Ronald Fischman, 54, a poet, cantor and “stalwart member” of Mishkan Shalom’s men’s club, was murdered at his home this week.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Reconstructionist congregation Mishkan Shalom is mourning the loss of one of its distinctive voices.
Ronald Fischman, 54, was murdered on the night of Sept. 30 at his home on the 200 block of East Phil Ellena Street, according to a Philadelphia Police Department report. A suspect, Jonathan Williams, was arrested near the home after a witness identified him as fleeing the residence and police found him with a laceration on his right hand.
Williams, 33, is charged with murder, burglary, criminal trespass and related offenses. He and his boyfriend had once stayed at Fischman’s home until Fischman asked them to leave, according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Fischman later allowed the boyfriend to return, but not Williams, and Fischman had recently told neighbors to call the police if they saw Williams around the property. According to the report, the suspect had entered Fischman’s residence though a basement window and chased his boyfriend through the house. When Fischman tried to calm him down, Williams allegedly stabbed him to death.
Fischman was a graduate of the Jewish Theologial Seminary’s H. L. Miller Cantorial School and had previously served as the cantor at Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue in Long Island, N.Y.
Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom described Fischman as a “stalwart member” of the synagogue’s men’s club. The congregation will hold a memorial for Fischman at a later date. Zevit has only been at Mishkan Shalom for about a year, but he has known Fischman since 1994, when Fischman transposed a melody written by Zevit.
“He loved to sing with me and harmonize during Kiddush — he was just a real soulful presence in our community, and he is going to be deeply missed,” said Zevit.
Fischman had also written a book of poetry, My Book of Days, which is set to be published Oct. 24. Just a few weeks before his death, Fischman led a poetry workshop at an event in West Philadelphia leading up to the People’s Climate March, which took place Sept. 21 in New York. At the event, he talked about how he no longer served as a cantor but instead concentrated on poetry.
“I used to serve God with my voice and my soul as a cantor,” he wrote on a crowdfunding campaign page to raise money for the book’s cover art. “As a poet, my voice is channeled in a different way, but the soul that reaches out, thirsting for an authentic relationship with God as a heart for water.”
He also explained where some of the poems in the collection came from:
“Last year, I promised my congregation that I would write a poem each day of the Days of Awe,” he wrote of the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “That group inspired the rest of this collection.”