Rev Raphael Isaac Cohen (1803-1865)
by George Fogelson
Raphael Isaac Cohen was born in 1803, most likely in Stolp in Pommerania (now Słupsk, Poland), one of nine children of Isaac Freundlich. Raphael left Stolp in the early 1800s and by the 1820s he was living in Hanover, where he was a fellow student of Dr Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-90), who later became Chief Rabbi. A family friendship between the Cohens and the Adlers lasted for a century.
It is unclear why and when Raphael changed his surname to Cohen. A family legend states that his direct male ancestors were Cohanim – the priestly tribe of Israel – and it seems logical that this is why he chose this name.
It appears that Raphael was married twice. His marriage to his first wife, whose name is unknown, produced two daughters, both born in Hamburg: Theresa (born in 1828) and Bertha (born in 1832). Raphael and his family arrived in England sometime between Bertha’s birth in 1832 and 1836, when his wife died. Theresa and Bertha were sent to Hamburg for several years, presumably to be brought up by relatives or friends. Raphael remarried Bloom, a native of Dover, by 1851.
Raphael’s presence in Dover was first noted in 1839, where he is listed as Secretary for Marriages at Dover Synagogue. Dover’s Jewish community has always been small: in 1841, the congregation had only eight families. This was reinforced over a number of years by a Jewish boarding school called Sussex House, which was founded in about 1848 by Raphael Cohen. Descriptions of Sussex House reveal it was exceedingly comfortable and hygienic, with warm and cold bath rooms, a nursery and a playground. The syllabus included “English, mathematics, book-keeping, mental calculation, elocution etc”, as well as French, German and an option of Latin or Greek. In terms of Jewish education, pupils were taught Hebrew, with “the higher classes studying Rashi, Shulkhan Arukh and Mishnah”. By 1851, morning and evening services were held in the schoolroom, as the synagogue was too small to accommodate both the congregation and the staff and 53 pupils of Sussex House!
Raphael was known as Reverend Cohen (“Reverend” was used instead of “Rabbi” in England during this period) for he acted as lay preacher at the synagogue. His students greatly admired him, making presentations to him in 1851 and 1856.
He was also active in bettering the lives of Jews throughout England. In 1850, he financially helped establish a Society for the Encouragement of Literature among the Jews of England, and was an annual subscriber to this society. He was also active politically and became the spokesman of the Jewish inhabitants of Dover, welcoming and entertained guests. He was instrumental in obtaining the necessary funds to build a new synagogue for the Jewish inhabitants of Dover, which was opened in 1863. In September 1864, he was formerly elected leader of the Dover Jewish community.
Raphael was not only involved in the Jewish affairs of the city. He was well-known in Dover and participated in various civic duties. One of his last acts was taking part in the dedication ceremony of a large mansion, originally known as Mount Ellis.
Raphael lived in Dover until his death in 1865, but was visiting his daughter Bertha and her husband in Liverpool at the time of his death, “for a change if air”. Members of the Dover Jewish community drew their blinds and closed their shutters as a mark of respect, whilst others travelled to Liverpool for the funeral. The community felt such a void in its leadership that many of its endeavours came to a standstill.
- Jewish Chronicle 10 March 1848 (available via JC Archive (subscription required) at http://www.thejc.com).
- Jewish Chronicle 8 December 1865 (available via JC Archive (subscription required) at http://www.thejc.com).
- Roth, C, “The Rise of Provincial Jewry”.
Rev Raphael Isaac Cohen (1803-1865): A 07.14
Theresa Otterbourg (née Cohen, his daughter; 1828-1909): A 18.03
Bertha Lewis (née Cohen, his daughter; 1832-1896): A 18.05
David Lewis (né Levy, Bertha’s husband; 1823-1885): A 18.04