Bonia Shur was a gifted composer who had a major impact on the musical liturgy in the Reform Jewish Movement of North America. His 300 published compositions – many of which are currently used in synagogues around the world – can also be found in theater, television and film. With a musical style that integrated and reflected the diverse cultural heritages in which he lived, Bonia Shur left a mark on this world.
Mr. Shur, age 89, died on August 30, 2012 at his North Avondale home.
“Bonia Shur’s life and musical expression reflected the trajectory of 20th-century Jewish experience, from the destruction of the Shoah to the birth of Israel and the flowering of Jewish culture in America,” stated Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
“His charismatic presence will be missed greatly, and his extraordinary music will endure as a living legacy.”
Born in Latvia in 1923, Mr. Shur came from a family of gifted musicians. He and his family escaped the Nazi invasion of Latvia shortly after his mother passed away. After living as a refugee for a year, he was drafted into the Russian Red Army, where he became an officer and fought against the Nazis.
Mr. Shur documented his experiences in a war diary called “Diary of Bonia Shur 1941-1945: Life Lessons from Behind the Eastern Front,” which was recently published by Amazon.
In 1949, Mr. Shur immigrated to Israel and lived on Kibbutz Neitzer Sereni. This kibbutz – with a population of 80 percent Holocaust survivors – gave Mr. Shur an opportunity to bring music and joy back into people’s lives, and his insistence to teach people how to play music lifted the morale and spirits of the kibbutz.
While in Israel, he studied music with Paul Ben Chaim, the leading Israeli composer of the time.
In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles, where he collaborated in compositions for films and television. In 1966 Mr. Shur was commissioned to participate in the soundtrack to the film “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” directed by Norman Jewison and nominated for four Academy Awards.
In 1968, he was asked to become the musical director at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, Wash. The family moved to Seattle and remained there for the next six years. It was in Seattle where Mr. Shur began his long career in liturgical music. He started by composing pieces for the High Holidays and then continued composing other pieces that would interpret the text of the prayer book.
A chance meeting one summer with former HUC president Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk changed the course of Mr. Shur’s life once more. In 1974, he was appointed as the Director of Liturgical Arts at the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR, a position he held for more than three decades. In those years he taught countless rabbinical and cantorial students at all of the campuses of HUC.
“All through his life, he was a genius at improvising the next solution,” his wife Fanchon said, in regards to the many ways his life could have taken a different turn, with tragic outcomes.
Mr. Shur collaborated in many works with his wife of 46 years, a nationally known dancer/choreographer and movement therapist.
Together with Fanchon, their home was full of music and dance, and inspired their childrens’ creativity. Daughter Ahdda Shur is an opera singer with a vocal studio in Los Angeles; Limore Shur is chief creative officer and founder of the ad agency Eyeball; composer-musician Itaal Shur won a Grammy Award (Song of the Year) for “Smooth,” a song he co-wrote for Carlos Santana, and the late Ophir Shur was also a composer.
In March 2012, Mr. Shur was honored in a gala concert at the Plum Street Temple, Downtown. More than 40 cantors gathered from around North America to perform and to celebrate his music.
In a letter written in honor of the tribute event, Rabbi Ellenson wrote: “The legacy of Bonia Shur – the originality and joy that emerge from him music – is singular and enduring. We at HUC-JIR feel so privileged that Bonia has been associated for so much of his life with the College-Institute, and are grateful for all the blessings he has bestowed upon our school, his adopted community of Cincinnati, and the larger world through his incomparable knowledge and unparalleled spririt.”
Surviving relatives include his wife, Fanchon Shur; his sons, Limore Shur and Itaal Shur, both of New York; his daughter, Ahdda Shur of Los Angeles; two step-sons, Michael (Ximena) Rossato Bennett of New York and Robert (Laurie Pilgrim) Bennett of Tampa, Fla.; and seven grandchildren, Zahava Lior Jaffe, Nathanael Sonnhalter, Inno and Asha Rossato Bennett, Max, Michael and Mikayla Bennett.
He was preceded in death by a son, Ophir Shur, and a brother, Yekutiel Shur.
The family would appreciate memorial contributions to the Bonia Shur Memorial Music Fund, Hebrew Union College, 3101 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati OH 45220; (513) 221-1875.