January 19, 2019

Avrum Schwartz, Cantor at Shomrei Torah, 79

Cantor Avrum Schwartz, who for 42 years was a cantor of Congregation Beth Kodesh of West Hills, which in 1994 merged with Temple Beth Ami of Reseda and became Shomrei Torah Synagogue, died Feb. 9 after a brief illness. He was  79.

Schwartz was born Sept. 13, 1937, to Hy and Muriel Schwartz in Philadelphia. When he was 2 years old, his family relocated to Southern California, where they lived in the Fairfax District.

Schwartz performed services with the Jewish youth organizations AZA and BBG in the 1950s, and trained privately with prominent cantors in Los Angeles, his wife, Marion, said. He attended Fairfax High School and UCLA, where he was a cantor for Hillel at UCLA.

He met his future wife on a blind date. “We were fixed up by mutual family friends,” Marion said. They were married in June 1962.

Over the years, Schwartz taught thousands of bar and bat mitzvah students, and also prepped young people for a Bible contest called Chidon Tanach.

“He was very motivated by Chidon Tanach,” Marion said. “He taught junior high and high school students to participate in the Bible contest. Winners in California went on to win in New York and then went on to participate in Israel.”

Schwartz also was an authority on the Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. “He used to lecture on Heschel in synagogues and in study groups, and had one of the largest bibliographies of Heschel’s works,” Marion said.

“Cantor Schwartz always understood that his teaching was just as powerful on the tennis court or at the ice cream parlor, and sometimes even more impactful as a result of allowing his students to see him as a real human being,” wrote Rabbi Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah in an email. “His passion was infectious, his desire for his students’ success palpable. But make no mistake, his standards weren’t just high, his expectations demanding. He expected the best because that is what he expected of himself.”

While a cantor, he also worked at J Roth Bookseller in the city. After retirement, he continued to teach Hebrew and bar and bat mitzvah students, and lecture on Jewish thought and philosophy. He worked at House of David, a Jewish bookstore and Judaica shop, for the past 15 years.

“He was non-discriminatory — he didn’t only teach Jewish people,” his son Howard said. “He also taught non-Jews who were interested in Jewish thought and philosophy. He taught Hebrew from the original texts — he taught anyone who wanted to learn anything about Judaism; he made himself available. The last three or four years after closing the House of David in the evenings, he’d drive out to Lancaster and teach Christian groups about Judaism.”

In the last few years, he walked the 3 1/2-mile round trip to Chabad West Hills to read Torah for congregants, Marion said.

“He loved to read — that’s why he worked in those bookstores,” Howard said. “His knowledge of books was extraordinary. He also loved music — classical, jazz and pop music. He also loved sports — basketball, baseball, football, tennis. Being from Philadelphia, he liked the Phillies and Eagles. … When he’d be teaching at Hebrew schools, he’d play basketball with some of his students, just to show he was a regular person.”

Schwartz and his wife enjoyed trips to Israel, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Both of their sons became bar mitzvah in Israel.

Schwartz is survived by his wife, Marion; daughter Elana (Avi) Feder; sons Howard (Eydie) and David; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.