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My Son, the Spy

Yossi Elituv and Shimon Breitkopf

Yossi Cohen is smart, charismatic, and fearless — and the Mossad’s first shomer-Shabbos chief. But in this family, heroism comes in all colors.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

It was an unforgettable Shabbos, an example of true Jewish heroism — the gevurah of a child who grew up in a home where ‘Jewish hero’ was part of his DNA,” says Aryeh Cohen, remembering the bar mitzvah Shabbos of his brave, inspiring grandson Yonatan. Reb Aryeh is the father of newly appointed Mossad head Yossi Cohen — the first shomer Shabbos Mossad chief since the secret-service institution was founded — and Yonatan is Yossi Cohen’s special son. Since infancy, Yonatan has suffered from cerebral palsy as a result of a premature birth with insufficient oxygen, but from his wheelchair, he’s done his father proud. He can’t walk, can’t read as he’s legally blind, and can’t write, but he finished school as a multilingual honors student, served in the IDF intelligence corps for several years, and recently married. We were sitting with Aryeh and Mina Cohen in their Jerusalem living room to hear about their son Yossi — the number-one man in Israel’s wide-ranging international security apparatus and former handler of an international ring of secret agents — but Yossi and Yonatan are really part of the same story. “Yonatan is the real hero,” Yossi Cohen told the press at the time of his recent appointment as Mossad chief.
Yonatan’s bar mitzvah was 16 years ago, but the senior Cohens still remember every detail. “Yossi was living in Vienna then, involved in some mission that of course we’ll never have any idea about,” says Mina Cohen, “and Yonatan was studying in a special school in Hungary. But he had no intention of giving up on any of the regular bar mitzvah ‘duties.’ Aryeh sent Yonatan a tape with the brachos and the haftarah with the trop. For months, Yonatan listened to the recording, refusing to give up until he knew every nuance by heart. “We all traveled to Vienna for the bar mitzvah,” Mrs. Cohen continues, “and it was a sight that makes me cry whenever I think about it. When it was time for Yonatan’s aliyah, Yossi and our other son Chaim came over to lift his wheelchair up to the bimah but Yonatan adamantly refused. ‘It’s not kavod haTorah to go in a wheelchair,’ Yonatan whispered to his father and his uncle. So the congregation waited while Yossi and Chaim held him from each side, and he actually forced himself into a standing position in front of the sefer Torah. He read like a real hero and there wasn’t a dry eye in the shul.” This isn’t just the story of one boy who decided not to let his physical handicap hold him back from moving forward. Rather, it symbolizes an entire family — a mitzvah-observing family that copes with all kinds of obstacles, that puts the security of the Holy Land before its own needs, and that refuses to be intimidated by lurking dangers when it comes to defending Jews. 


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