Joshua Cohen, 37, a veteran of the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia office, is the new director of New Jersey ADL.
Cohen began his new job on Jan. 8, after five years at Philadelphia ADL.
Cohen —the third NJ regional director since the departure of Etzion Neuer in 2011 after seven years on the job — succeeds Shayna Alexander, who last April transferred east from her job as associate director of the ADL’s Mountain States regional office in Denver. She returned to her previous position in October.
Neuer is currently director of community service and policy for the ADL’s New York region.
Cohen said his interest in the ADL was triggered by a chance encounter outside a forum on the Affordable Health Care Act back in 2009, while he was working at Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a child advocacy organization in Philadelphia. There, he had a confrontation that redirected his life.
“There was a bunch of people standing in front of me holding up signs with pictures of President Obama in a Nazi SS uniform and an Adolf Hitler mustache,” he said. He discovered they were followers of longtime conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.
“I told them: ‘I really don’t care what your politics are, but to compare the president of the United States to Nazis or Hitler is totally inappropriate and completely unfair,” said Cohen. “It demeans the Shoa and those who perished.’”
Within a week he read a letter in a local newspaper from Barry Morrison, then head of the ADL’s Philadelphia office, objecting to the labeling of political opponents as Nazis.
“I was so glad there is an ADL presence to call these people out,” said Cohen. “So I decided if something ever opened up at the ADL, I would apply for it.”
A few months later, in December 2009, that opportunity occurred. Cohen began in the Philadelphia office as assistant, then associate, regional director, overseeing civil rights issues in a territory comprising eastern Pennsylvania, south Jersey, and Delaware.
“We responded to incidents of anti-Semitism and racism and we developed community outreach, connections with interfaith and cross-cultural organizations, and officials in law enforcement.”
Cohen also dealt with issues on college campuses and developed a young leadership division for that ADL region.
His agenda for New Jersey includes “fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate; collaborating with coalition partners, interfaith partners, and law enforcement; and furthering our civil rights agenda and our educational issues.”
“I am letting people know we are still here and we are still vital,” Cohen said. “We want to let people know that if they have experienced anti-Semitism or bias, the ADL is there to help them fight.”
Among the early activities on his schedule were a Jan. 12 meeting of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ and a talk on global anti-Semitism at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange scheduled for Jan. 14. A get-together with Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, is also in the works.
Cohen said he believes “a lot of great work can be done in the interfaith community — meeting with the Muslim community, the Christian community, and others in the non-Jewish community. A lot of civil rights issues are important parts of ADL’s agenda.”
“We saw Josh to be a great fit to take the helm and carry out our mission within the broad and diverse communities across this state,” said Ross Pearlson of West Orange, ADL NJ regional board chair, in a Jan. 12 press release.
Prior to his working as an advocate for children, Cohen was a government relations executive at UJA-Federation of New York, where he managed a multi-issue health and human services lobbying portfolio. He received his bachelor of arts in political science from the State University of New York at Albany and a master of science in nonprofit management from New School University’s Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy.
Cohen, his wife, and their two small sons now live in the town of Haddonfield in Camden County, but they plan to move closer to the ADL headquarters in Florham Park by late February.