Rabbi Cohen to depart Portland

PHOTO: Rabbi Barry Cohen will leave his post at Portland's Jewish Community Chaplain in March to take up a new role in Houston, Tex. (Rockne Roll/Jewish Review File)

The Jewish Review
Rabbi Barry Cohen, who has served as Portland’s Jewish Community Chaplain for over five years, will depart his position next month to become the Chaplain Manager of The Velva G. and H. Fred Levine Jewish Chaplaincy Program at the Joan and Stanford Alexander Jewish Family Service in Houston, Texas. 
“It wasn’t like I was actively searching for a new position,” Rabbi Cohen said. “But the chaplain community is small enough that you can hear, just by word of mouth, from colleagues about opportunities."
The move will place Rabbi Cohen closer to his family, one of the appeals of the new role. 
“My mom is there, my sister is there and one of my brothers is there,” He explained. “I’ve never worked in the same city as immediate family.”
A major portion of Rabbi Cohen’s work in Houston will be centered on the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, the world’s largest cancer hospital, at the Texas Medical Center campus.
“I’ll be interacting with people not only locally, but also people flying in from throughout the United States and even people flying in internationally to receive treatment,” Rabbi Cohen said. “They’re going to be away from home, and they’re looking for community connections.”
Those connections have been one of Rabbi Cohen’s specialties here in Portland. 
“We’re looking for a way to care for the whole person, but also to care for their families that also traveled with them,” he continued.
As the title suggests, Rabbi Cohen will be coordinating the work of professional and volunteer chaplains in his new role. It’s a step up in responsibility, but there’s more to it than that for Rabbi Cohen. 
“Another way of looking at it is, how can I make the best use of the skills that I’ve picked up along the way, knowing that I can also lean upon a volunteer base,” Rabbi Cohen said. “Now I can do so much more work, I can connect with so many more people in a collaborative sense. That’s how you can identify even more needs that may exist, that one single person couldn’t see or couldn’t perceive.”
While the opportunity is an exciting one on many levels, Rabbi Cohen will be leaving behind a city and community that he’s deeply attached to.
“Portland has always just felt comfortable for me,” he said. “I just want to express how grateful I am and, speaking on behalf of my kids, how grateful we are that the Portland Jewish community so warmly welcomed us and made us feel like we were at home and part of the community. Coming out here with no family connections and no friends, it was very easy to feel like I was part of the community.”


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