By Terry Wunder

About Michael and the Award

The first 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 Natty Con 2018 in Ortonville, Michigan, and another scheduled to be awarded at Internatty Con 2018 in London, England. This award is given to two of our almost 1,000 residents or hosts that combines a passion for adventure and travel with warmth, kindness, curiosity, intelligence, and a love of Judaism — key tenets for a successful Moishe House community builder.

The awards namesake, Michael H.K. Cohen was born in Boston, but spent over three years in Beijing, China, where he used his fluency in Mandarin to work for early-stage Chinese companies for three and a half years.  

Michael 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. 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.  

While in Beijing, Michael 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. 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 Awardee: Deanna Goldner

At the welcoming gathering of Natty Con, Liza Moskowitz, MHWOW Program Manager, proudly introduced Deanna Goldner, MHWOW host from Harlem, New York, as the first recipient. Deanna has been a MHWOW host for a year, after attending resident alum Orly Michaeli’s Peer Led Retreat, Wominyan. Since she began hosting, she has created 13 programs for her peers through Shabbat dinners, Havdallah rituals, Sheva Brachot, and mindfulness practices.

I have been hosting monthly Shabbat dinners for six years. This was my first year of being an MHWOW host. I feel like I’ve been a student and MH has been a great teacher. Great teachers possess three qualities. They inspire hope, ignite imagination, and instill a love of learning… It’s been a very empowering experience to do what I love, which is bringing people together, and be able to put more of myself into Jewish practice.”

MHWOW Program Manager Liza Moskowitz (left) and Deanna Goldner (right)

Deanna was chosen for this award for her dedication to creating warm, welcoming places, for helping people in Harlem, for her Jewish curiosity and love of learning, and her work with vulnerable populations. As a social worker, helping mothers battle addiction, she is dedicated to improving lives. One of her MHWOW programs, a Social Worker’s Self-Care Shabbat, was designed to unplug, reflect, and re-charge. Deanna herself is recharged by bringing others into her community.

“I feel honored to receive this award on behalf of the loving memory of Michael.” Deanna said as she accepted the award in front of the Natty Con community, “I’ve also lost someone dear to me due to suicide and then dedicated my career as a social worker to suicide prevention. It feels meaningful to now focus my role in the Jewish community as a way of celebrating Michael’s life.”

When Deanna was first getting started as a host she reached out to Rabbi Brad Greenstein, Senior Director of Jewish Learning, to ask which retreats were most personal to her goals as a Jewish community builder. She was looking to learn more about meditation to guide guests before and after a Shabbat dinner, as well as spiritual practices that could become more meaningful outdoors. With guidance, she attended the 2018 Mindfulness Retreat in Arizona and was inspired to host her own Dharma Drash at home with assistance from another retreat participant.

Soon after she started incorporating her learning into her social work, bringing mindfulness-based techniques to the vulnerable populations with whom she works.

She embodies Michael’s sense of adventure and curiosity about different cultures: she studied in Argentina and spent time at Moishe House Buenos Aires in its early days, has gone on Germany Closeup, and this year was a participant of the first cohort on 4HQ, Moishe House’s pilot Israel learning trip, immersing in Israeli social issues to run programming in her community. Throughout 4HQ, her first concern was to create a space with room for all opinions on the trip, and to create a loving, vibrant, pluralistic group dynamic.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world. I believe that the hundreds of us here, by performing small acts, or blessings, are transforming the Jewish world.”
–Deanna Goldner, MHWOW Host, New York City