Donald H. Harrison
San Diego, California—Cantor Simon Bermanis, who performed as an opera
singer in Europe under the direction of famed conductor Bruno Walther before
following a career as a cantor in the United States, died of congestive heart
failure on Feb. 27 at age 90.
Born in Latvia in 1912, Bermanis studied voice at the Vienna Conservatory of
Music, then sang in neutral Switzerland during World War II, thereby escaping
the fate of the rest of his family in Latvia at the hands of the nazis. He had
been signed to a contract with New York's famed Metropolitan Opera, but was
unable to depart nazi-occupied Europe in time to fulfill it. He emigrated to the
United States in 1947, and afterward helped to found the Cantors Assembly, an
arm of the Conservative movement. He had studied and performed chazzanut
His tenor voice served him well for 10 years as a cantor at Park Synagogue in Cleveland,
where he met and married his wife, Alice, in 1955. From 1960 to 1980, he served
as cantor at Congregation Beth Achim in Detroit, Mich., which recently was
merged into Congregation Adat Shalom of that city.
Bermanis remained active in spiritual affairs after retiring to the Rancho
Bernardo area of San Diego in 1980. He was among the founders of Ner
Tamid Synagogue, which met initially in the home of Philip & Ruth Slonim.
Bermanis used to fondly recall singing on the Slonims' back patio, accompanied
by the birds.
Slonim, along with his wife, Ruth Slonim, a past president of Ner Tamid, and
fellow past presidents Marty Fisher, Murray Kuritzky, Mort Isaacson and Javid
Siminou, paid tribute to Bermanis during services Monday at
the El Camino Cemetery.
Rabbi Arnold Kopikis, who officiated, described Simon and Alice Bermanis as
special friends whom he met shortly after arriving in San Diego to serve as
spiritual leader of Congregation Or-El, one of the forerunner congregations of
the present Congregation
He recalled that Simon and Alice Bermanis "approached me after services,
introduced themselves, and said that they enjoyed the service and the spirit of
the congregation, their participation during services, and the music and the
nusah (liturgical style) we used for the prayers," Kopikis told Heritage.
Years later, Kopikis became the spiritual leader at Ner Tamid, where he enjoyed
the membership and collaboration of Bermanis and such other retired clergy as
Rabbi Yehuda Shabatay and Rabbi Bernard Goldsmith.
Kopikis said he often discussed with Bermanis "the richness of music and
melodies and nigunim — an area in which he was a genuine expert."
The Conservative rabbi recalled that Bermanis received an honorary doctorate of
music two years ago from the Jewish
Theological Seminary in recognition of his role in establishing the Cantors
During his retirement, Bermanis often was asked to fill in as a cantor at High
Holiday services and other special occasions at various synagogues in the San
Diego area. Among those using his services over the years were Congregation
B'nai Chaim in Murrieta and Tifereth
Israel Synagogue and Congregation
Beth El in San Diego, his wife, Alice, recalled.
She said Bermanis declined to record his songs, explaining to family members who
urged him to do so that if people "want to hear me sing, they can come to
Besides his wife, Bermanis' survivors include daughters Janet Hirsh of Woodland
Hills and Beverly Foster of Upland; grandchildren Sharon Sachs, Adriene Bloom,
Diane Merrigan, Jason Saperstein, Marla Saperstein and Leslie Saperstein; and
great-grandchildren Spencer Sachs, Taylor Sachs, Brandon Bloom, Ethan Bloom and
The family has suggested contributions be made in his memory to Ner Tamid