Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury pay tribute to late Barnet mayor Melvin Cohen

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Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury pay tribute to late Barnet mayor Melvin Cohen

Councillor Cohen notched up an unprecedented 40 years representing the residents of Golders Green on Barnet Council, for which he was honoured earlier this year.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Melvin Cohen was honoured in May for   four decades of public service.
Melvin Cohen was honoured in May for four decades of public service.

Tributes have flowed in from inside and far beyond the British Jewish community to mark the death of the two-times mayor of Barnet, Councillor Melvin Cohen.

Condolences for the family of the late Mr Cohen, a solicitor by profession, came from as far and wide as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, from broadcaster Emily Maitlis and from local councillors across the political spectrum.

Councillor Cohen notched up an unprecedented 40 years representing the residents of Golders Green on Barnet Council, for which he was honoured in May 2022. Twice mayor, the softly-spoken Mr Cohen raised thousands for his two designated charities during each term of office — Kisharon, the learning disabled charity for the Jewish community, and the Shooting Star children’s hospices.

Everyone had warm words for Mr Cohen. A spokesperson for Kisharon said: “Councillor Cohen truly served this community and was conscious of inclusivity. We wish the family sincere condolences on their loss. He was very aware of the importance of Kisharon and paid frequent visits to the school. Very often he joined in our activities. He was always available and helped us break down barriers, raising thousands for our work, and bringing people together”.

Cllr Melvin Cohen

The chief executive, Richard Franklin, went to pay tribute at a hesped (eulogy) before the family accompanied Mr Cohen on his last journey, to be buried in Jerusalem alongside his parents, Alan and Sarah.

The other charity chosen by Councillor Cohen in his second term of office was the Shooting Star children’s hospices. In a statement, the charity said: “Shooting Star Children’s Hospices would like to pay tribute to Mr Cohen for his support during his time as the Mayor of Barnet, raising thousands of pounds to support children living with life-limiting conditions, and their families. We would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Mr Cohen’s family”.

There were messages of condolence on Twitter from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and from the leader of the widows of the murdered Israeli Olympic athletes, Ankie Spitzer, as well as Times journalist Sathnam Sanghera.

Councillor Cohen was first elected to represent Golders Green on Barnet Council in 1982. He served as mayor first in 2003 and then in a rare second term in 2013.

For six years — from 2004 to 2010 — he was a cabinet member for planning for Barnet, and also served as chair of the constitution and general purposes committee.

Praise for Councillor Cohen was led by Barnet’s current mayor, Alison Moore. She said she was “very saddened” to learn of his  death. “Melvin was a fantastic, dedicated servant to the residents of his ward, and to Barnet, twice representing the borough as mayor, which I think really shows the esteem in which he was held,” she said.

The leader of Barnet’s Conservative group, Councillor Daniel Thomas, who served alongside Mr Cohen for 16 years, said that he “had come to realise that every council needs a Melvin”, and spoke of his “quiet determination” in his work, as well as the good advice he brought to the table, born of his legal training.

But there were also tributes from the other side of the chamber, led by the Labour leader of Barnet, Councillor Barry Rawlings. He said: “I am very saddened to hear about the passing of Cllr Cohen, whom I have known, admired and worked with for more than 24 years. Although we were in different political parties, I enjoyed working with Melvin, whose calm and reasonable demeanour, forensic mind, and wish to do his best for residents, was an example to us all.”

Councillor Cohen was a longtime resident of Barnet. Educated first at Wessex Gardens Primary school and then Hasmonean Grammar School, he read law at University College, London.

The former head of the Community Security Trust, Richard Benson, said: “When I was CEO of CST he was always helpful and a good go-to man. I used to meet him regularly for a chat about Barnet community issues. When he was mayor, I invited him for lunch as a thank you for all his help”

He was a governor of Menorah Primary School, whose chairman, David Rosenthal, said: “Cllr Melvin Cohen z’l became a Barnet council governor of the Menorah Primary School in the early 80s and was a member of the governing body until his passing. He was always supportive of the school and its initiatives, and actively contributed in meetings with his advice and wisdom. In recent years, he became a proud grandparent of the school’s children and we know this was a special source of nachas for him”.

Mr Rosenthal was referring to Councillor Cohen’s grandchildren, Motti, Sara, Chaya, Dovi and Yisroel Moshe, whose father, Dean, is also a Conservative councillor in Barnet. Dean’s brother Justin is news editor and co-publisher of Jewish News. Melvin Cohen is also mourned by his sister, Rebecca Sabin.

Speaking at the family’s shiva house before leaving for Israel, Justin Cohen said that they had received “countless” messages of condolence from people including MPs and national broadcasters. Most often, he said, the tributes to his late father had included the terms “gentle, at times quiet, dedicated to service and values driven. He was indeed a man of few words but when he spoke it was considered, and he meant it”.

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