‘The world has lost a true mensch’

Mark Cohen was a top South African-born educator who founded the Good News electronic newsletter.

Mark Cohen and his great-granddaughter, Mia Yomtov 521 (photo credit: Courtesy GN)
Mark Cohen and his great-granddaughter, Mia Yomtov 521
(photo credit: Courtesy GN)
Mark Cohen, a prominent South African-born educator who started and edited the weekly Good News (GN) Israel letter passed away in Ra’anana last month. The electronic newsletter – which kept thousands of people worldwide informed of Israel’s miraculous achievements – became a major factor in countering the vicious delegitimization campaign launched against Israel by its enemies.
Cohen was born in Cape Town on December 18, 1934. After completing a degree in English and history at the University of Cape Town, he began his career in Jewish education at Herzliya, a Jewish day school in Cape Town.
He later served as headmaster of Theodor Herzl school in Port Elizabeth, Yeshiva College in Johannesburg, and Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne.
As head of the Jewish Studies Board of Education in Johannesburg, he was instrumental in developing curricula and methods of teaching that shaped Jewish education in South Africa for many years.
In 1996 he fulfilled a lifelong dream of making aliya and joined the rest of his family in Israel.
In 2002, he began the GN Israel, a weekly newsletter reporting only good news from Israel – from business and technology to the arts and sports.
He received the Yakir Zion award from Telfed (the South African Zionist Federation in Israel) for his work promoting Israel through the GN, which reached over 10,000 people on a weekly basis. The response and interest that he received from GN was nothing short of remarkable, including a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials and an offer from an Israeli hi-tech entrepreneur to invest in the GN to make it international.
As an avid reader of GN and as an activist in support of Israel as a Jewish homeland for her people, I am personally indebted to this remarkable man, who supported Israel in a positive way by speaking of its great qualities and achievements, but never by denigrating its enemies.
“After a long and successful career in Jewish education, Mark created the GN, which was to become the focus of his efforts over the past 10 years and a source of much pride and joy,” the newsletter said on its website. “For those who knew him, creating the GN was a logical extension of Mark’s optimistic nature. He had a deep and uncompromising love of Israel. He loved the country and its people for what they were and was judicious in his criticism for what they were not.
“The many achievements about which he wrote were a never-ending source of genuine amazement to him and invariably he was left with the difficult decision of which items to leave out so as not to make the newsletter too long. Despite the trials and tribulations that the country faces daily, he firmly believed in the justness of a state for Jews in the land of Israel.”
Cohen died on December 3, and is survived by Julie, his wife for over 50 years, children Joseph, Adi and Barry, grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. He was laid to rest in Ra’anana the next day.
“What would you have me say at this our final parting?” his son Joseph asked in his eulogy.
“You would not have me speak of your greatness as an educator, or of your never-ending and uncompromising effort to make this a better world, or of the fact that you were a guiding light, a compass to so many. All of these things were never more important to you than your family and friends. You spared nothing to be a good husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and as your son, I can say that more than any other this was your greatest achievement.
“You leave this world in peace with no words left unsaid and no accounts left unsettled. Churchill, who we both admired, once said, ‘You have enemies? Good. That means that you have stood up for something, sometime in your life.’ For once I can’t agree. You had no enemies and you stood up for many things in your life.
“You were a man of culture. Beginning with your vast knowledge and love of Tanach [Bible], through your ability to quote Shakespeare at a whim or conduct La Bohème in front of the TV and down to rolling in fits of laughter at the lunacy of Spike Milligan.”
His son Barry called him “a giant of a man in every respect, a true Torah scholar, a genius, a tzaddik, a giver, a maker of great people and a lover of life, people, Eretz Yisrael and Hashem [God]. It has been an honor being your son. I doff my cap at you dad, and we will miss you so much. The world has lost a true mensch but is a better place because of you.”
The writer is vice chairman of the South African Zionist Federation. Metro staff contributed to this report.