Meet our Trustees

Marilyn Cohen

For Founding JWF Multigenerational Trustee Marilyn Cohen, It's About Giving Back

By Mary E. Thomas

Looking back at her childhood, Marilyn remembers her mother's blue and white pushke, which sat quietly collecting pocket change and serving as a reminder to her family to always give what they could to those in need. It was a family value that was instilled into her at an early age; although Marilyn's family wasn't wealthy, it was always important to help those less fortunate. "My family always gave whatever they could," Marilyn remembers, "We knew that we should give to charity."

Marilyn began her philanthropic journey forty years ago with her first gift to JUF for $365—just a dollar a day. She started a successful mortgage company with her husband, Ray, and used her success as a gift to help others. "We were very fortunate," she says, "We did very well, and I believe you have to give back."

It was on her second JUF Mission to Israel that she met with Merle Cohen on a beach in Tel Aviv and learned about the Jewish Women's Foundation. She joined as a founding member in 1998, and from the beginning, she loved the elastic nature of the Foundation. She recalls that they were "changing the rules as we went along—everything was meant to be a learning process." She served on JWF's first Steering Committee and has stayed actively involved in the grants process since then, serving on all of the different grants committees at various points in time.

JWF Chicago Trustees

From left: Laura Cohen Zimmitti, Marilyn Cohen, Melanie Cohen Bonanno, Sheryl Cohen Becker

In August 2014, after sixteen years of Trusteeship, Marilyn made the commitment to upgrade to a Multigenerational Trustee. For her three daughters and four granddaughters who now get to share in her legacy as a Multigenerational Trustee of the Jewish Women's Foundation, she says, "This way they know their heritage—and it's important." More than that, they are now part of a Foundation dedicated to cross-generational leadership, and Marilyn believes that including voices of all ages at the table is crucial to the grantmaking done by JWF. "The great thing," she asserts, "Is that if they don't have the monetary means to be in something like this at a young age, I'm leaving that legacy—that they can participate."

Women's rights and political advocacy have always been a focus for Marilyn as she believes strongly in the importance of social action and in changing laws to achieve progress. Outside of the Jewish Women's Foundation, she's dedicated her time to campaigning for equal rights with organizations like the National Council of Jewish Women and she served for seven years with the Response Center. She's been a member of JUF's Government Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee and is presently a member of the Women's Board and Lion of Judah Endowments.

Marilyn is now retired and spends her winters in Florida, babysitting and enjoying time with her grandchildren. She keeps busy learning canasta, mahjong, and taking classes, such as Film Studies, at Florida Atlantic University. She's remained involved in political advocacy and plans on participating in JWF's 2015 Grants Cycle. She looks forward to her daughter, Sheryl, who lives locally, participating in upcoming grants cycles. This is what makes a Multigenerational membership meaningful, she believes; "This is for my daughters, whom I'm very proud of."