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In Memory of Elaine Niederhoffer

Elaine Eisenberg Niederhoffer died at age 81 on April 23, 2006, after a brave battle. Adored wife of the late Arthur, beloved mother of Victor Niederhoffer, Diane Niederhoffer Klein, and Roy Niederhoffer. Cherished grandmother of Galt, Katie, Lauren, Rand, Amy, Victoria, Artemis, Kira, Ian, and Gabrielle. Treasured great-grandmother of Magnolia. Dear sister of Phyllis, Helene, and Howard. Elaine influenced a generation of students during her fulfilling elementary school teaching career in Brooklyn, NY and later became a distinguished editor and author in the field of criminal justice and public administration at John Jay College. She continued her work as a mentor and writing coach in Montclair, NJ. Her great love for literature, art, music, and travel, and her extraordinary commitment to family inspires us all. (New York Times, April 25)

A memorial service was held 11:45 a.m. April 25 at The Riverside, 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Her sons, Roy and Victor Niederhoffer, and her brother, Howard P. Eisenberg, were among those who delivered eulogies. The memories of Roy and Howard are published below. An obituary from Victor will be published soon.

Eulogies: Roy Niederhoffer, Howard P. Eisenberg

Eulogy for My Mom, from Roy Niederhoffer

Today we gather to celebrate the life of Elaine Niederhoffer, a life truly well-lived. A life filled for more than 81 years with love, family, pedagogy, altruism, art, literature, music, travel, and most of all, joy.

A few hours after Elaine died on Sunday, her three children, Victor, Diane and me, her son-in-law Francis, and sister Phyllis gathered around a restaurant table and had a typical Niederhoffer meal, tasty Chinese food at a local restaurant. Symbolic of Elaine's zest for getting the most out of every experience, there were far too many dishes for us to finish, but lots of delicious variety to try. But she would have loved it, most of all because the meal included her greatest joy: her family.

As we sat there, eating winter melon soup and sautéed bok choy, Phyllis described the first time Elaine met my father, Arthur. We'd never heard this story before.

Elaine was a tall, shapely, blue-eyed and dark haired beauty at 17, and she and her lovely younger sister Phyllis must have made a stunning pair as they strolled down the Brighton Beach Boardwalk on a balmy summer night in 1941. They encountered a tall, handsome, well-built policeman resplendent in his uniform. Elaine knew him... It was Arthur, the smart, dashing brother of Jane Niederhoffer, Elaine's co-writer on the Lincoln High School newspaper.

"What a beautiful night" said Elaine to Phyllis, and overhearing, Artie replied, "Yes, it is a beautiful night," Phyllis said she could tell instantly that they had connected... she quickly made herself scarce.

Thus began a 40-year love affair that made the songs of the era look insipid by comparison. Perfect partners, Artie and Elaine would teach and learn from each other, write together, raise three children together, and most of all love together in the way we all dream love should be. Their chemistry, so powerful at the beginning, only got stronger as the years went on.

Images that come to mind when I think about Elaine are my mom intently watching me practice the cello, cheering Victor in a squash final, kvelling as Diane got one of her advanced degrees.

Singing to great-granddaughter Magnolia, pointing out the details of her son-in-law Francis's architectural creations, reveling in Gabrielle's smile as she tap danced, intently listening to Ian working his way through the Vivaldi A-minor violin concerto.

Elaine wielding the serving ladle at Thanksgiving (if you hear the words "do you want some more?" it's already too late... the turkey is already on your plate). Discussing precise word usage in one of Amy's poems; Editing an intricately theoretical paper of Lauren's.

Perhaps most iconic of all, I picture my mom and dad, dancing together in perfect time and perfect line, flirting gaily with each other and delighting a party's worth of guests as they foxtrotted or cha-cha'ed at the center of the dance floor.

So many images... each different, each joyful, each a tiny, vibrant thread of the wonderful and variegated tapestry that was Elaine. So many colors. She loved colors. I had to tell her... mom, for me, only one color per sweater. It never worked. But she looked great, and we all grew to love that orange couch.

Sitting around the table last Sunday, we remembered delicious and unusual meals with Elaine. She loved Chinese food, of course... but most Jews love Chinese food -- no one knows why.

But Elaine didn't just love Chinese food -- she loved... and had an encyclopedic knowledge of... China's history, art, music, politics. If there was something to know about China, she probably knew it. One thing she knew, in the summer of '83, was that I was traveling with an orchestra in China. So she did what your typical suburban mom would do. She hopped on a plane and took a historical and cultural tour of China. And between trips to museums and historical sites, Elaine made sure to surprise me in the lobby of my hotel and replenish my toiletries. Which was good because it is SO hard to find wash-n-dries in the People's Boutique. Three snakes wine.. maybe. Something useful like Wash-n-Dries... Elaine.

It wasn't just China. My mom had a professorial knowledge of every country in Southeast Asia, and had been to several, and for years she would regale us with stories of her stay in a Balinese home, or a family trip traveling to Japan with her granddaughters Galt, Katie, Rand, Artie, Victoria and Kira, her son Victor and daughter in law Susan.

Southeast Asia wasn't it either... Be it a bush safari in South Africa, tortoise-watching in the Galapagos, climbing the Acropolis in Greece with her husband Arty and me, or playing by the pool with her grandchildren on a Caribbean island, my mom was fascinated with, and learned as much as possible, about everything the world had to offer.

But knowledge of the world was just a piece of my mom's incredible intellect. She was a voracious reader. I had merely to mention a novel I enjoyed, and two weeks later my mom would be ready to discuss it in depth. From the Da Vinci code to the classics, she'd read it, remembered it, and wanted to talk about it.

Not just an intellectual, Elaine was also an exceptional athlete: a champion paddle tennis and hand tennis player, she also excelled at tennis and swimming, and swam and exercised at the Y every day until just a few months ago.

Elaine enjoyed classical music, opera, theater, dance, film. She had seen all the great performers, and loved to talk about them. She attended concerts, opera and dance at Carnegie Hall, the Met, Avery Fisher, the ballet, modern dance, lectures, walking tours... every musical, every play, every film.

And for each trip she made to Carnegie Hall and the Met, my mom spent many more evenings at noted performance venues like the Great Neck South Junior High School Auditorium, the Montclair Kimberly Academy assembly hall and the Connecticut Montessori School gym, watching innumerable school plays, orchestra concerts, and talent shows. Rarely missing a performance of each of her 10 grandchildren, Elaine probably holds the record for most-times listening to twinkle twinkle little star played out of tune on fractionally-sized violins. But to her ears, our intonation was pitch-perfect. And so were we.

Throughout her adult life, Elaine devoted her energies to her children, our education and our actualization. A typical weekend day for me was a 45 minute drive to Manhattan from Great Neck in our aging, pale green Dodge Polara (my mom hated luxury for luxury's sake, and that old car was quite the outlier in a town full of Cadillacs and Mercedeses). I'd have 2 hours of violin lessons, then lunch, then up to the Museum of Natural History for a course, then maybe the Planetarium. Perhaps a Philharmonic concert in the evening to wrap things up. If I was still awake, we'd pick up some pizza in the car on the way home. And if that night I flickered awake after midnight, I'd hear the tap-tap-"bing!" of the Smith Corona as she and Artie worked on one of their many significant books on the police and criminal justice. Elaine's energy was boundless... and if you know me, or Victor, or Diane, let's just say we know from high-energy.

I like going back to Brighton Beach and Coney Island. It reminds me of my dad, and now my mom. I went there Saturday, for a few minutes, the day before she died. It was a cold and wet day, and you couldn't see all the way to the end of the Boardwalk. Maybe the heavens were crying, unwilling to replay that perfect evening that Elaine met Arthur.

Sometime, you may find yourself walking hand in hand on the Boardwalk with someone you love, on a perfect summer evening or maybe a cold foggy one. Look straight on, past the cafes and the aquarium and the Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Jump, to where the steel rails and wooden boards merge with the ocean. If you're lucky, in the distance you will see the silhouette of a couple dancing: their arms intertwined, their shoes a few feet off the ground, as "Cheek to Cheek" floats softly to your ears, carried on the salty ocean breeze. Mom, Dad, I hope the music never stops.

Elaine Niederhoffer, from Howard P. Eisenberg

Siblings are usually there when a new child arrives. My sister, Elaine was not only there at my birth, but also with my mother supporting her during her pregnancy; helping with her younger sisters, Phyllis and Helene, when our mother was seriously ill. She was there to lovingly help arrange birthday parties for me. She was there to contribute her warmth and special touches on all family occasions, from Seders to Thanksgiving dinners, transforming those gatherings into festivals of love. She was at my Bar Mitzvah, my graduations, my wedding, my 50’th and 60’th birthday celebrations enhancing the joy of those occasions. Elaine was also at many of my handball matches rooting me on, reveling with me in victory and consoling me in defeat; and as anyone who read Vic’s book, “Education of a Speculator” knows, there were all too many of those. She was at the Brighton Beach Baths when I won my first tournament at age 10. She provided support at the nationals in Brownsville where angry at a call, I punched a ball randomly up to the ceiling. That ball came down and hit one of the 1300 spectators in the nose. That spectator was Elaine. She didn’t complain then, nor did she complain years later when she came to Coney Island to watch a match that was scheduled for 2:30 in the afternoon, that didn’t get started until 1:30 the next morning, finishing at 3:00 A.M. Nothing was ever an imposition for Elaine. Nothing was too much for her – and she did whatever she possibly could for me and everyone else she came in contact with, graciously. It gave her great pleasure to do things for people; to help you; to cook something delicious for you; to contribute a bon mot or suggest a salient phrase; or reconstruct a paragraph making it more effective in making the point to be made in a note, a report, a thesis, a book. She was the consummate editor. I never learned to touch type and it was Elaine’s fault. Why should I bother to type some thing when my loving sister was there to do it for me?

Elaine’s contributions to our family were increased geometrically when she married Arty Niederhoffer whose innate goodness complemented her nature so perfectly that the whole was far greater than the sum of the parts. Their mutual love of so many things and especially erudition was pervasive and very hard to resist. They miraculously made me an uncle at age 4, when Vicky was born, and I showed him off to all my friends who were incredulous. I hardly believed it myself. We grew up like brothers, living in houses separated by only a 4 foot alleyway. There were innumerable times when Elaine and Arty sat me down on a step stool in their kitchen and lectured me on my errant ways whether it was dissuading me from hanging out in the pool room, to encouraging me to do homework, or trying to kindle their love of music in me. It didn’t work, but they tried.

My sister was with only with one man in her entire life. She met Arty when she was 14, never dated anyone but him, married at barely 19, and shared their love every day of their lives, until his untimely death. After his passing, although still in the prime of life, she had no desire to be with any other man. Their love was so pervasive that it was inconceivable to Elaine to be with anyone else. After Vic, came Diane, and then, Roy. They nurtured them in a fashion rarely seen. They were completely self effacing, wanting virtually nothing for themselves, and giving their children everything they possibly could on a policeman’s and teacher’s salaries. Tennis lessons, piano lessons, clarinet lessons and violin lessons were as much a part of Vic’s, Diane’s, and Roy’s, upbringing as breathing. Elaine and Arty also gave their children the most precious gift any parent can bestow – every moment of their time that they could, with love and indefatigable energy. It goes without saying that they took great pleasure in the many accomplishments of their children, encouraging them in all they attempted, and rejoicing in their success, as well as that of their grandchildren.

I believe that the most meaningful enduring measure of a person is her nature and the happiness and success of her progeny. Arty often said that the most anyone can strive for is to reach his potential, and to the extent one achieves that goal is the truest measure of success. Vic and Roy were not only thinking outside the box way before that cliché was ever uttered, but developed revelations that seemed from a different universe in achieving academic and business success. Diane is a consummate extension of Elaine’s goodness as she takes pleasure in helping anyone she comes in contact with as well as in her professional capacity of clinical psychologist. No person could have given more of herself than Diane as she tried desperately to thwart the inevitability of the terrible disease that afflicted her dear mother, giving every iota of her being to ease the pain and provide comfort and support to Elaine. Francis was unbelievable in support of his wife and mother-in-law over a heart rending nine-month period, often traveling two and a half hours by public transportation to visit Elaine and drive Diane home from the hospital. No parents could ever hope to have greater satisfaction and love from their children, and this extends to their grandchildren.

Elaine and Arty’s nurturing went well beyond this, however. Because of the big age difference, they were like an additional set of parents for me, helping and encouraging me in any way possible. Their generosity and pleasure in accomplishments extended to my children as well, as you can see by this note from my daughter, Sharon.

“When I was 19, I stayed with Aunt Elaine for a week. At that time, the only musical I really wanted to see was the Who's Tommy. She got tickets, as she knew how much it meant to me. When I first enrolled in art school, she bought me a book on graphic design, as she knew how enthusiastic I was about computer graphics. Most recently, when two of my composites were featured as part of a digital group art show, she hung the one I sent to her in her house, as if it were a museum piece. She always knew what was important to you and shared in your interests. Another memory that I have is of her incredibly effervescent personality. Her 80th birthday would come to be the last time I ever saw her, but her spirit will always live on.”

Elaine made no less an impression on my wife, Joan. Joan hates to fly, and especially to fly alone, but she is here from California with us to share our grief for the sister-in-law who welcomed her into the family with the same intensity of feeling that she had for all of us. As Sharon says, Elaine is no longer here in body, but she will always be with me. The lessons of love that were delivered by her and Arty will never leave me. They are indelibly ingrained in my psyche.

Elaine, we love you and will miss you tremendously.

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