The Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM) honored two prominent members of the state’s legal community as well as two legal stars of the future at its annual awards night held on Zoom on May 25.

Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel received JBAM’s inaugural Ruth Bader Ginsburg Champion of Justice Award, and retired longtime U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn received JBAM’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

In accepting her award, the attorney general praised the empowering legacy of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg. Nessel spoke of her own clients’ Supreme Court case DeBoer v. Snyder in 2015 and said the highlight of her career was sitting in the Supreme Court across from Justice Ginsburg as the same-sex marriage case was being argued. Nessel immediately afterward proposed to her wife on the steps of the court.

The court eventually ruled 5-4 to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. with Justice Ginsburg part of the majority. Nessel displays a painting of Ginsburg in her house.

Nessel, elected in 2018, said she is the highest-elected Jewish official in Michigan history, “and the importance of that is not lost on me.” She spoke of the Jewish heritage of protecting others, “not just other Jews, but people of all races, heritages, national origins, etc., etc. It’s so important that we be staunch defenders of equal rights for all people, and that’s what I’ve tried to be.”

Judge Cohn was not able to attend the event, but his biographer, journalist-author Jack Lessenberry delivered the judge’s prepared remarks. The judge stressed the importance of the Jewish concept of empathy as demonstrated by his Jewish predecessors in his District Court and the Jewish justices who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, Cohn said, he hoped his lifetime achievement award would attest to him being “a Jewish judge, not just a judge who happened to be Jewish.” Cohn’s biography Thinking About “The Other Fella”: Avern Cohn’s Life and the Law is scheduled to be released this fall.

JBAM Vice President Andrew Cohen presented $1,500 scholarships in memory of his father, attorney Charles J. Cohen, to two outstanding Jewish law students, Jessica Davidova of Wayne State University and Chase Yarber of the University of Detroit-Mercy. Cohen said that both awardees “demonstrated a commitment to their legal education while improving their community.”

“The future of the Jewish legal community in Michigan is bright,” he added.

At the event, JBAM Past President Rachel Serman greeted attorneys and community members. JBAM President Ellie Mosko welcomed Attorney General Nessel, and board member Austin Hirschhorn introduced the award to Judge Cohn. Board member Nargiz Nesimova moderated a Q&A session.

The Jewish Bar Association of Michigan provides education, resources, mentorship and camaraderie for lawyers and legal support to the wider community. To discover more about JBAM or to contribute to the Charles J. Cohen Scholarship Fund, visit

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