Bernard Simon, father of HBO producer, dies
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.
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.
April 21, 2010; 2:01 PM ET
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