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COHEN, GUSTAVE M.

COHEN, GUSTAVE M. (26 Mar. 1820-13 Dec. 1902), leader at ANSHE CHESED CONGREGATION from 1861-73, was probably the first musically trained cantor in America. Born in Walsdorf, Meinengen, Germany, Cohen was educated in music, pedagogy, Hebrew, and German at Heidelberghausen in Meinengen. He immigrated to America in 1844, becoming chazan at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, organizing the first choir and introducing organ music to the service. In 1856, he moved to Chicago, then to Cincinnati before coming to Anshe Chesed in 1861. Although he promised not to introduce any reforms at the still-Orthodox congregation, he opened the 1863 Rosh Hashanah service with a German song and used an organ and choir.

Late in 1865, 30 members of Anshe Chesed petitioned Congregation Tifereth Israel for membership provided that Cohen be hired as cantor. The congregation refused. The following year 34 members of Anshe Chesed again petitioned Tifereth Israel for membership under the same conditions. The congregation agreed, and Cohen accepted the Tifereth Israel offer until his release in 1867 when Tifereth Israel hired an ordained rabbi. Cohen returned to Anshe Chesed until 1873, when Rabbi Michael Machol was hired.

Cohen composed and published collections of musical works. He was active in Jewish communal organizations, and in 1861 founded the ZION MUSICAL SOCIETY, probably the first Jewish musical society in America. After leaving Anshe Chesed, Cohen worked as a grocer, bailiff, music teacher, and insurance agent. He lived his last decade at the MONTEFIORE HOME.

Cohen married his wife, Caroline, before he settled in Cleveland. They had 6 children: Dora, Celina, Viola, Hattie, George, and Harriet. He was buried in the WILLET STREET CEMETERY.