Zion was a throwback to an earlier time, when a seemingly simple working-man would be a Jew of learning, piety, and chesed.
Zion Cohen was born in Gan Yavne, Israel, on the 22 Sh’vat 5714 (1954) to a devout and pious Yemenite family. His father was the rav of Beit Knesset Shevet Achim and was called “HaMori” in the Yemenite tradition. Zion’s mother Shulamit was very devoted to her children’s religious upbringing, and every Motza’ei Shabbat she would sit by the window and listen to them recite T’hilim. From there, they developed a love of T’hilim and they learned the sefer by heart.
As a child, Zion attended Bet Sefer Sinai and was accepted into the selective and prestigious yeshivah of Rav Nerya in Kfar Haroeh. Zion took the entrance exam to Bar Ilan University, where they were so impressed that he was offered a full scholarship. But he was not interested in pursuing studies there. “All he ever wanted to do,” said his brother Rav Dovid Cohen, yibadeil l’chayim tovim v’aruchim, was to fix things and help people. His room at home was filled with appliances that he took apart. If he couldn’t take it apart, he saved it in a box. This Zion never stopped doing.
Zion was an expert mechanic; he could diagnose and fix any problem. The only difficulty was getting him to give you a price and then paying him. He made himself available at any time when there was a need, and he saved many a trip or a simchah by showing up at six in the morning or in the middle of the night. An elderly woman related that when she had car trouble, he came to her, fixed the car, and wouldn’t take money. Hundreds if not thousands of such stories exist. When I mentioned to Rav Cohen Zion’s legendary reluctance to take money, I added, “But Zion would say, “Don’t worry, it’s in the book.” His brother said he does not believe such a book existed, and certainly no one ever saw it!
Zion had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Torah and the Talmud. He could quote passages verbatim. He attended shiurim daily. Wherever he attended a shiur, the magid shiur expressed that the shiur was enriched by his participation. He was knowledgeable in many areas – history, geography, politics, and current events – and could speak about them with insight and depth. He was a beautiful baal t’filah and baal k’riah.
He was always smiling and always looked happy. It was always uplifting to speak to him.
Reb Zion ben Nathan (and Shulamit) is survived by his daughters Ronit Weintraub and Rachel, his brother HaRav Dovid Cohen (rav of the Ohr Binyamin Congregation on 68th Drive, and (in Eretz Yisrael) brother Eli and sisters Pnina and Malka.
Anyone who knew Zion could see what an extraordinary person he was, in spite of his humility. He was taken from us as a vital and healthy person, never sick, so it was particularly agonizing these past few weeks, as he was suddenly and tragically stricken. Nistarim darchei Hashem – the ways of Hashem are hidden. While we mourn our loss, we can be confident that he is nestled in the Almighty’s embrace.
Y’hi zichro baruch.
By Rabbi Dr. Elimelech Gottlieb