This is a press release submitted to the Las Vegas Sun. It has not been verified or edited by the Sun.
Former Las Vegas Rabbi Dies At Age 92
Published on Tue, Jan 1, 2013 (10:08 p.m.)For Immediate Release
January 1, 2013
Media Contact: 702-421-8422
LAUGHLIN, NV -- Rabbi Morris Firestone was one of the longest serving clergymen in the Tri-State area of southern Nevada, western Arizona and southeastern California. He died December 30 at age 92 after multiple hospitalizations over the past year. Rabbi Firestone conducted religious observances as recently as his 57th annual High Holy Day services this past fall.
He had also served congregations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lake Havasu City (AZ) and Kingman (AZ).
He will be (was) buried with military honors on January 2 in Las Vegas at King David Cemetery, with a local memorial service in Laughlin on January 3.
A talented singer, he received an undergraduate degree in music from Columbia University in New York, and appeared on Broadway in “A Flag Is Born,” a 1946 play promoting the creation of a Jewish state in what is now Israel. He had a minor role alongside stars Paul Muni, Celia Adler and a young rising star, Marlon Brando.
Before ordination as a rabbi, he had an eclectic professional background. Out of college, he sold vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias in Los Angeles while pursuing a musical career. Using skills he acquired in the U.S. Navy, he accepted a job as an electrician for Los Angeles County, a position he held until he retired in 1986.
With a growing family, he enrolled at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and used his musical skills to become a cantor. With a full time job as an electrician, he served as a part-time cantor for a number of congregations in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys.
He and his wife Marcella, also an accomplished signer and a cantor, celebrated his retirement with a cross country trip. Marcella said she was growing tired of a big city and wanted to move to a smaller town. On the return trip to Los Angeles, they stopped in Laughlin. He won $100 at a slot machine at the Pioneer Hotel.
“A local Jewish man said the community needed a rabbi,” Rabbi Firestone recalled. “Between that and the jackpot, I took both as an omen. I came here to retire but didn’t.”
Instead, he completed rabbinical studies while in his late 60s and was ordained. He conducted services in Laughlin, then joined Temple Emanuel in Las Vegas.
“When they merged, I was the 'un-merger,'” he quipped.” Rabbi Firestone then served Temple Beth Sholom in Lake Havasu City before focusing his efforts in Laughlin. Temple Beth Israel Ba Midbor (House of Israel in the Desert) serves Laughlin, Nevada, Bullhead City, Arizona, and Needles, California. Members also came from Kingman, Arizona, where Rabbi Firestone periodically conducted services for Congregation Or Midbar (Light of the Desert).
Between his time as a cantor and a rabbi, he participated in more than 1,000 bar and bat mitzvahs.
He periodically delivered the invocation at Laughlin Town Advisory Board meetings, often breaking into song, including his own impromptu rendition of “Laughlin, My Laughlin.” Even in the hospital, he would sing while in his room or when walking in the corridors; “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from “Oklahoma!” was a favorite.
Morris Firestone was born in September 26, 1920, to Eastern European immigrants Samuel and Helen Feuerstein, in Pittsfield, New Hampshire. Morris was the oldest of five sons, raised on a small family farm. When Morris was 15 his father died in an accident, and he had to assume additional responsibilities. The farm was sold and the family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire, where Morris graduated from Central High School. He joined the Merchant Marine and acquired a lifelong taste for cigars when he sailed trade routes between Miami and Havana.
Firestone joined the U.S. Navy in World War Two, assigned to the U.S.S. Colorado. When the large battleship was sunk in the Pacific, he survived the attack and redeployed to Pearl Harbor. He was discharged with the rank of Machinist's Mate First Class. Following college graduation on the G.I. Bill, he moved to southern California after a physician advised him to move away from an area that aggravated his allergies.
He met his future wife in Los Angeles when both were aspiring singers and he was looking for an accompanist to replace a musician who had recently quit to marry.
“The first day we met we knew we were meant for each other,” Rabbi Firestone said. “Six weeks later we got married. Our years together were a harmony of beautiful music.” They were married for more than 57 years. Cantor Firestone died in 2008.
Rabbi Firestone will be (was) buried January 2 alongside his wife at King David Cemetery, 2697 E. El Dorado (at Eastern Ave.) in Las Vegas. Services begin at 1:00 pm PST/2:00 pm MST. A memorial and celebration of life will be held at 1:00 pm PST/2:00 pm MST Thursday, January 3, at American Legion Post 60, 1510 Bruce Woodbury Dr., in Laughlin.
He is survived by four children: Rabbi Diane Firestone of Laughlin, Samuel Firestone of Encino, California, Miriam Fogler of Arleta, California, and Rebecca Firestone of Los Angeles; granddaughter Ann Fogler; son-in-law Peter Fogler, daughter-in-law Susan Firestone, and brothers Paul Firestone of New York and Jack Firestone of Florida
Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the National Kidney Foundation, or Temple Beth Israel Ba Midbor.