About Michael and the Award

This year’s Michael H. K. Cohen Award and Travel Fellowship was given to two Moishe House residents and/or Moishe House Without Walls hosts, the first at the Moishe House National Training Conference (Natty Con) 2019 in Oconomowoc, Milwaukee, and the second at the Moishe House International Training Conference (Internatty Con) 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. The award recipients exhibit a passion for adventure and travel with warmth, kindness, curiosity, intelligence, and a love of Judaism — the special qualities that Michael brought to this world during his 28 years.

The award’s namesake, Michael H.K. Cohen, was a leader of his Jewish community, serving as Head Jewish Mentor for the Claremont Colleges and Treasurer of Claremont College Hillel. After graduation, Michael traveled through Europe before settling in Beijing, China, where he built close connections with Chinese and expat friends, and found a home-away-from-home in the Beijing Moishe House and the Kehillat Beijing Congregation. Combining a natural curiosity about people and places with a warmth and openness that made others feel their best, Michael liked nothing more than traveling, and he took every opportunity to explore the most remote regions of Asia, seeing the sights and meeting new people.  

When he returned to Boston in late 2016, not having lived there for the past eight years, he connected with the Cambridge Moishe House and began to build a new community for himself. 

His premature death in 2018, at the age of 28, shocked and saddened everyone who knew him.

This award honors the spirit Michael brought to everything he did and his legacy of caring deeply for others, building bridges to new cultures, appreciating our Jewish heritage and bringing happiness to everyone around him.

The Awardees:

Brandi Applebaum

Brandi Applebaum is a MHWOW host in Boca Raton, FL. Also, a Camp Nai Nai Nai participant and Peer-Led Retreat facilitator, Brandi has hosted more than 30 MHWOW programs including Shabbat dinners, clothing swaps, book clubs, and holiday celebrations. Brandi actively seeks out people looking for a community and welcomes them into her own, whether or not she has met them. This year, she hosted a  “Six Degrees of Separation Shabbat.” Each participant brought a friend who the rest of the group hadn’t met before. She used conversation cards to facilitate authentic connections and form a brand new group of connections and friendships.

When accepting her award at Natty Con, Brandi said she immediately felt connected to Michael when she learned about his incredible legacy as they both spent time in China. Brandi has recently continued her love of travel by visiting India on a  JDC Entwine trip with other MHWOW hosts.

We are so excited to name Brandi as this year’s Michael H.K. Cohen award recipient as she consistently demonstrates the qualities Michael brought into the world. Her warmth, kindness, and love of Judaism makes Brandi one of a kind

-Liza Moskowitz (pictured on the left), Associate Director of MHWOW Programs, presented the award to Natty Con recipient, Brandi Applebaum (pictured on the right), MHWOW host, Boca Raton, FL.

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro, Moishe House London – Kilburn resident was awarded the Michael H.K. Cohen award at Internatty Con in Stockholm, SE. 

Ben’s warmth and passion for Judaism are shown through his love of creating Shabbat dinners. He makes sure that everyone who attends, new or old, knows that their contribution to the evening is special and valued, carefully remembering the dish that everyone brought, and the people they spoke to, so he can send them messages afterward thanking them for the efforts.

He also exhibits a natural curiosity towards other cultures, places, and people. Bringing his work in an interfaith nonprofit into the house, Ben has created joint festival events such as Lag B’Omer Iftar, collected thousands of feminine hygiene products for the local food bank and has sent Eid gifts for local refugee boys. These sorts of programs prompt natural and engaging learning that stays with the dozens of community members that attend.

Ben’s passion for creating an inclusive, welcoming and open community, supporting not only his house through the careful natural way he builds and curates relationships but his interactions with the wider community, encourages his co-residents and community members to patake as well.

-David Cygielman, Moishe House Founder & CEO (pictured on the left) and Danielle Trainis, Regional Manager – Global Communities (pictured in the middle) presented the award to Internatty Con recipient, Ben Shapiro (pictured on the right), Moishe House London – Kilburn resident.