All eyes on Simon Cohen

Simon Cohen

Simon Cohen initiated the effort to form the Shalom Jewish Community, a new employee resource group at the Lab. Photo by Blaise Douros/LLNL.

When Simon Cohen joined Lawrence Livermore National Lab in 1989 to work with laser systems as an Optical Engineer, he was not only new to the Lab but also to California.  
“There’s a cultural adjustment coming from the East Coast to the West Coast,” said Cohen, “and it’s even more pronounced when you come from a region with a large Jewish population, and numerous synagogues, to a region that has a smaller Jewish population or is spread out across a larger geographic area.”  

Last year, a colleague suggested to Cohen that there should be an on-site Torah study group for interested Lab employees. Cohen’s response was, “We’re not going to do that — we’re going to do something much bigger.” (The Torah is comprised of the five major books of the Hebrew bible.) 

In 2022, Cohen initiated the effort to form the Shalom Jewish Community, a new employee resource group (ERG) at the Lab. Cohen shared that he wanted to establish a group that enabled people to come together to support each other, find a sense of belonging and be more comfortable being their true selves at work while sharing Jewish culture and traditions with other Lab employees. 

When forming the Shalom Jewish Community (ShalomJC) ERG, Cohen and his co-founders articulated their vision to host events, observe holidays, share concepts from the Torah, and hear people speak about their lived experiences through a Jewish lens. Additionally, much of what ShalomJC offers is a window into Jewish culture for all Lab employees, like the Chanukkah celebration and Jewish New Year luncheon. Employees tasted latkes (potato pancakes), matzah ball soup and chocolate babkah, ate chocolate “coins” (Chanukah gelt), learned how to play the traditional dreidel game, heard the sound of a shofar (ram’s horn), and had the opportunity to connect with other Lab employees with similar interests. 

Cohen feels strongly that ERGs, like ShalomJC, and other diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the Lab are not only important for the individuals who make up the Lab’s workforce, but that they’re also key to the success of the Lab’s core missions. “When I recruit for LLNL,” Cohen said, “aside from sharing that we have amazing career opportunities and challenges, I express that we have employee resource groups and activity clubs to help you find community, feel welcomed and connect with something familiar despite being in a new place.”  

“Everyone should feel like they are a part of our Lab community and that they can come to work as their most authentic self,” Cohen said. “It has been shown that even the most advanced scientific or engineering problems get solved more effectively and more quickly by groups that are diverse and where people feel they are part of something greater than themselves.” 

Cohen adds that it has been an honor supporting the Lab’s national security mission through his work at LLNL. He started his career at LLNL as an optical engineer in the Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (AVLIS) and has provided expertise to numerous programs including extreme ultraviolet lithography, Sandia’s Z machine, Stanford’s Linear Accelerator (LCLS-II), and for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope being deployed in Chile. Cohen has also spent the last two decades supporting LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Photon Science Directorate in a variety of capacities.  

“The years with NIF have been challenging, but very rewarding, and I am thrilled to be part of such an important program, and to see us achieve fusion ignition,” Cohen said. 

Amy Weldon 


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