Abby Joseph Cohen: JTS to get first woman chair, as Kekst steps down

JTS to get first woman chair, as Kekst steps down

Source: JTA, 6-12-09

Plenty of attention was focused on Rabbi Ismar Schorsch’s stepping down as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the search process that tapped Arnie Eisen as his replacement. Now another major changing of the guard is taking place: Gershon Kekst is stepping down as chairman of the board after 18 years. His successor will be Goldman Sachs executive  Abby Joseph Cohen, the first woman to hold the JTS position.

Here’s the full media release:

New York, NY, June 12, 2009—Abby Joseph Cohen, Senior Investment Strategist and President of the Global Markets Institute at Goldman Sachs, has been named the first woman to chair the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) effective July 1. She succeeds Gershon Kekst, founder and President of Kekst and Company Incorporated.

Ms. Cohen, one of the most prominent women on Wall Street, joined the JTS board in 2004. Her involvement with JTS has spanned many areas, including committee work on governance and investment and service on the chancellor search committee. Ms. Cohen was honored by JTS in 2001 with the Louis Marshall Award, presented to individuals who demonstrate the philanthropic commitment embodied by Louis Marshall, an esteemed constitutional lawyer and former board chair of JTS. Ms. Cohen joined Goldman Sachs in 1990, where her work is focused on the intersection of economic trends, public policy, and financial markets. She provides research and counsel to investors, corporations, and governments around the world.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have the experience and insight that our new chair, Abby Joseph Cohen, brings to JTS,” said Professor Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor of JTS. “I have gotten to know her—since her pointed questions to me when I appeared before the chancellor search committee—as a probing intellect and a wise, committed, and caring human being. She is not only a visionary leader in finance, but a dedicated philanthropist in a number of areas, particularly higher education and the preparation of future Jewish leaders. Abby is deeply committed to Judaism and to JTS. I am excited at the prospect of working with her closely in the months and years to come.

“Abby assumes the helm of the JTS board from Gershon Kekst, whose tenure has been marked by years of incomparable growth at JTS,” continued Chancellor Eisen. “He has brought to the leadership of JTS a great deal more than business acumen and public relations expertise. Gershon is a man of deep faith whose dedication to Conservative Judaism and this institution make his counsel utterly invaluable. It has been an honor and privilege for me, as well as a source of enormous pleasure, to work with him. All of us at JTS are profoundly in his debt and look forward to his continued involvement as a trustee and chair emeritus.”

”I’m honored to serve as board chair,” said Ms. Cohen. “JTS, founded in 1886, has long played an essential role in educating leaders in the clergy, academia, and the community. This will continue. The century-old tradition of academic excellence is reflected in all our undergraduate and graduate schools and in our deep commitment to the next generation of students. My colleagues on the JTS board enthusiastically support the institution’s core mission to provide outstanding educational opportunities on campus and to respond to the growing demand for high-quality instruction in the Jewish world more broadly. Leaders trained at JTS will engage in the vital religious and secular issues of our day as rabbis, cantors, academics, Jewish educators, and well-informed laity.”

“The past eighteen years have been transformative for JTS and the school stands today as a vital institutionGershon Kekst of Jewish learning with a bright future,” said Mr. Kekst. “It is a great center of scholarship and research, teaching, and training, and a steadfast base for building thriving Jewish communities. I am thankfulto have worked with and learned from its exceptional leadership, faculty, student body, and Board of Trustees, and it has been gratifying to work with Abby Joseph Cohen; I am very pleased that she will be succeeding me as chair. Abby’s career in business and public service has decisively proven her to be a thinker and leader of rare perceptiveness, drive, and character. I can think of no one better qualified or more appropriate to shepherd the JTS board, and I look forward to continuing to work with her as a fellow trustee of JTS.”

Many of Abby Cohen’s other volunteer commitments also focus on education and on public policy. She is a Trustee Emerita and Presidential Councillor at Cornell University and a member of the boards of the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Brookings Institution. She previously served as chair of the board of the 90,000-member Chartered Financial Analyst Institute from which she received the Distinguished Service Award. An adviser to the investment committees of Cornell University and Major League Baseball, she serves on the national board of the Smithsonian Institution and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Abby Cohen holds degrees in economics from Cornell University and George Washington University and has received three honorary doctorates, including one in engineering. Ms. Cohen has been recognized as a leader in US portfolio strategy for more than fifteen years, and has been ranked number one by Institutional Investor magazine and Greenwich Associates. Her career is the subject of a Harvard Business School case study and a Business Week cover story. Ms. Cohen has been honored by many groups, including the Financial Women’s Association, New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street Week Hall of Fame, and leading financial publications. She began her career as an economist at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington DC.

The Cohen family is deeply involved in Jewish campus life. Abby’s husband, David M. Cohen, serves on Hillel’s International Board of Governors, the organization’s highest consultative body, and has been a member of Hillel’s Executive Committee for several years. Abby and David received the Cornell Hillel Tanner Prize for their contributions to Cornell and the Jewish people, and were honorees at the Hillel 2006 gala. David Cohen is Deputy Commissioner and Labor Counsel of the New York City Police Department.

Gershon Kekst has been a JTS trustee since 1989 and assumed leadership of the board in 1991. His tenure, at eighteen years, is the longest continuous service in that role since Louis Marshall. The son of Hebrew teachers, he has focused his philanthropy and communal leadership on Jewish education and science.

Highlights of his tenure include the appointment of Chancellor Eisen, the establishment of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, and the creation of the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. He also oversaw the expansion of JTS internationally through the formation of Jewish education programs in Russia, Argentina, and Israel. In addition, Mr. Kekst supported the forging and strengthening of critical partnerships between JTS and other arms of the Conservative Movement and other Jewish institutions. A notable accomplishment is expanded interfaith outreach, most recently with the Muslim community, that has resulted in frank dialogue and joint social action projects.

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