip highlight.
When we first arrived in Jerusalem, it was nighttime, and a few City Leaders invited us to go for dinner and then to visit the Kotel with them. It was a perfect first visit — calm, quiet, peaceful, and spiritual. I touched the wall and felt connected to the sheer history of those stones, and to every person from every generation who had touched those stones before me. I had lost my mother three years before, and I felt her presence. That night, I felt connected to the past, present, and future.
How has traveling to Israel impacted your experience as synagogue president?
I have always supported Israel and believed that it is important for Jews to have their own homeland. But traveling to Israel has made this belief more concrete and less esoteric. Now, when I fundraise for Israel on behalf of my synagogue, I can speak from the heart, and I can share my first-hand experiences in Israel. I know that this makes a big difference. I also helped develop a program in our religious school that connects our students to Israeli students, enabling them to communicate via Skype and email. It’s very important for our children to share their thoughts and learn about each other’s lifestyles, and we’re looking forward to expanding the program in the coming years.
What are a few ways you’ve brought your Israel experience home with you?
Aside from getting more involved in my synagogue’s Israel programming, I participated in the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s program, “One Community, One Book.” We read a book about water conservation in Israel, discussed it together, and then began sharing ideas about how to put similar techniques into practice in New Jersey. My family is also planning a trip to Israel in two years. I can’t wait to explore the country with my husband and our two sons.