By Immy Share
After enjoying a phone conservation with Councillor Dan Cohen, I message him to ask for a suitable photograph to go with this feature. He directs me to his Facebook profile or his official one on www.leeds.gov.uk – “I look fairly hideous in them all.”
Just after, he sends me what he says is a snap he took recently. When I open it, there – much to my surprise, and amusement – is a picture of Brad Pitt staring out at me.
So, for the record Dan – I can definitely see the resemblance! Twins separated at birth?
Councillor Dan Cohen was only a young child when he was taught the importance of community, community responsibility and using one’s economic wellbeing to support others.
Now, he prizes his community value as a Conservative Councillor for Alwoodley in Leeds, a role which he first took on nine years ago.
“I had an absolutely idyllic, supported, loved childhood. It was one that taught me the notion that we have an obligation to give to charity responsibly which was no different to me as a notion that in the morning you get up and brush your teeth.
“It was part of the fabric,” he adds.
The product of a stay-at-home mum and a dad who worked in the family hosiery business, Grammar School-boy Dan is a solicitor by profession and spent twenty years prior to his Councillor role as the head of legal for the family company which imported and distributed ladies’ tights.
His successful law degree at Northumbria University followed an incomplete Archaeology and Ancient History degree at Manchester University.
“It turned out that sitting on a muddy hillside in the pouring rain wasn’t quite for me!” he laughs.
But 47-year-old Dan doesn’t knock his attempt and assures me that whilst beginning an archaeology degree wasn’t overly sensible, there was value in the things he learnt whilst doing so.
“And because of that there’s nothing I’d say to my younger self.
“We are all a product of good and bad choices we make and if you’re comfortable with where you are now you are a product of all those decisions.
“I’m blessed to be in the position that I am in pretty much every regard.”
Dan does remember, however, the sadness of losing a parent at a young age to skin cancer.
“There’s one thing I would say to myself actually and that’s a reminder of the importance of sun cream.
“Wear Factor 50!”
As a practising member of the Jewish community, Dan spends his weekends with his “idolised” family: his wife and four children with whom he observes Shabbat, attends the synagogue and enjoy meals with friends.
“Sundays with young children aren’t as calm as Shabbat though and they usually involve a lot of ferrying around!”
Dan’s Jewish faith and religion began his work in the community, having being involved as a youth worker and being the president of Street Lane gardens synagogue previously.
Now, Dan is still largely involved and is also the Chair of Governors and one of the Senior Governors at Brodetsky primary school, along with having helped set up the Leeds Jewish Free School.
These roles bear witness to his belief in the importance of education. “Jewish education is essential for the community as an insurance policy to ensure we have a viable community,” he says. “Without knowledge and knowledge of what the faith is about, the faith can’t survive.”
And, it was his initial involvement in the Jewish community that led Dan to his current Councillor role. “I wanted to do something not just for the Jewish community, but the wider community, to broaden that horizon.”
Dan had been involved as an activist for the Conservative party for some time, and in 2011 after someone else stepped down, he put his name forward amongst a group of people up for selection.
Dan does pay the price for his success, though. “I don’t have a huge amount of spare time and the spare time I do have is built with spending time with schools, acting as a governor and working with young people and that probably takes up about twenty hours a week.”
With the Coronavirus pandemic consuming Dan’s professional time further, he ensures that he is able to act as a signpost for people with different inquiries and concerns, spending his days at the moment juggling his work as a Councillor with his responsibilities as a parent and ensuring his children, ranging from aged five to twelve years old, have all they need to be home-schooled.
“Along with some virtual meetings, I’m acting as a salve for people’s fears to reassure them that we as a city and a government know what we are doing. Initially it was about there being a plan, and hoping that people would be able to trust that plan. But, as human nature, people are always going to question and challenge you.”
I’m sure Brad Pitt would agree.