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Bernard Simon, father of HBO producer, dies

Emma Brown

Bernard Simon, 89, who served for more than 30 years as public relations director for B'nai B'rith, the international Jewish service organization, died Tuesday at his home in Olney.

Mr. Simon's death was confirmed by his son, David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of the HBO television shows "The Wire" and "Treme."

In an email, David Simon recalled his father editing the galley pages of his first book, "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," about Baltimore homicide detectives: "He tried to systematically delete every single profanity, even those in quotes. He could never be as blunt as the world often is."

Bernard Simon served as chief speechwriter and publicist for B'nai B'rith, planning its triennial conventions and transforming its in-house publication into a glossy general-interest magazine on Jewish life.

During his tenure at B'nai B'rith, he traveled to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where Communist governments restricted religious observance. Upon his return to the United States, he wrote two confidential reports to the B'nai B'rith president about the oppressive conditions he had witnessed abroad.

Released to the public in 1961, those reports helped spur a campaign by Jewish leaders around the world to allow Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate to the West. Eventually, more than a million Jews were allowed leave the Soviet Union.

In 1977, Mr. Simon and more than 100 of his coworkers were held hostage when Hanafi Muslims violently took over B'nai B'rith's headquarters and two other Washington buildings.

The standoff lasted almost 40 hours until ambassadors from three Islamic nations convinced the Hanafis to release the hostages. Mr. Simon recounted the experience in a New York Times op-ed:

"Shock. It numbs the emotions, insulating you from the worst of your fears. It keeps your sanity intact while, your hands bound, you are squirming from flat on your back to flat on your belly, inching for a more comfortable resting place on the hard cement floor."

Mr. Simon retired from his public relations post in 1979, said B'nai B'rith spokesman Harvey Berk, but continued working at B'nai B'rith in various other capacities into the 90s.

A full obituary will follow.

By Emma Brown  |  April 21, 2010; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown , Washington DC-area people  | Tags: bernard simon died, bernard simon dies, bernard simon obituary, david simon's father died  
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In 1972, at 24, Bernie hired me as an intern, I had thought, before working for him, that I was a pretty good writer. But, in a rather gruff yet fatherly way, Bernie conveyed that I was a pretentious overwriter. He simplified everything to the point that my 3 pages of beautiful prose was reduced to three paragraphs. I would write "declared" and he made it "said." I would write "exclaimed" and he made it "said." I would write "remarked".....
After a month or two, I gave up and just wrote as if I was Bernie Simon. Now I am a full time and pretty successful blogger, using a technology that came into existence when Bernie was long retired. And, guess what, Bernie's style is even more applicable to the Internet than to paper. If not for him, there is no way I could do what I do. He taught me well. And he was also a goodhearted and sweet man.

MJ Rosenberg. Chevy Chase

Posted by: mjx47 | April 21, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

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