NCJW honors Scott, Marjorie Cowen
By KAREN LOZINSKI, Special to the CCJN
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) held its annual Hannah G. Solomon Award luncheon Monday, Feb. 3, honoring retiring Tulane president Scott Cowen and his wife Marjorie for their commitment to the public good and the city of New Orleans. The annual event was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Riverside Hotel.
The Cowens join a long list of previous Hannah G. Solomon Award recipients with extensive track records in community activism and service as well as civic leadership. The award is named for the NCJW’s founder and has been bestowed 46 times since its inception in 1966.
An early social activist, Solomon is remembered for her work in helping enact child labor laws, instituting child welfare programs as well as for improving housing, education, and health care for the poor.
“Hannah Solomon possessed all the characteristics I so admire: vision, courage, resilience, grit, and an unwavering commitment to make a difference in the world doing so,” Cowen stated during his acceptance speech.
“Hannah Solomon and those who followed her epitomize ‘transformative leadership’ – something so needed in the world, but well represented in the NCJW,” he averred.
Marjorie Cowen has provided steadfast support for her husband, who acknowledged she is “the power behind the throne, both personally and professionally,” in his acceptance speech. Mrs. Cowen has served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of New Orleans, Touro Synagogue, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the NCJW.
Scott Cowen is the fourteenth president of Tulane University, and is both the Seymour S. Goodman Memorial Professor of Business in Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business and Professor of Economics in the School of Liberal Arts.
Cowen was charged with rebuilding the public school system of New Orleans after the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina via his appointment to the Bring New Orleans Back Commission. He is the co-founder of the Fleur-de-lis Ambassadors Program, which served to showcase New Orleans’ renewed vitality and viability after the storm.
NCJW President, June Leopold, opened the festivities and spoke with great enthusiasm of the progress and accomplishments of the organization, past and present, including H.I.P.P.Y (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters), Head Start, the FOX 8 Defenders, and domestic violence services. Leopold mentioned upcoming initiatives of the NCJW that focus on “emerging leaders, based on advocacy, [as] upcoming leadership is big part of sharing our knowledge.”
Rabbi emeritus David Goldstein of Touro Synagogue delivered the invocation, lauding the Cowens, saying they “have ennobled and beautified our community with their generosity, wisdom and love.”
In addition, New Orleans Councilmember-at-large Jackie Clarkson was on hand to congratulate the Cowens personally and present them with a city proclamation acknowledging their honor. She praised the Cowens for their post-Katrina efforts to get New Orleans back on its feet, calling them “beacons of hope and beacons of light.” She stated how fitting it is the NCJW chose to honor both Cowens with the award.
“On behalf of women’s health and safety, [the Cowens] are first in line. They are first in line to help others,” Clarkson said. “You mean the world to me; don’t stop what you do.”
Event chairwoman Shellye Farber presented the Cowens with the award, a bust of Solomon inscribed with the Cowens’ names and the year, after a loving recitation of many of their achievements.
“I am honored to be in the company of a group of people who have dedicated their lives to bettering the lives of others,” Marjorie Cowen said, addressing the attendees. “I am honored and humbled to be counted among the list of incredibly talented people around the country who have devoted their energy, their vitality, and, when possible, their resources to make the world a better place.”
After his wife’s acceptance speech, Cowen also communicated his gratitude for the accolade bestowed on them by the NCJW.
“It is particularly special to me because I share this award with my wife and join an extraordinary group of people who have received this award in the past,” he said. “Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that I am one of just a few men to receive this prestigious award. I must admit this give me a little added pleasure,” he declared to a host of smiles and approving laughter.
“In many ways, NCJW’s focus and accomplishments have been a driving force that have guided the remarkable recovery of New Orleans since Katrina,” he continued. “But our work is not yet done. No communities can thrive without a deep commitment to children, families, and social justice. Your organization has led the way in these areas for over a century and will continue to do so for decades to come.”
Cowen’s retirement as Tulane University president begins effective July 1. His replacement, University of Pennsylvania Law School dean Michael Fitts, was announced the next day, Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Farber expressed concern at the luncheon that the Cowens might not elect to remain a vital part of the community in New Orleans once his term expires.
Cowen’s next book, The Inevitable City: The Resurgence of New Orleans and the Future of Urban America, comes out in June. He put Farber’s fears to rest with a simple assurance, by which both he and his wife have maintained stood since moving here in 1998.
“Margie and I pledge to stand with you shoulder-to-shoulder to continue your work so that New Orleans can become a model of how to build sustainable, healthy, and just communities,” he concluded. “This is why we have decided New Orleans will be our home residence after I step down as president. We believe in New Orleans and New Orleanians.”
To view additional photos from the event: