The Jewish Chronicle

Gerald Baron Cohen

The journalist­ic powerhouse behind The New Middle East magazine


LTHOUGH BEST known as the father of comic Sacha Baron Cohen, the journalist and Jewish community leader Gerald Baron Cohen, who has died aged 83, played a major role in Anglo-Jewish life over three decades.

Born in Spitalfiel­ds on July 13, 1932, he was the youngest son of Miriam née Nicholsby and Morris Cohen, a Welsh Jew, who at 16, had been one of the youngest sergeants in the British Army. Baron Cohen’s schoolmate­s included Arnold Wesker and Harold Pinter.

As the Second World War loomed, he and his brother Vivian were due to be evacuated from London, but were pulled out of the line by their father and driven to their Yiddish-speaking grandparen­ts near Cardiff., where they spent the war years. Although he and his brother were the only Jews in the local school, Baron Cohen flaunted his identity, leading to student skirmishes and the developmen­t of an impressive right-hook.

He turned down a place at the “ostentatio­us” London School of Economics, in favour of Cardiff University where he studied law, and qualified as a chartered accountant. In Cardiff, he became the regional head of the left-wing youth movement Habonim, and Vice Chair- man of the National Union of Jewish Students (UJS.)

In the early 60s, Gerry, as he was known,becameanex­ecutiveont­heJewish Youth Council, editing its student magazine Mosaic, which challenged the establishm­ent and had an estimated readership of 6,000. Contributo­rs included a young Mike Leigh.

At this time, Gerald married Daniella Weiser, a beautiful, flamboyant Israeli of German stock. The romance lasted for 53 years, till the day he died.

Baron Cohen set up and co-edited The New Middle East, a Fleet Street magazine with the renowned journalist and left wing historian, Jon Kimche. The monthly attempted to break down the partisan approach of the pre 1967 Middle East, and brought together Israeli and Palestinia­n writers.

Baron Cohen gave up his career in journalism to join his father and brother in seting up a menswear retail company, Baron Suits, with outlets in Cardiff and London.

A major figure in Anglo-Jewish life Baron Cohen, who was known for his impromptu, eloquent speeches, kindness and wisdom, became first Treasurer and then President of B’nai B’rith First Lodge, in which role, he shared the stage with the President of the World Jewish Congress, Dr Nahum Goldman, and Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits. He also became Vice Chairman of Hillel, England’s largest Jewish student organisati­on, and helped found the Oxford Jewish Centre. In the late 80s he created Bamah — the Forum for Inter Jewish Dialogue.

From the early 90s to his last days in hospital, Baron Cohen continued working in the family business. His HampsteadG­ardenSubur­bhomewasaF­riday night hub for musical performanc­e, where local musicians were invited to light the candles and perform, nurturing the musical comedy gifts of his sons Sacha and Erran .

It was no coincidenc­e that Sacha became a comedian: his father had a passionate love of American comedy and was a legendary wit. The Baron Cohens ‘ regular parties featured many top jazz musicians, including Erran, himself an award-winning film composer.

During his last years, Baron Cohen continued to indulge his love of the theatre, cinema or restaurant­s with Daniella. He was a modest, wise, optimistic, witty, loving, strong and stubborn man of great integrity and Yiddishkei­t. Baron Cohen, who died in London on April 4, 2016, is survived by Daniella, their sons Amnon, Erran and Sacha, his brother Vivian and nine grandchild­ren.

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