Synagogue victims Bernice and Sylvan Simon shared ‘great love’

November 24, 2018

Sylvan and Bernice Simon’s life together ended where it began -- inside the Tree of Life Congregation.

They wed in the Squirrel Hill synagogue 62 years ago, but were among the 11 victims killed there Saturday when a gunman burst in.

“She was always there for me,” said daughter Michelle Simon Weis to the crowd packing the Ralph Schugar Chapel during the couple’s funeral service Thursday. “She was my very best friend.”

Sylvan Simon, 86, was a military veteran and retired accountant, who let his granddaughter style his hair during sleepovers.

Bernice Simon, 84, a former nurse, accompanied her daughter on Costco trips. They loved trying the samples.

Their son Marc Simon recalled how his parents’ tidy home in Wilkinsburg was stocked with food, ready to celebrate his sister’s birthday Saturday afternoon.

“I kept waiting for them to come up the stairs, even though I knew that would never happen,” he said. “The feeling was surreal among all of us.”

Marc Simon acknowledged the shock, grief and pain of the other families, and thanked all the agencies investigating and assisting them.

“Let’s take my parents’ great love, admiration and understanding for each other, which they shared with all of us, to serve as a beacon of light for everyone to shine throughout the world in an attempt to mitigate - and ultimately eliminate - the kind of hatred that fostered this horrific event,” he said.

Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, told mourners that while he didn’t know Bernice and Sylvan Simon personally, he came to know them as reflections of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, and Pittsburgh as a whole: warm and welcoming.

Their grandchildren remembered “Bobie” and “Zadie” for things like taking walks with their dog Max, singing “A Bushel and a Peck” and the making the best mashed potatoes.

Tree of Life’s Rabbi Emeritus Alvin K. Berkun said he would “kibbitz,” or chat, with the Simons every week after Shabbos at the synagogue for 35 years.

Sylvan Simon took a particular interest when Berkun told him that he was one of the three clergy to dedicate the Cemetery of the Alleghenies, where both he and his wife will now be buried.

The pair never missed a Shabbat service. They often helped setup for post-minyan breakfast and would sometimes even be waiting at the synagogue before Rabbi Jeffrey Myers arrived.

“I would see that blue Chevy Malibu in the usual first parking spot in front of the door and knew: it’s a good morning, Bernice and Sylvan are there,” Myers said. “I loved them dearly, like they were my own parents.”

About a dozen longtime Tree of Light congregants joined Myers in leading the audience in one of Sylvan Simon’s favorite songs, “L’dor Va-dor”, which means “From one generation to the next”.

Myers addressed the Simons’ family at the close of the service.

“Your responsibility as the family is to share these great stories of Sylvan and Bernice from one generation to the next,” Myers said, “because as you do that, Bernice and Sylvan live.”

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