When attorney Charles Cohen walked into the hospital emergency room to complain of chest discomfort on April 2, neither he nor his family could have suspected that a massive heart attack would take his life just minutes later.
Least of all, his son and law partner, Andrew Cohen.
“My dad had no history of heart trouble,” Andrew said. “He was checked out the month before and got the ‘all clear.’”
But with the sudden loss of his confidant and mentor, how would the younger Cohen carry on?
“In the Jewish tradition, we say Kaddish to let God know the loved one was a good person,” Andrew said, noting a son or daughter officially mourns for a parent for 11 months.
“In talking with my Uncle Alan Cohen, we came up with the idea of doing something special in addition — something that would be a living tribute to my dad, Alan’s brother.
“My dad began practicing law in 1977, focusing on aiding physically injured clients. In recent years, although he wasn’t religious, he had an appreciation for Jewish law and its connection to secular American law.
“Uncle Alan lives in Jerusalem as well as California and is religiously observant. Through him and my cousins, I was introduced to Rabbi Chaim Fink, an educator with Partners Detroit, and Rabbi Shragie Myers, executive director of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Southfield.
Andrew, Alan, the rabbis and Partners Detroit designed an 11-part monthly lecture series featuring nationally recognized speakers. The schedule complements the 11 months of mourning for a parent. The focus of the series is the intersection between American law and Jewish law. All speakers agreed to appear at no cost above travel and accommodations.
The lecture series began June 8 at Prime 10, a kosher restaurant in Southfield. Each event features a buffet at 6 p.m. followed by the speaker at 6:30 and networking and dessert at 7:30. About 80 people have been attending the talks each month. Alan Cohen graciously has paid the costs of the series, Andrew said.
The co-sponsors are Partners Detroit and the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM), where Andrew Cohen is a founding member and vice president of finance. The events are free and geared toward JBAM members and those attorneys who want to join.
Local community leader, banker and attorney Gary Torgow led off the series speaking on the need for civility in the practice of law and in life. He was followed in July by Washington, D.C.-based civil rights and criminal attorney Nathan “Nat” Lewin, who outlined the many legal battles he fought to secure the public display of large Chanukah menorahs.
The next presenter was New York-based negligence attorney Harry Rothenberg who related how he would sometimes consult with rabbis regarding ethical issues that arose during trials or where Jewish law might contradict the secular law.
The upcoming speaker on Thursday, Sept. 14, will be Alyza D. Lewin, the daughter and law partner of Nathan Lewin. She began her career in Israel where she clerked on the Supreme Court. She will speak on the Zivotofsky case, which she handled, involving an American who was born in Jerusalem in 2002 and requested a U.S. passport listing his place of birth to be Israel. The U.S. passport office refused, as the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as being a part of Israel.
On Oct. 18, the co-speakers will be attorney Gary August of Farmington Hills and Rabbi Leiby Burnham of Partners Detroit. The November speaker will be Rabbi Ken Spiro, a senior lecturer and researcher with Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem.
“We have commitments from people who are leaders in the Jewish and legal communities from across the country, Andrew said.
“The series is geared toward attorneys, and space is limited. All lectures are at no cost to JBAM members. If you’re not a member of JBAM, we encourage you to join at www.jewishbar.org.” For more information, call Partners Detroit at (248) 583-2476.
“It’s a great learning experience for lawyers,” Andrew said, “and a great example of the benefit Partners Detroit and JBAM provides to the Jewish legal community.”
David Sachs Contributing Writer