Bernard Simon, a member of the B’nai B’rith professional staff for more than 40 years, died of natural causes April 20, 2010 at his home in Olney, Md. He had served as director of public relations for the Jewish service organization from 1956 until shortly before his retirement in 1979.
Simon, a Weehawken, N.J., native, began his career as a reporter for several New Jersey dailies and worked for 10 years as associate public relations director and editor of a monthly magazine for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Simon joined the parent organization, B’nai B’rith as director of public relations in 1956. From 1970-71 he served as editor of the B’nai B’rith International Jewish Monthly.
In 1958, he accompanied Philip M. Klutznick, then-president of B’nai B’rith, on a tour of Israel that resulted in a jointly written eight-article series, “This is Israel,” published by the Hearst newspaper chain and other major U.S. newspapers. He also served as editorial consultant on Klutznick’s book, No Easy Answers, and was the author of more than 200 magazine articles in publications ranging from the Saturday Evening Post to Coronet magazines.
Simon was a member of the B’nai B’rith delegation that toured Eastern Europe in 1961 to study the status of Jewish life behind what was then known as “the Iron Curtain.” Internal reports issued as a result of that tour are widely seen as being cornerstone documents that led to the beginning of the movement to free Soviet Jews. Early in 1971, Simon was in Vienna, Austria, as a major wave of Jews from the then-Soviet Union passed through the transfer point for émigrés bound for Tel Aviv.
When Hanafi terrorists occupied the B’nai B’rith headquarters and two other Washington, D.C., locations in 1977, holding more than 130 people hostage for 38 hours, Simon was one of the 10 captives designated as “old men” who were selected to feed their co-workers and escort them to the bathroom. That group was also threatened to be one of the first to be murdered if the terrorists’ demands were not met. Upon his release, he wrote a lengthy essay on the experience that was published on The New York Times opinion page.
Simon graduated from New York University in 1941 and served 42 months with the U.S. Army in World War II. After leaving the army, he worked for the Religious News Service, the forerunner to what is now the JTA (formerly Jewish Telegraphic Agency) and as a freelance journalist before joining the B’nai B’rith family.
“The contributions of Mr. Simon to helping the Jewish and general community know of the broad range of programs and services offered by B’nai B’rith, and our role on the world scene had an enormous impact on making B’nai B’rith a household name,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said.
“Bernie will always be remembered as one of the true pioneer leaders in the world of Jewish communal service,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin added. “In addition to his courageous and exemplary role in public relations, he was a tireless advocate for the staff of our organization, and was instrumental in developing our retirement plan.”
Simon is survived by his loving wife, Dorothy Simon, two sons Gary Simon of Potomac, Md., and David Simon, of Baltimore, as well as five grandchildren. His daughter, Linda Evans, passed away in 1990.
The family has asked that contributions be made to the Bernard and Dorothy Simon Philanthropic Fund of the B’nai B’rith Foundation of the U.S., 2020 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20006.