Rabbi Simon Burnstein ZT"L served as the Rav of Southeast Hebrew
Congregation for 38 years, from 1942 until his untimely passing on
October 17, 1980 at the age of 63. In addition to serving as Rav
of our kehilla, he served as the Executive Vice President of the
Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington for the last 12 years of
A descendant of twenty-four generations of Rabbis, Rabbi Burnstein
was born in Poland and came to New York City with other members of
his family when he was five years old.
Rabbi Burnstein went on to be the first talmid to enroll in Yeshivas
Chofetz Chaim (the Rabbinical Seminary of America), which was founded
by his Rebbe, HaRav Dovid Leibowitz ZT"L. Rabbi Burnstein
subsequently received semicha from the yeshiva.
In 1942, Rabbi Burnstein became the Rav of our Shul, when it was still
located on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. During the decades that
followed, demographic changes reduced the Shul's membership and
ultimately necessitated its relocation, under the guidance and vision
of Rav Burnstein, to its current location in Silver Spring in 1971.
In the years that followed, Rabbi Burnstein had the z'chus to see the
Shul grow once again, as it attracted scores of young families as
members, while at the same time maintaining the allegiance of many
long-standing members with strong personal ties to the Rav.
During World War II, Rabbi Burnstein was active in the efforts of
Vaad Hatzalah to rescue European Jews. He also served at various
times as both a teacher and as Executive Director at the Hebrew
Academy of Greater Washington, as well as serving as a Chaplain at
several hospitals and military facilities in the area.
Rabbi Burnstein's untimely passing was a terrible blow to our
kehilla and to the Greater Washington Jewish Community. The overflow
crowd that filled and surrounded our Shul for his levayah heard
hespedim from HaRav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz (Rosh HaYeshiva of
Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim), Rav Moshe Kalefsky (Yeshivas Ner Yisroel) and
Rabbi Hillel Klavan (President of the Rabbinical Council of Greater
Washington). Hespedim were also delivered by family members, including
two of Rabbi Burnstein's brother-in-laws, Rabbi Yisroel Garber and
Rabbi Shimshon Brodsky, and his son-in-law Rabbi Ervin Preis.
The hespedim focused on Rabbi Burnstein's Torah scholarship, his
devotion to emes (truth), his furtherance of Halachic standards in the
Washington community, and his constant performance of acts of chesed.
Rabbi Yosef Pavlov, then President of Southeast Hebrew Congregation,
likened Rabbi Burnstein ZT"L to Moshe Rabbeinu, who led his flock for
40 years, after which "his eyes were not dimmed and his freshness was
not diminished". Dr. Leo Silbert, a former President of the Shul,
attributed the kehilla's regeneration in Silver Spring to Rabbi
Burnstein's courage, which endured even after others had given up hope.
At the sheloshim for Rabbi Burnstein, HaRav Shneur Kotler ZT"L,
Rosh HaYeshiva of The Lakewood Yeshiva (Beth Medrash Govoha)
referred to Rabbi Burnstein ZT"L as "an adam gadol" (a great man).
Our Shul today is a testimony to his greatness and his vision.
Yehi zichro boruch.