Pamela Cohen was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. One grandparent escaped the Czar's army, another the pogroms in Kishinev. Pam says, "We were very aware of our humble beginnings in Eastern Europe and understood that being a part of this history was both a privilege and a moral responsibility."
Pam was nearly thirty and raising three children when she learned that Soviet Jews were being arrested and persecuted. Pam created a satellite office of Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, and in 1978, her group brought out their first Refusenik. Pam asked the Refusenik a simple question that would foreshadow her grassroots approach to Jewish human rights monitoring. Pam asked, "What could we do better?" The Refusenik responded, "Why didn't you come?" Pam immediately booked the first of many trips to the Soviet Union.
Writer and jailed dissident Natan Sharansky called Pam "the general of a fighting army." Her army of students and housewives became the eyes, ears and advocates of Soviet Jews. In 1986, Pam became President the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), which she led for ten years. Pam has testified before Congress and has participated in briefings on Soviet emigration and state-sponsored anti-Semitism for President Reagan, Secretaries of State Schultz, Baker and Condoleeza Rice.
Pam was a child of the Movement. One Refusenik, Leonid Volvovsky, became Pam's first Hebrew teacher. "Every book he requested, I bought a second copy for myself." In 1995, Pam organized the Komimiyus North Shore Torah Center with Rabbi Ezera Belsky. Pam says, "Torah is OUR relationship with God and God's expectations of us... It is a moral compromise not to try and live the way you think."