Kenneth Cohen

Founding Rabbi of Young Israel of Century City Pleads for Jews to Come Home

Nearly 37 years ago, I fulfilled the Jewish dream of making aliyah, moving to Israel. At that time, I was the rabbi of Young Israel of Century City and we had just dedicated our new building on Pico Blvd. Rather than stay in Los Angeles, for what looked like a promising career, I was tormented by feelings of hypocrisy and discontent. I was haunted by the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, implying that living outside of Israel was a desecration of G-d’s name. I found it difficult to pray without feeling a sense of guilt. How could I utter the words, “May my eyes see the return to Zion in mercy,” when all I needed to do was get on a plane and go there?

Like Sandy Koufax, I retired at the age of thirty, with the intention of serving G-d in the Land that He had so graciously given to His people, after an Exile of almost two thousand years. My expectations were exceeded far beyond anything I could have imagined. And to top it all, I am blessed to be able to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, nearly every Shabbat.

I now watch my grandchildren playing and growing up as proud Jews in our ancestral land. Their holidays are the Jewish holidays and they practice their religion without the slightest fear of ridicule or shame. They are home.

In Israel, I closely watch what is going on in America. There is great unrest and uncertainty as to what the future will bring. I was deeply saddened to see the vandalism and desecration of synagogues around LA, that had very strong anti-semitic graffiti displayed for all to see. I also waited to hear of strong rabbinic leadership who were not afraid to lead by example, and tell their communities that it’s time to go home. Israel is the only home for all Jews and Israel would love to welcome their Jewish brethren from Los Angeles and the Diaspora. This obvious plea was not heard.

America has treated the Jewish people better than anywhere Jews needed to make their dwelling place in the Exile. However, history has taught us that every place Jews ever lived, was only temporary. Their stay ultimately ended with either assimilation, expulsion, or annihilation. The huge difference between the past and today is that Israel exists and opens its hand to all Jews.

Putting aside the safety issue for a moment, it should be pointed out to those who are holding on to the erroneous belief that one has no religious obligation to move to Israel, I would ask the following question: If one has carefully studied traditional Jewish texts, he would find numerous sources attesting to the fact, that one’s religious observance is greatly enhanced by serving G-d in His Land. There is a special closeness that one feels to the Al-mighty in the place where “His eyes are upon this land from the beginning of the year until the end.” The Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi wrote, “Only in Eretz Yisrael, does the Divine light shine.” The Netivot Shalom called Israel, “the source of all holiness in the world.” If one is as religious as he claims to be, wouldn’t he prefer to serve G-d in the place where he is most likely to feel G-d?

It is difficult to gauge the extent of fear and hopelessness that people are feeling while going through the Corona Pandemic and the the riots. Israel is not having such an easy time, either, but we are coping. The power of our faith and resolve, has carried us through much more traumatic situations than the one we are currently going through. Today there is a simple solution to make things better. We need to muster up the faith and resolve to do the right thing and come home to the land of our forefathers. Abundant blessings and joy await those who connect to G-d and our people. You can all do it. Do not be afraid.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at