His titles include: Rabbi, Mohel, Schochet, Kosher Administrator and Importer, Judaica Store Director, Jewish Documents Expert, Cantor, Teacher, Torah Reader, Program Director, all while being a dedicated husband and loving father.
To observe an action packed routine day with Rabbi Elchonon Cohen is an uplifting experience. From dawn to the late night hours, one is amused to witness the sheer energy , productivity and dedication of Rabbi Elchonon Cohen for the good of the Alma Ata Jewish community.
Rabbi Elchonon and his esteemed wife Leah are partners in the holy work of serving the community. Together with their children who were born and raised as Shluchim they form a team of heartwarming success.
We are approaching the 72nd anniversary of Chof Av, the Hillula of the Rebbe's father Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson who's holy resting place is in Alma Ata. Many community events are being prepared to honor this holy day. Rabbi Elchonon attributes the success of Chabad Lubavitch of Kazakhstan to the self-sacrifice of the Rebbe's parents.
In his youth Rabbi Elchonon Cohen studied in Montreal Canada , Manchester England and Boston U.SA. From his early years Rabbi Elchonon was involved in helping Jewish life in Kazakhstan including organizing shipments to Kazakhstan Jewry.
On a regular basis Rabbi Elchonon visits the holy resting place of the Rebbe's father. Taking care of it's maintenance, accompanying guests and visitors and international calls of requests who want a prayer , to ask for blessings , at Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's holy resting place.
As part of the newly launched project "Shliach Inspiration" the following is excerpts of a question and answer interview with the dynamic energetic Rabbi Elchonon Cohen.
A few words about Alma Ata?
Alma Ata was the official capital city of Kazakhstan until Kazakhstan's independence of Russia. Jewishly, Alma Ata remains the city with the largest Jewish community in Kazakhstan. From Alma Ata we bring the light and beauty of Torah Judaism to all of Kazakhstan including neighboring countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The Rebbe's father's holy resting place is in Alma Ata. Your thoughts?
In Jewish law, a holy righteous person and community Rabbi is the "owner of the city". We regularly go to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's holy resting place. Especially on auspicious days such as Erev Rosh Chodesh and Chassidic holidays and when people from around the globe call and ask us to pray here for them for a blessing. We see open miracles. People receive answers to their prayers.
When we first came to Alma Ata , I was not able to go to the holy Ohel because I am a Kohen. By Jewish law the overhanging tress and branches created a challenge. Additionally the cemetery was a place where criminals would come at night. When we asked the city government for help to clean up the area they eagerly helped. New lighting was installed. The trees and branches were trimmed. A new Kosher pathway for a Kohen to be able to visit was created. In general the local custom in Alma Ata is to have a fence around a grave site. As such now a Kohen has proper access to the Rebbe's father's Ohel.
The original Ohel was built thanks to the incredible hard work of Rabbi Dovid Nachshon and Rabbi Avi Taub. In secrecy they successfully arranged to put up the original Ohel for which the Rebbe expressed deep gratitude and appreciation. Rabbi Moshe Gurin took upon himself in 1996 the needed updating repairs. Mr. Binyomin Abramshvily helped update the needs of the maintenance a few years later. In 2008 we received government assistance to expand the Ohel and with the help of Avraham Michalov we built a new entry room so one can write a letter for blessings, a Pa"n and to light the traditional candles.
Recently we worked diligently to complete a new beautiful expansion of the Ohel to help facilitate more visitors including a new additional exit door and pathway. This was sponsored by philanthropists Avrohom Shaulson and Shmuel Stern.
A word about the capital Astana?
When Astana was built as the new government capital of Kazakhstan , I had the merit to open the new Chabad House in Astana. Then Rabbi Yehuda Kubalkin became the Rabbi. Today Rabbi Shmuel Karnaukh is the successful Chabad Rabbi in Astana.
How many years are you and your family on Shlichus in Alma Ata?
Our family is blessed to be here already 19 years.
Your thoughts regarding the Rebbe's father's holy resting place?
There are people who come here from around the world even for a few short hours so they can have merit of praying at the Rebbe's father's Ohel.
There is an Australian fellow with the name Levi Yitchcak and his wife's name is Chana with a son Menachem Mendel. For his birthday his wife bought him a surprise gift. An air ticket and visa to enter Kazakhstan so he can pray at the holy Ohel in Alma Ata. People with charter planes land in Alma Ata for a few hours to pray at Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's holy resting place. A fellow in a charter plane came and explained that when he was by the Rebbe's Ohel in New York he asked for a blessing for children. He promised that if they have a boy they will name him Levi Yitzchak. If they have a girl they will name her Chana. They had a boy and named him Levi Yitzchak. Two years later they had a girl and named her Chana. Now he was traveling thru Asia so he came to say thank you to the Rebbe's father. Ten months later they had another boy.
We witness miracles here all the time. Some are miracles disguised as nature. The super natural amazing success of Chabad Lubavitch in Kazakhstan is a miracle. While much toil and hard work is invested, yet anyone with an objective eye can see the miracles of the success. Everything we have was planted with the tears of the Rebbe's parents in Kazakhstan.
You devoted your life to help Jews in Alma Ata. Can you share a special moment?
There is an elderly gentleman who came to our Synagague for his first time on the holiday of Sukkot. When I offered him to enter the Sukkah and make a blessing on the Lulav and Etrog, he spontaneously recited the blessing "Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha'arerz". The blessing we recite for bread. He explained that he is a holocaust survivor and he did not know that there were Jews who survived the holocaust. He just found out that there is a Synagague so he came to reconnect to the Jewish people and his Jewish heritage. He proudly said that "Hamotzi" is the only blessing he remembers from his childhood and as such he recites this blessing daily. Today it is heartwarming to observe his regular soul touching prayers and his Torah study at the Alma Ata Levi Yitzchak Synagague.
Shlichus and community service have their challenges. Can you share any?
It was 17 years ago. I came home with moving boxes. The difficulties were overwhelming. I was ready to pack up and leave. My eldest brother spent many long distance telephone hours encouraging me to stay on. He passionately explained how everything is by Divine Providence. That my place is Alma Ata. That my purpose in life is to help our Jewish brothers and sisters in Alma Ata. My brother succeeded. I committed to stay as a soldier in the Rebbe's army and serve my people. I owe my brother the deepest gratitude and appreciation. Because of my brother I have merited to facilitate thousands of good deeds for thousands of Jews in Alma Ata and greater Kazakhstan.
Who helped you do this all ?
My family, my parents and friends. They were always ready to help. To arrange a children's camp. To assist in anyway possible. I humbly would like to express our sincere thank you and appreciation to all who help us. I bless them all that Almighty G-D should grant them all the blessings in abundance , physically and spiritually , good health and happiness in an open and revealed manor.
You perform an extraordinary wide range of community tasks. How did this develope?
When my family first arrived to Alma Ata there was a Schochet who prepared Kosher meat. His name is Rabbi Yehuda Kubalkin. I started by helping him. Then eventually I completed a rigorous course in Israel to become a Schochet and check the status of the meat and its Koshering and I assumed the responsibility of providing Kosher meat for the community. With time the need grew and today we provide Kosher meat to greater Kazakhstan Jewry and neighboring countries.
When it came to circumcision we used to have a Mohel from Moscow who would fly in to serve the community. Including Rabbi Yeshaya Gift and others of the organization Brit Yosef Yitzchak. Then I completed a comprehensive Mohel course in Israel and now I perform circumcisions on babies and adults in the greater Kazakhstan region. Divine Providence has led my steps to many different aspects of Jewish community life.
We are soldiers in the Rebbe's army. The Rebbe always demands to add more and more good. It is our job to illuminate our community with the love and warmth of Torah Judaism and Chassidut. The Rebbe demands that every moment should be productive. We aspire to fulfill the Rebbe's command.
You are tasked with the expertise of authenticating Kosher Jewish lineage documents. A challenging time consuming task. How do you manage it all?
In general I am in constant communication with world experts in this field including the Israeli Rabbinate. One needs Divine blessing to do these responsibilities. The Rebbe teaches that when you help a fellow Jew then your heart and mind are blessed a thousandfold. We are blessed with an amazing team of fellow Shluchim. A dedicated staff and a community filled with volunteers. With Jewish unity we can achieve beyond our imagination. Challenges and seeming obstacles ,with blessings from above ,turn into forces of greater success.
A recent inspirational moment?
Recently an Israeli fellow who unfortunately suffers from hearing difficulty came to visit Alma Ata. He asked me to accompany him to the Rebbe's father's holy resting place as he wished to pray there. On the way he called his mother and excitingly told her that he is going now to pray and ask for blessings at the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's father. When we arrived at the holy resting place he activated the speaker phone on his cellphone and placed it by the holy resting place so that his mother can pray and her voice should be physically heard. The sincere prayers , the chapters of Tehilim, the beseeching of blessings, were so heartfelt and soul touching that words are inadequate to describe the depth of the emotion.
In conclusion what is your vision to expand the scope of your Shlichus and enriching Jewish life in Alma Ata?
We have much to be grateful for. We are blessed to serve the community. The Rebbe teaches us: "to never be satisfied with past success. A sign of a living organism is it's growth and development". There are many Jews to reach. Much work to be done. May we be blessed to fulfill our Shlichus in this special city as befitting to the honor of the Rebbe and his esteemed parents. May we merit to see Moshiach speedily.