Simon, Abram

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SIMON, ABRAM (1872–1938), U.S. Reform rabbi. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, he was educated at the University of Cincinnati where he earned his B.A. in 1894, the same year he was ordained by Hebrew Union College. In 1917, long after he had become rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation, Simon earned a Ph.D. from George Washington University, writing on the "The Constructive Character and Function of Religious Progress."

Upon ordination he served as rabbi of B'nai Israel Congregation in Sacramento and then as rabbi of Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska (1899–1904). Under his leadership the temple began to prosper financially, owing to an increase in pew rent. He earned a national reputation for innovation in Jewish education and was elected as the first rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, d.c., in 1903. His predecessor had been ḥazzan. Gracefully and reluctantly, Temple Israel released him from his contract.

The history of Washington Hebrew Congregation records that "Rabbi Abram Simon came to the Congregation in 1904 and dedicated his life to scholarship and community activity. The photograph of his first Confirmation class in 1905 hangs in Ades Hall and begins a long series of pictures of every Confirmation class since. Rabbi Simon was a member of the Red Cross during World War i, broadcast radio lectures, and was president of both the Board of Education in Washington as well as the Conference of Christians and Jews. After his death, the Abram Simon School, a public elementary school, served as an ongoing recognition of his contributions."

In Washington, Simon became a communal leader. In addition to the Board of Education he was a trustee and later president of the Columbia Hospital for Women and also president of the Public Library of Washington. On the national level he was president of the Central Conference of American Rabbi from 1923 to 1925, a founder and later president of the Synagogue Council of America.

He was a founding member of the Reform movement's Committee on Jewish Education. His wife, Carrie Obendorfer *Simon, whom he married in 1896, founded the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which eventually reached 100,000 women in 585 chapters during her lifetime. Pam Nadell, a distinguished American Jewish historian, said: "They pledged dues to help pay down the mortgage and recessed to polish the door knobs… They were extending their roles as homemakers to the synagogue."

As the federation's founding president until 1919, Simon launched the National Committee on Religion, which boosted synagogue attendance and set up Hebrew schools. She also pushed for more women on congregation boards and temple inclusion of interfaith families. She also worked for the Jewish Baille Institute. Her husband was an early enthusiast of women's participation. Fay Sonnenreich recalled that in the 1920, with the permission of Rabbi Abram Simon, she and another young girl sat in the pulpit, held the Torah and read from it.

"I still remember the shocked expressions on the faces of the congregation," she recalled many years later. "Dr. Simon told us afterwards that the board of trustees was angry with him for permitting girls to participate in what traditionally belonged to the men. But he believed in developing the potential of each individual, and his encouragement made a lasting impact upon our lives."

Rabbi Simon wrote A Child's Ritual (1909); A History of Jewish Education (1916); and The Principle of Jewish Education in the Past (1909).


K.M. Olitzsky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Source-book (1993).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]