Synagogue victims Bernice and Sylvan Simon: ‘They’ve been together forever’

November 18, 2018

Bernice Simon baked delicious cranberry orange bread.

She would leave a loaf and thank you note on Heather Graham’s car after Graham shoveled snow from her elderly neighbors’ Wilkinsburg townhouse during the winter.

“It was delicious,” Graham recalled Sunday.

Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband Sylvan Simon, 86, were killed Saturday when a gunman tore through Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. It was the same place they wed in a December 1956 candlelight ceremony.

Nine others were killed Saturday and six people, including four police officers, were wounded.

The Simons’ neighbors in their tight-knit community of townhouses in Wilkinsburg grieved Sunday morning after learning the sweet, down-to-earth couple had been killed in what officials have deemed a hate crime. One neighbor cried on the couple’s street and another placed a bouquet of yellow flowers at their doorstep with a card addressed to “Syl and Bernice.”

“They held hands and they always smiled, and he would open the door for her, all those things that you want from another person,” Graham said. “They were really generous and nice to everybody. It’s just horrific.”

Leslie Kirkland stood stunned on their street Sunday, bundled up against the dank October morning. She recalled chatting for about an hour with the Simons at a jazz event in the community last month. The couple at one time had a pug named Max, which Kirkland said is how she met them while walking her dog by the same name.

“I’m just shocked,” Kirkland said.

Bernice and Sylvan Simon announced their engagement in April 1956, according to newspaper accounts. Bernice, then with the last name Rothenberg, was a student at the Montefiore Hospital School of Nursing. Sylvan Simon was attending Robert Morris School of Accounting, the notice said. After their nuptials, they visited New York City.

The Simons’ front door has three stickers affixed to it, two say “Support Our Troops” and “God Bless America.” A third says “America the Beautiful” over a photo of Mount Rushmore.

Michael and Jo Stepaniak knew the Simons for decades. Michael Stepaniak said he learned about their deaths Sunday morning and said, because it’s so personal, that he’ll remember that moment forever.

“A loving couple, and they’ve been together forever,” he said. “I hope they didn’t suffer much, and I miss them terribly.”

He and Sylvan Simon would chat by the mailbox, and he spoke to Bernice Simon over the phone Wednesday.

Graham’s pit-boxer mix Dre loved the Simons, too. She said he would bound over to them in the front yard.

“They loved my dog, and they were always so nice to him,” Graham said. “They were just such nice people, and it’s really sad that they’re not here anymore.”

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