Saying he is “grateful to have worked with wonderful and dedicated” colleagues, lay leaders, synagogue staff, and congregants, Cantor Murray E. Simon was honored as he prepared to retire after 14 years of service to The Jewish Center of Princeton and some three decades in the cantorate.
Simon, who will officially leave Aug. 31, is the longest-serving clergy member in the center’s 60-year history.
“I am pleased if I may have touched your lives in…both the joyous times and the times of sorrow,” Simon told the gathering of 300 on May 16. “Thank you for your kindness and love.”
Daniel Brent cochaired the dinner with committee members Martha Friedman, Debbie Glick, Merrye Shavel Hudis, Rachel Humphrey, Sheila and Jack Marrero, and Lori Simon.
Among those paying tribute to the cantor was Rabbi Adam Feldman, who called him “a great mensch” and told the honoree, “You make so many people feel so good. You understand that God gave you a gift of a voice and you have used it for so many years to not only praise God from the bima, but also to praise God’s people in your personal interactions.”
Congregation president Jesse Treu presented a roster of Simon’s “trademarks,” including “his big grin when he turns to the congregation to urge them to ‘Come on, sing louder’…, his pumping of the fist to punctuate his calling to the Torah a bar or bat mitzva for the first time, [and] his…attaining that high-C note and holding it for a second or two before returning to the prayer.”
The center’s associate rabbi, Annie Tucker, lauded the way Simon treats “every family and individual with joy, with humor, and with a deep respect for the tasks with which he has been charged.”
And in remarks read by Lori Simon, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, the center’s religious leader emeritus, praised Simon as “a caring pastor and loving friend to so many,” with a “wonderful sense of humor and warm and inviting smile.”
The evening featured a musical tribute by Cantor Meredith Greenberg of Temple Ner Tamid, Bloomfield; Cantor Arthur Katlin, Adath Israel Congregation, Lawrenceville; Cantor Elizabeth Shammash, Tiferet Beth Israel, Blue Bell, Pa.; and the center’s former cantor, Rabbi Bob Freedman of Society Hill Synagogue, Philadelphia, accompanied by pianist Beth Ertz and flutist Audrey Welber.
Brent told the cantor, as he presented the congregation’s farewell gift, “We hope that every time you use this Kiddush cup and tray to recite blessings, your heart will be filled with the love for you that fills our hearts…. May the grapes embellishing these gifts remind you that the fruits of your lifetime’s labors have enriched us immeasurably….”
A surprise program included a parody of “One Singular Sensation” written by Bob Weber and Karen Meister and sung by Rachel Humphrey, David Politiziner, Gail Rose, and Ed Soffen and accompanied by Bob Weber on the piano.
Simon, a scholar of classical cantorial singing and liturgical history, is the producer, in conjunction with the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, of the DVDs Great Cantors of the Golden Age and Great Cantors in Cinema.
A native of Philadelphia, he studied for the cantorate at Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music in New York City.
Before coming to The Jewish Center, he served major congregations in New York City and Boston and has been a lecturer in Jewish music and liturgy at Brandeis and Hebrew College in Brookline, Mass.
Simon teaches on the faculty of the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York City, where he received the P’nei Torah Faculty Award in 2009. He has served as vice-president of communal affairs for the Princeton Clergy Association, national president of the Cantorial Alumni Association of the Hebrew Union College and the American Conference of Cantors, and president of the New England Jewish Music Forum; he is a member of the national executive council of the Cantors Assembly.
The recipient of two honorary doctor of music degrees — from HUC and the Jewish Theological Seminary — Simon this year received The Jewish Center’s Tibor Fabian Award for Teaching Excellence. He has recorded every Torah portion and haftara and made them available via the Internet. His wife, Toby, is also a gifted musician and educator.
As Simon expressed his “very deep gratitude and appreciation” for the send-off, he said, “I love you all and I will always remember this night…. I am grateful to my wife, Toby, and our daughters, Rachel (of blessed memory) and Rebecca, for their support, encouragement, and patience.…
“Psalm 146 states, ‘I will sing unto the Lord while yet I have breath.’ And so I shall….”