When Marc Simon, the oldest son of Tree of Life victims Bernice and Sylvan Simon, took the podium at the Ralph Schugar Chapel to eulogize his parents, his voice echoed with anger as well as love and grief.
“Our lives were forever shattered on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, when our beloved mother and father were senselessly, brutally and savagely murdered at Tree of Life congregation along with nine other fellow congregants,” he began.
Bernice, 84, and Sylvan, 86, were shot by a man yelling violent, anti-Semitic invectives while they, and nine other worshippers, were in the midst of prayer.
Their son noted that the couple, “longtime and deeply rooted Pittsburgh residents,” were married 62 years ago in the same chapel where they were killed.
“What my mother and father witnessed and endured is utterly unspeakable,” Simon said.
“We had plans to meet at their home on that Saturday afternoon to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Instead, the following day, we had to begin with the horrific reality of the situation by visiting their home to gather important papers necessary for funeral arrangements.”
Being in their home that day “was surreal on all levels,” he said. “There are no words in the English language or any other that could adequately describe my feelings since the horrific events. … Everyone here today, and the families of the other nine victims, share in my indescribable shock, grief and pain of this great tragedy.”
Sylvan used to joke about “hitting the lottery, knowing full well that the odds were astronomical,” his son said. “Well, unfortunately, he hit the lottery all right. The lottery of untimely death in a most awful and unpredictable manner.”
The Simons were “deeply in love” and “did everything together as a married couple,” their son told the crowd of mourners packed into the funeral home, which seats more than 300 people. They were healthy, led active lives and managed their own affairs. He described their devotion to their family and to their congregation, Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
“They were regulars at morning minyan services several days a week, as well as never missing a Saturday Shabbat service,” he said. “Rabbi [Jeffrey] Myers certainly became one of their very, very best friends.”
Sylvan was described by various family members as having a great sense of humor, and despite his “tough guy” demeaner, was a “big Teddy bear.”
Bernice was praised for her cooking and baking, her patience and her focus on family.
Marc Simon urged the crowd to make sure his parents’ lives and their deaths would inspire bringing about positive change in the world.
“Let’s enable my parents’ great love, admiration and understanding for each other, that 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 eliminate the kind of hatred that fostered this horrific event,” Simon said. “In that sense, my parents’ untimely death may hopefully nurture and promote a positive outcome and meaning for society. That is what they would wish for.”
After thanking all who had provided support to his family and the families of the other nine victims — including the White House, FBI, Pittsburgh Police Department and various local nonprofits and businesses — he expressed confidence that the community would heal and instigate effective preventative security measures.
“With time comes healing,” Simon said. “We as a caring community will only become closer, grow stronger and hopefully discover and implement protocols that will forever eliminate the possibility of a repetition of this senseless tragedy so that others do not have to suffer.”
Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, who was in town for the second time this week, addressed the mourners.
He quoted from King Solomon, that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
“I think we are entitled this week to be silent, to bow our heads … and yes, to shed tears,” Dayan said. He also implored the room to soon “speak up against the atrocity of anti-Semitism and it’s ugly head that’s been raised.”
“Every citizen in Israel” feels the pain of Pittsburgh, Dayan added.
At the conclusion of the eulogies of family members, Myers asked if anyone else wanted to share any words.
Judah Samet, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor — and a TOL*OLS member who missed being caught in the gunfire because he was four minutes late to shul that day — took the mic.
Quoting from the Book of Lamentations, Samet, in Hebrew and then in English, said: “For this I cry, mine eyes runneth down. … I’m crying because my people are broken.”
As a Holocaust survivor, Samet urged the crowd to “think positive.”
“And what’s the positive?” he queried. “We are an eternal people, and that’s where we draw our strength from.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.