January 2, 2007

The Rabbi Samuel S. and A. Irma Cohon Memorial Foundation has named Ivan Ceresnjes of Jerusalem, Israel the recipient of the 2007 Cohon Award for achievement benefiting Klal Yisroel, the total Jewish people.

The Award will be given to Ivan Ceresnjes at Temple Emanuel of Tucson, AZ at, 7:30 p.m., during Friday evening services on February 1, 2008.

He is the first recipient living outside of the United States, and receives the $15,000 Award for his selfless work as former President of the Jewish Community of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War of the early 1990’s. He saved the lives of at least 3,000 people, 2/3 of whom were not Jewish at the risk of his own life and was seriously injured several times. An architect by training, he was elected President of the Jewish Community in Sarajevo before war broke out in Bosnia and served in that capacity until l996 when he moved to Israel with his family.

During the war, he organized the besieged Sarajevo community to undertake 11 non-sectarian evacuations of thousands of citizens from the city, and numerous convoys of humanitarian aid such as food, medicine, fuel, and various kinds of equipment needed for survival. To obtain all of that, he negotiated extensively with political, security and military authorities on all warring sides. He was responsible for organizing a unique postal link between the citizens of Sarajevo and their families dispersed all around the world, smuggling into and out of the besieged city an average of 100,000 letters and parcels annually. In the Jewish community in Sarajevo, he helped to establish a two-way radio station, open on a non-sectarian basis for all citizens during the three year period of total closure of the city, including the cut-off of all telecommunications for ordinary citizens. He organized the opening of three pharmacies which distributed an average of 1,000,000 prescriptions to the besieged city, without charge to customers.

Under Ceresnjes’s guidance, the Jewish community supported various cultural activities during the siege and opened a soup kitchen in the Jewish community for 360 of the most needy from the area surrounding the synagogue. He endured the same hardships as the members of his community who chose to remain in Sarajevo for 3 1/2 years. A modest man, he has never sought honors for his work on behalf of Bosnian Jews. For his heroism and bravery he received the French Legion of Honor Medal.

Ceresnjes lives modestly in Jerusalem, working at the Hebrew University’s Center for Jewish Art to document Jewish architectural heritage throughout Europe. He is also in touch with the Jews who remained in Sarajevo and consults with them as they rebuild their community, to help maintain the climate of good feelings for the Jewish population now.

This is the second year that the Cohon Award is being awarded for rescue which is significant because of world events today. Ceresnjes also fulfills a second of the three qualifications of the award which is education. He is documenting the Jewish architectural heritage in Europe. The third qualification is bringing diverse groups of Jews together. When President Clinton spoke to the World Jewish Congress in l994 he met Ceresnjes and acknowleged his work as President of the Jewish community of Sarejevo in his speech.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, president of the Cohon Memorial Foundation, said, “Rescue begins with saving lives. It must continue the process of saving and strengthening spirits. My grandparents in whose memory this award is dedicated knew this and acted on it. The man we honor this year achieved great results in the field of rescue. He set a fine example which we hope will inspire others.”

about the people who are named in the award:
Samuel S. Cohon, 1888-1959, was a rabbi, professor, author, and guide to two generations of leaders at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio for 33 years where he taught theology and liturgy. He represented Jewish religious scholarship to Christian America and championed the Jewish people against its intellectual and religious enemies. He was accepted by all Jewish groups. His books on Judaism include, “What We Jews Believe”, “Judaism A Way of Life”, and others.

A. Irma Cohon, 1890-1991, lived a century of dedication, to her G-d, her country, people, principles, and most of all to her family. Born in Portland, Oregon, she taught in a one room country school, saved her money and at 18 went to Cincinnati and entered Hebrew Union College with her dream of becoming the first woman rabbi. She was never ordained but met and married the love of her life and worked alongside him throughout his career. She developed a powerful devotion to Jewish music though not a performer herself. She lectured on the subject and wrote a book based upon the lectures, established Publications for Judaism and issued several musical Jewish publications.

Many other deserving candidates were recommended for this year’s award, from several countries. They are welcome to re-apply. The deadline for applications and recommendations for the 2008 Cohon Award will be September 1, 2008.

Recommendation forms and further information on the Cohon Memorial Foundation is available on the website: www.cohonaward.com