Burton L. Hirsch, for years a man whose name was synonymous with giving Jews a proper and traditional funeral when their time came, has himself died, Monday, June 13. He was 92.
For decades, the Hirsch name was a fixture on Murray Avenue, where the funeral home was located. Hirsch, and his wife, the late Ruth (Leff) Hirsch founded the business in 1947. They billed themselves as the only Jewish funeral home in Squirrel Hill.
“It was just something he adored and enjoyed,” Hirsch’s daughter, Maxine Hirsch Petteway, said of her father’s work. “It was something he wanted to be and he had a passion and talent for it.”
He sold the funeral home in the late ’80s to a chain of mortuaries, which continued to operate the home under the Hirsch name. But he remained active in the business for some time to come.
A fire badly damaged the funeral home in January 2009. It never reopened.
Hirsch was a member and past president of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America, a member by invitation of the National Selected Morticians (now called the Selected Independent Funeral Homes) and past chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors.
Beyond his business, he took an active role in synagogue life, first at Temple Sinai, then at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Hirsch was president of the Pittsburgh Region of Bnai Zion, a Jewish foundation that provides assistance to humanitarian projects in Israel and America. He was also on the board of the Jewish Assistance Fund and a past president of the Jewish National Fund in Pittsburgh.
“He was one of the founding fathers of Bnai Zion [in Pittsburgh],” said Ellen Primis, former director of the Pittsburgh Region of Bnai Zion, which closed in 2008. “He was a wonderful asset to Bnai Zion. He brought a lot to the table. … He had a lot of contacts and utilized them for the organization.”
A world traveler, Hirsch used his trips with wife Ruth to indulge another passion: photography. He compiled an exhibit of synagogues from around the world.
He was also an avid golfer and needle pointer, his daughter said.
A graduate of Shady Side Academy, Hirsch attended Washington & Jefferson College. He graduated from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and would receive an honorary degree for that school later in life.
He served in the Army during World War II, rising to the rank of second lieutenant in the Medical Administration Corps.
In addition to Petteway, Hirsch is survived by several cousins and friends. His son, Loren Hirsch, also preceded him in death.
The family suggests contributions be made to the Loren R. Hirsch Bereavement Program, c/o Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh, 5738 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217 or Sivitz Jewish Hospice, 200 JHF Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15217.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)