Eli Cohen was born in Albany, New York, and raised in a traditional Conservative household, attending a Solomon Schechter day school during elementary and junior high school. He received a BA in Psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1982, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco in 1987.
In the 1980's, he became active in AIDS issues and civil rights for the lesbian and gay communities after taking the profoundly spiritual step of coming into his identity as a gay man. He also worked with the National Lawyer's Guild and with American Indian children in San Francisco. Later, he became a public defender, and then an appellate defender, working especially with juveniles and child dependency cases.
Since leaving the full-time practice of law on Purim 1994, Eli has been co-leader for the High Holidays at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy, Michigan, with his friend and mentor, Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, and an adult Jewish education and Bnai Mitzvah teacher in Santa Cruz, California. In 2001, while leading a congregational tour with Rabbi Arnie in Israel, Eli was invited to become the first student rabbi of Chadeish Yameinu, the Jewish Renewal Community of Santa Cruz, where he serves today.
Eli wishes to thank his mentors and advisors, Rabbis Eitan Julius, Leah Novick, Arnie Sleutelberg, Marcia Prager, Daniel Siegel, and Shohama Wiener, as well as his many teachers, for their guidance and support. He is especially indebted to his dear friend and study partner, Reb Curly (Lori) Klein, and most of all, to his parents and to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
"When I discovered the Kabbalah, it opened a window. When I found Reb Zalman, he opened the door, and my life was never the same. My study and teaching is inspired by him, and I pray it will be my blessing to be able to inspire others as his student."