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Herbert Barton, pillar of NOLA Jewish community, dies at 98

HERBERT BARTON, a beloved lifelong New Orleanian and a pillar of the Jewish community, died on Friday morning January 22, 2021,  only weeks after celebrating his 98th birthday. He succumbed after a brief, but brave battle with the COVID-19 virus.


Barton became almost synonymous with Congregation Temple Sinai, having worked as its executive director for 37 years. When he retired more than two decades ago, he was given the status of emeritus executive director, which he kept for the remainder of his days. Barton was noted for still reporting to duty during most days the temple was open. He also was the executive secretary of the Hebrew Rest Association, which serves the Reform Jewish community in providing burial plots and mausoleum space for its members. He retired from that capacity only two years ago.

Barton’s business acumen, people skills, organizational ability and Jewish knowledge gave him the tools he needed to become an effective executive director. His term of office began when Rabbi Julian Feibelman was the temple’s spiritual leader, then continued under Rabbi Murray Blackman’s many years and ended with Rabbi Ed Paul Cohn’s years as rabbi. Barton continued with his emeritus title during the brief rabbinates of Rabbi Andrew Busch and Rabbi Matthew Reimer, while working closely with Emeritus Rabbi Cohn and recently-installed Rabbi Daniel Sherman. Barton also was a confidante of Cantor Joel Colman with whom he enjoyed a close association.

Throughout his career as executive director and emeritus executive director, he worked with nearly 30 temple presidents.

Barton was born the eldest of five children, a bright child who graduated from Woodrow Wilson Grammar School, where he was awarded the American Legion Medal for exemplifying the qualities that define character, courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship and service. These qualities served him well throughout his life.

In addition to Wilson School, he also took daily Hebrew classes after school and became fluent in Hebrew. He attended Alcee Fortier High School and graduated in 1939, then enrolling at Tulane University’s School of Commerce. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he enlisted in the United States Navy’s V-7 program, which permitted him to stay in school until graduation. Following graduation in early 1943, he was sent to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he received his “90 Day Wonder” training as a midshipman. He entered the U.S. Navy as an ensign and served in the Pacific campaign as the navigator of a supply ship until the surrender of Japan in 1945, when he had advanced to the rank of lieutenant and was serving as the navigator of a destroyer tender. 

Following his return home, he married the former  Vera Levy in 1946. He began his business career as a manager for his father’s Rex Hats retail stores. The stores were closed in the early 1960s and Barton began to work briefly as an insurance agent for Mutual of New York until 1963.

An Orthodox Jew, Barton had grown up at Congregation Beth Israel. In 2013, Barton recalled to the CCJN that his first entrance into Temple Sinai was for his wedding. Despite his unfamiliarity with Reform Judaism at the time, he was approached by Harry Blumenthal, who was looking for someone sharp to assume the key role of executive director.  When he started the job, his wife’s father was the temple president, but it was still hard for him to break away from Beth Israel. He admitted he kept his membership up for an additional three or four years. 

As executive director, Barton was responsible for overseeing all of the temple’s business, maintaining facilities and implementing programs. He was in charge of Temple Sinai’s Religious School and youth group and was also a Hebrew tutor for students preparing for their bar and bat mitzvahs.  

During his early years as the temple’s administrator, Barton was also named advisor to the Southern Federation of Temple Youth.  In that capacity he was instrumental in the fundraising and eventual development of Henry S. Jacobs Camp. He was a key individual in the hiring of Macy Hart as the initial director of the camp. It was Hart’s longtime position that eventually led to the development of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJF) and the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience slated to open on Howard Avenue.

After the death of his first wife, he married Sue Snyder Levy. With Sue, he continued attending temple services  and often chanted the Torah blessings during the Friday evening services, the last time of which  was only a few weeks ago as an honor for his birthday. He also had been called upon in more recent decades to chant Hebrew at the Jewish High Holiday services, an experience in which the entire congregation delighted. 

The Bartons enjoyed dining out and they habitually attended favorite restaurants like Galatoire’s, Antoine’s and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Metairie. On the Friday of his passing and in his memory, Galatoire’s set up his table with a personalized seat cover.

Barton was also a devotee of Carnival. On Mardi Gras, he would delight in collecting throws from many of the members of Rex with whom he was familiar.

As a kid, he frequently played sports and played intramural baseball while a student at Tulane. It was quite understandable that he carried a passion for sports throughout his life and was both a noted Tulane fan and a Saints season ticket holder. 

He felt the need to express himself through his sartorial splendor. He spent much of his time shaving with an electric razor twice a day, frequently treated himself to manicures and pedicures and was always dressed to the nines. He enjoyed dressing up for many events, even on airplane trips,  oftentimes displaying an American flag lapel pin, a sign of his dedication to country.

No matter where he lived, Barton enjoyed spending time laboring in his garden. He designed the landscaping and planted, weeded, hedged, trimmed and mowed. He was especially proud of his several honors for the Garden of the Month.

A charming, brilliant and admirable man, Barton delighted in taking time out with his family. He was a devoted husband to both of his wives and a friend and mentor most especially to his daughter Barbara.

Barton was predeceased by his first wife, Vera Levy Barton, and his daughter Leigh Barton Muller (Chip). He is survived by his wife Sue Snyder Levy Barton; his daughter Barbara Barton Greenberg (Mark, z’l); , and also survived by his step-children Sherry Levy Mayer and Gus Levy and his two sisters, Evelyn Barton Joseph and Annette Barton Paige. He is also survived by five grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and three step-great-grandchildren.

A public service at Temple Sinai and later a graveside service was held via Zoom and on the congregation’s website on Monday, January 25, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. A U.S. Navy attachment played “Taps” and presented a flag to the widow along with the thanks of the President of the United States and a grateful nation at Hebrew Rest Cemetery No. 3, where Barton’s favorite song,  “My Way,” was sung by a great-grandson. Rabbi Emeritus Ed Paul Cohn remembered Barton with a special eulogy and Cantor Joel Colman performed two songs. Rabbi Daniel Sherman added his own eulogy before instructing mourners to accompany the casket across the street to Hebrew Rest Cemetery No. 2, where he conducted the final portion of the service. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in his honor can be made to Congregation Temple Sinai, 6227 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA. 70118 or to Second Harvest Food Bank, 700 Edwards Avenue, New Orleans, LA. 70123.

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