By Michael Sudhalter
Robert Simon extended a distinguished family tradition on Sunday afternoon, June 4, at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth.
Simon, a native Fort Worthian, became the fourth generation of his family to serve as president of the Reform synagogue in southwest Fort Worth.
“It’s something I always believed might happen,” Simon said. “I’m very proud to have this opportunity because my family has been part of this synagogue forever. I thought I might be president someday. It’s not a job you run for, but I got a call out of the blue last year. I responded by saying I was willing to serve as president.”
The 59-year-old Simon, a Fort Worth attorney, said his great-great-grandfather, Louis Weltman, was part of Beth-El’s founding in 1902. Weltman was an immigrant from Germany who ultimately settled in Fort Worth.
Beth-El celebrated its 120th anniversary last year.
“I think it’s incredible that Robert Simon will be the president of Beth-El to start the beginning of our next 120 years,” Beth-El Rabbi Brian Zimmerman said. “We have someone that is part of the past and a link to the future.”
Simon’s great-grandfather, Uriah Meyer Simon, served as Beth-El president in the early 20th century and his grandfather, Henry Simon Sr., followed as the synagogue’s president in the 1950s. An uncle, Richard U. Simon, served as president a few years prior to that.
Simon knew his grandfather, who passed in 1980, but Henry Simon Sr.’s presidency preceded Simon’s birth.
Simon’s father, Henry Simon Jr., attended Sunday’s ceremony and is very proud of his son. Simon Jr., an 85-year-old retired attorney, served as Beth-El president from 1977 to 1979 when his son was beginning his teenage years.
“This is wonderful — Robert is a very nice, very capable fellow,” Henry Simon Jr. said.
Simon vividly remembers accompanying his father to Shabbat services before and during his presidency.
Simon grew up in Beth-El and enrolled in Yale University in the early 1980s. He lived in Connecticut, Spain, England, Austin and Dallas.
“While living in various places, I attended all different types of synagogues, but my foundation at Beth-El prepared me to participate in all of it,” Simon said.
Just weeks after his marriage to Cindy Simon in January 1998 (in Dallas), the Simons moved to Fort Worth and became members of Beth-El.
The couple raised their three children at Beth-El, and Simon served on the board twice, from 2002 to 2005 and 2007 to 2009.
“I’m glad I became president after I became an empty-nester — it takes a lot of time and energy,” Simon said. “I decided to accept because it’s a great honor and responsibility. This is a wonderful synagogue in a wonderful community. We have a long and wonderful history together.”
Upon officially accepting the two-year presidential term, Simon presented a gift of Israeli coffee to Immediate Past President Russ Schultz.
“He’ll be committed to the youth, school and future, and those are the things to be thinking about,” Schultz said. “We have a beautiful building and we have to keep it relevant to the next generation.”
Simon said there are several pressing goals before him and the board between now and June 2025.
“We have to rebuild our membership to pre-COVID[-19] times, bring back members we lost during COVID[-19], increase enrollment in religious school and develop a warm, inclusive community with a profound sense of belonging,” Simon said.
Simon’s eldest child is a recent college graduate, and he has two children currently in college. Will there be a fifth generation of the Simon family as Beth-El president?
“It’s way too soon to tell,” Simon said.