|Barbara and Norman Seiden|
Barbara Cohen Seiden of Tenafly, who died on June 6 at 90, embodied determination, honesty, an iron-strong will, and the resilience of hope, according to her good friend Dr. Sandra Gold.
Barbara Cohen was born in South Bend, Ind., in 1924, the only daughter in a loving, close-knit Orthodox family. It was the custom in many such families for their children to go to college but to live at home as they studied, so she graduated from Purdue University. There she both earned a degree in mathematics – a field in which she excelled – and met her future husband, Norman Seiden.
The Seidens moved to Tenafly, where they flourished. Mr. Seiden went from heading Melnor Industries, a lawn sprinkler and garden supply company that was ideally situated to take advantage of the suburban postwar boom, to becoming a leading developer and builder as well. Both soon became leaders in the community.
Like the county itself, Bergen County’s Jewish community was growing, and both Seidens helped shape and guide it. Ms. Seiden supported a huge range of Jewish communal organizations. The list of those groups is long. It includes but is not limited to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Hadassah, ORT, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Zionist Organization of America, UJA Federation, Israel Bonds, Englewood Hospital, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, and the Technion.
Her husband was one of the guiding forces spearheading the building of the new JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, but he only agreed to take that role after consulting with her. (Once the Seidens decided to sign onto the new JCC, their friends added their support, and the dream became reality.)
Ms. Seiden, by all accounts, was happy at home, raising her three children, Stephen, Pearl, and Mark. Behind the scenes, she and her husband were full life partners. He was their public face, but she was its heart and soul. Mr. Seiden made no philanthropic gift without clearing it with his wife, Dr. Gold said.
“Love was a constant theme in all her relationships,” Dr. Gold added. Her three children made her the grandmother of 13, and those 13 first cousins so far have 11 children between them. Ms. Seiden loved them all.
Beyond all that, Dr. Gold said, was her love for her husband – and her husband’s for her. It was a true romance, according to Dr. Gold, who quoted Edgar Alan Poe’s ode to his lost child bride, Annabelle Lee, to describe it. “He loved with a love that was more than love,” and that described both of them, she said.
In 1976, the Seidens’ life changed. A nightmarish – and avoidable – accident in a hospital, where Ms. Seiden had gone for what should have been a routine procedure, put her in a coma, one from which her doctors assumed that she could not awaken.
But she did wake up. Against all odds, her strong will and desire to live pulled her out of the coma. Although she was left with physical deficits, she did not let them conquer her; instead, she conquered them.
Dr. Gold and her husband, Dr. Arnold Gold, often traveled with the Seidens, and she always was struck by Ms. Seiden’s tenacity, her determination not to be defined or hobbled by her disabilities. She climbed stairs – she climbed up the Pyramids. She used her medical condition as a way to learn to be positive rather than negative, and she developed a sense of humor.
She always had a strong sense of justice. As her family learned after the accident, Ms. Seiden had struck a pact with her housekeeper; if Inel looked after the Seidens when she worked for them, then Ms. Seiden pledged to look after Inel in her old age. Before Ms. Seiden regained consciousness, her husband, knowing nothing of that pact, laid Inel off. He did not need a housekeeper. Ms. Seiden had heard about that before she regained enough strength to be able to talk; once she could talk, her first words were a question about Inel, and a demand that she be taken care of. (Later, Inel returned to work once again for the Seidens.)
“Everything Barbara accomplished in her life was totally unexpected by the experts,” Dr. Gold said. “She was super. Her determination -her steel will – she just went ahead. She forged ahead.
“Neither she nor Norm ever accepted defeat.”
And the community Barbara Seiden left behind is stronger for that iron will.