Houston leader and community activist Ellen Cohen received the ADL Southwest Region’s Milton S. Popkin Award at ADL’s January board meeting, in recognition of her many years of public service, non-profit work and dedication to making the world a better place.
Recipients of the award are selected by past ADL Southwest Regional Board Chairs in recognition of their unique contributions in furthering the mission of ADL, for translating our country’s ideals into a way of life for all Americans, and for promoting intergroup relations. The award is named for the late Milton S. Popkin, who served on ADL’s board for many years, ultimately as Chair, and who used his outdoor advertising company to promote the causes to which he was devoted, including fighting prejudice and hate.
Popkin’s grandson, ADL Board Member Jonathan Paine, spoke eloquently of his grandfather’s dedication human rights, civil rights, and bettering his community. Longtime ADL Board Member and former Chair George Stark then gave a brief rundown of Cohen’s accomplishments, including her years as a Texas Legislator, Houston City Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem, her 18-year tenure as President and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, her decade of service as executive director of Houston’s American Jewish Committee (AJC), her founding of Canada’s Reach to Recovery, a self-help post-mastectomy group, and her dedication, as a survivor, to breast cancer victims in general.
Stark mentioned her continuing advocacy as a “voice of reason, voice of clarity, and morality,” and her emphasis on the Jewish idea of “tikkun olam,” (repairing the world.)
Cohen accepted the award with humble gratitude. First, she thanked her daughter and grandson, Marcie and Mathew Zlotnik, for being with her. She then thanked ADL and said she was honored to receive an award named after Milton Popkin, who was well-known for his community activism and his commitment to ADL’s mission to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.
She mentioned some of the things she did as a legislator and City Council Member to be a role model on Jewish issues for her staff and her community, giving her staff days off for Jewish holidays, and recording an office phone message for constituents who called on those days, telling them that the office was closed for a Jewish holiday and would reopen when the holiday was over. “As a Jewish politician,” she said, I strongly believe that the opportunity to educate the public must be given.” She proved her commitment to that philosophy by sponsoring a bill that established the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. After it was established, she served as a commissioner.
Cohen said she was very grateful for the award and promised to continue fighting for the causes she believed in. ADL Southwest Region Board members gave her a standing ovation.