Seymour S. Cohen passed away on June 19 in Olney after a long illness.
For the bulk of his professional career he had been an executive with B’nai B’rith International and, before that, with the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO), at the time the teenage youth program of B’nai B’rith.
His B’nai B’rith career spanned 47 years. During that time he spent 13 years as a regional director for BBYO in Pittsburgh and, later, Philadelphia. In 1961, he was promoted to the organization’s national office as assistant national director of programs and publications. In 1964, he became director of program and publications and director of adviser training, a position he held until 1972. In this capacity he oversaw program activities of the nation’s largest Jewish youth organization and worked closely in developing leadership skills of national officers of AZA, BBG, and BBYO, the three organizational components. In addition, he directed training activities for volunteer adult advisers of the organization.
In 1972, he was appointed to serve as director of the B’nai B’rith Community and Volunteer Services, the division of the Jewish service organization that coordinates volunteer services across the United States and in many other countries. At various points in his career, he also served the organization as acting director of various program departments and was the founding director of the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Committee. Among Mr. Cohen’s programming highlights were developing the organization’s Play it Safe program to educate children to the dangers of child abduction; overseeing the organization’s role with the International Coalition for Jewish Prisoners; and numerous other community service programs, including the organization’s widely respected disaster relief program.
In 1977, Mr. Cohen was one of 123 people held hostage for 39 hours when seven Hanafi Muslim terrorists took over B’nai B’rith headquarters on Rhode Island Ave., the District Building and the Islamic Center. Mr. Cohen later observed that he was certain he would not survive the encounter.
Mr. Cohen also worked with the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Committee, a position in which he organized the first U.S. entry in the fast pitch softball competition at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 1985. The team managed to win the Gold Medal in its first outing.
During his B’nai B’rith career, Mr. Cohen was elected president of the Executive Staff Association of B’nai B’rith and B’nai B’rith Women by his colleagues and was awarded the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award in 1994 for outstanding professional service.
Mr. Cohen retired from B’nai B’rith in 1995 and resided in Silver Spring and, until his death, in Olney. He was active in various community and civic endeavors.
A graduate of the University of Florida, Mr. Cohen had a B.S. degree in Physics and worked for three years for the Navy Department on a variety of projects including housing for the atomic bomb. In 1953 he returned to school to earn a master’s in social work from the University of Pittsburgh graduate school of social work. For several years, he served as field instructor for both the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of social work and the Virginia Commonwealth graduate school of social work.
Mr. Cohen is survived by his wife Nancy, son David (and Monya) Cohen, daughter Beth (and Michael) Singer. He was pre-deceased by daughter Leah.