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Honoring Rabbi Howard Simon

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.

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Mr. Speaker, this week, Knoxville is losing a wonderful spiritual and community leader who has devoted many years to our community. After serving thirteen years, Rabbi Howard Simon is retiring from the oldest Jewish Congregation in East Tennessee, Temple Beth El, founded in 1864.

Rabbi Simon received his Bachelor of Hebrew Letters degree from Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in 1960, a masters of Hebrew Letters along with his rabbinic ordination in 1963 and a doctor of divinity in 1988.

Rabbi Simon has served on the board of directors of the United Way, Leadership Knoxville, the Knox County Mental Health Association and the executive committee of the Knoxville Jewish Federation.

He is also a member of the Knoxville Ministerial Alliance and the ministerial board for East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

Rabbi Simon has also been honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for his dedication and service to the community.

Before coming to Temple Beth El, Rabbi Simon served as rabbi at Har Sinai Temple in Baltimore; Beth Israel Congregation in Atlantic City, N.J., and K.K. Bene Israel Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Mr. Speaker, Rabbi Simon has been a tremendous spiritual leader in our Nation, but I would like to highlight one of his accomplishments that I am especially proud of. Rabbi Simon had a huge impact on the creation of the Interfaith Health Clinic in Knoxville. This clinic provides medical services for those who otherwise would not be able to afford proper medical care. I believe this says a tremendous amount about Rabbi Howard Simon.

Mr. Speaker, I know that I join with all Americans in thanking Rabbi Simon for his service to Temple Beth El and the Knoxville community for the past thirteen years. I have included a copy of a story written in the Knoxville News-Sentinel honoring Rabbi Simon that I would like to call to the attention of my fellow members and other readers of the Record.

Rabbi Howard Alan Simon greets people as if they shared many moments of tears and cheers together. He embraces one with a firm grip and an engaging smile. To him, they are family. For 13 years, he served as spiritual leader at Temple Beth El, East Tennessee's oldest Jewish congregation. The Jewish Reform congregation was established in 1864 and became a member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations 11 years later. Members are like siblings, calling upon one another and adhering to Simon's open door policy. ``And people waltz in all the time, which is nice,'' he said, in his nearly empty office. ``We've shared so much together.'' Friday, June 25, marks the beginning of Simon's last weekend at the temple. He will retire from the temple, ending his 36-year rabbinic career. During a recent visit, Simon and his wife, retired educator Rona Simon, discussed Simon's rabbinate, their philosophy on teaching and humanity, and their retirement plans. As the pair talked about their time at Temple Beth El, they smiled frequently. ``The people have been so warm. We have a loving, warm congregation,'' Rona Simon said. Howard Simon agreed. Simon will be replaced by Rabbi Beth L. Schwartz, the temple's first woman rabbi. Schwartz is a newly ordained graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where Simon also was ordained. Her work experience includes being an academic adviser at George Mason University; a senior analyst for the U.S. Department of Education; a senior business analyst for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. in McLean, Va., and a book buyer. Schwartz assumes leadership of Temple Beth El on July 1. She is married to Larry Washington, and they have two adult children. ``I told the congregation I feel the best years at Temple Beth El are ahead of them,'' Simon said. ``It's difficult to leave. It has been wonderful for us.'' After 10 years as director of education at the temple, Rona Simon retired in 1998. In May, she retired from her private practice as an educational consultant, specializing in learning disabilities. The temple's school grew from 36 to 120 children during their tenure. ``The focus of my attention the first few years of being here was our religious school, seeing it grow in numbers and enhancing its curriculum,'' he said. Howard Simon said another goal of his administration was to create a familial atmosphere so that the membership interacted with each other in a variety of ways. Outreach and adult education were also emphasized. ``We learned more and more people want the temple, and they want it to be a focal point of their lives,'' Simon said. Simon, the only rabbi in his family, said his experiences at his home temple in Colorado and subsequent leadership roles at a youth camp influenced him. ``Teaching the kids Judaism, I loved the interaction we had with the children,'' he said, adding in college he initially wanted to study law. Throughout his rabbinate he has met officials from former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was among the first religious leaders to spearhead the creation of Knoxville's Interfaith Health Clinic in 1991. He has served as chairman of the clinic's board of directors. He cited it as one of his most important endeavors. ''I am proud to have been a part of the group that brought this into being,'' he said. When commenting about service, Simon used a Hebrew term which means ``repair the world,'' a Judaic belief. ''We're supposed to, as individuals, try to make the world a better place,'' he said. ``Part of my rabbinic is to be committed to the community we live in. We do not live in a vacuum. Fortunately I had a congregation that agreed with that and supported me.'' Simon, a humanitarian and scholar, also is an author. He has a book of poetry, ``Back from the Abyss: Thoughts on Life and Death'' and looks forward to completing other works, one on his experiences as a rabbi in New Jersey, before and after gambling was legalized in Atlantic City. One book may be about retirement: How to plan for it and how to respond to the emotions it may evoke. ``You need to be active,'' he said. ``Also you need to have a realization that retirement is not a lowering of your self- esteem but an opening of a new chapter in your life.'' Rona Simon added, ``It's a new beginning.'' In their new beginning, the Simons will reduce but not eliminate all of their civic commitments. They want to spend more time with each other, their children and three grandchildren. A few of their road trips will be to away Lady Vols basketball games. When the Lady Vols basketball team's schedule is released, the Simons, who are perennial ticket holders, have a planning meeting. ``She tells me to block those nights out so I try not to have meetings,'' says Simon. ``At this point, the ideal job for me would be the team's chaplain.'' He laughed. ``They have done so much for Knoxville and are excellent role models,'' Rona Simon said. ``They are role models not because they win but because they inspire young people and are committed to various causes.'' A special Shabbat service, prepared by Simon, on June 25 will be followed by a special oneg Shabbat to honor Simon at the temple. On Saturday, June 26, there will be a program beginning at 7:30 p.m. that will also celebrate the 80th birthday of temple member Millie Gelber. At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27, there will be a special dinner honoring Simon's 36 years of service to Reform Judaism and his 13 years at the temple. It will be at the Hyatt and will feature a toast and a roast of Simon by his relatives and friends.