Signer Spotlight:

Danny Cohn
Mountain Brook, AL

Danny Cohn is the CEO of the Birmingham Jewish Federation.

What does the Jewish Future Promise mean to you?

Hineni – here I am. I can’t ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t do; I have to give first. The Promise was something easy for me to stand up for, and then ask my community to join me in doing what’s right.  

I believe that the most valuable thing that you own is your voice. Your word is your honor and your integrity. The Promise is simply signaling: “I’m going to do it.”

On being a Jewish community leader following the attacks on October 7

It only underscored the importance of supporting Jewish organizations and institutions, like the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

You never build a firehouse after you need, and the JFNA is the firehouse that was already in place. I was able to travel to Israel two weeks after the outbreak of the war and speak live to the community on the ground to really understand the importance of our support, which was really impactful for me and the community.

How did October 7 change the way you look at philanthropy?

We raised more than $1.5 million in two weeks in conjunction with our annual campaign, and saw the high value of temporary endowments and how they allowed more leeway to access funds in a state of emergency.

For those more comfortable with permanent endowments, I would ask donors to consider an emergency clause. This would allow them to feel comfortable using the funds in a different way, so in the case we have another war that needs our support, we will be able to put full force from the diaspora behind it.

On being Jewish in the American South

It’s a unique experience to be Jewish in the South, especially in Birmingham. I feel like you have to try a little harder to be Jewish here, but this can also make it more fulfilling to be Jewish because you have to actively hold on to your traditions.

There’s no kosher food available outside Chabad, no Jewish burial site, or even any delis. However, we have beautiful synagogues, tight communities, and really wonderful people here.

On a silver lining from the pandemic

I took my role in Birmingham in March 2020, and the pandemic was a blessing in disguise because it linked me immediately with the people who may have otherwise been isolated in their silos. We were really able to turn on a spigot here quickly and rally the community around raising money to fight COVID-19 long before we were raising formal campaign dollars.

While we were shut off from the world, COVID-19 made our Jewish community stronger. We knew we had to rely on each other. We knew we were operating as a single hand for the entire community. Whether you were the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Services, or the Federation, everyone was rowing together for the betterment of the community. It was a good reset, and the communities that were able to embrace the changes brought by the pandemic are going to be stronger in the future.

What must be done to engage young Jews today?

I think that the hardest thing for young Jews to give up is their time, so we must find ways to get them passionate enough about something to engage in their community, when the whole world is screaming at them for attention.

It’s up to us as Jewish leaders to offer them seats whenever we can in the planning process of our communities. You can’t create Jewish leaders overnight, which is why programs that bring them in during their formative years are so critical.

For example, our Teen Tzedekah program is set up so that upon a young Jew’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, our federation matches every dollar they’ve put into a donor advised fund in order to help them launch their own philanthropic journey. By creating Jewish experiences for youth that resonate with them and give them positive attitudes towards the Jewish community, we are helping indirectly fund the future.


Danny Cohn is the CEO of The Birmingham Jewish Federation and Birmingham Jewish Foundation. Over the last two decades, prior to his arrival in Birmingham, Danny had been an active lay leader in many Jewish Philanthropic Institutions. Originally from Omaha with a 15-year stint in Chicago, Danny currently lives with his husband Andrew, daughter Nora and Wheaton Terrier, Lucy in Mountain Brook, Alabama.