Zvi Hirsch Masliansky - Abba Hillel Silver's Eulogy

The memorial service for Zvi Hirsch Masliansky was held on Thursday evening April 15, 1943 in the Straus Auditorium of The Educational Alliance at 197 East Broadway. This was the place to honor his memory, for it was the hall where he had spoken so often to a generation of Jewish immigrants.

That evening, on the same platform where in 1906 as a 13 year old he had sat out of sight on the side and listened to Masliansky, then 50, Abba Hillel Silver, now 50 himself and one of the world's leading Zionists and best-known rabbis, would stand to praise Masliansky, his oratorical inspiration.

To prepare, he made notes on the back of letterhead he found in his hotel room. He returned with them to Cleveland. Ultimately the notes were saved in his archives.

Masliansky's youngest grandson, Marshall Weinberg, 13 years old at the time, was present. He listened spellbound to Silver's eulogy of his esteemed grandfather, just as the young Silver had followed Masliansky's speeches years before.

 

The eulogy made an indelible impression on Marshall who has been searching for it in vain for many years.

When the family established contact with webkeeper Arnie Berger, Marshall brought up the issue again. Dr. Sean Martin, Curator of the Jewish Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society, was then approached, and he found Silver's notes. Soon Masliansky descendants had a copy. Family members, led by Zviah Nardi and Marshall Weinberg, with the help of Meira Nardi Bossem and Rebecca Schwartz Green, used the notes to create as complete a version of Silver's remarks as they could. As the last two pages of notes are less clear, they are rendered below less completely. The family did the deciphering and prepared an English text. The webkeeper did the final editing for what appears below.

To see the notes,
click here

Read Silver's memoir about Masliansky.

Page added August 2010

L-R   Zvi Hirsch Masliansky 1940. Abba Hillel Silver 1942, Educational Alliance Building Lower East Side
Just a simple sign in Yiddish Masliansky Speaks would draw crowds to hear him.
 

Master of the spoken word – Guide of his generation – faithful Servant of his people.

Am Israel [the people of Israel] owes him much. Many of us are personally grateful to him. My own early years as a youth on the East Side of New York were frequently under the spell of his persuasive personality and his matchless oratory. There were years when I sat spellbound on the side at his invitation, for he was kind and tender to youth, Friday evening after Friday evening, and worshipfully drank in his words of passionate and lyric wisdom – swayed by the moving cadences of his enkindled speeches, rising with him to the superb climaxes which he so often attained – of pathos, of sorrow, of indignation – and made happy by the wit, the gaiety of his lighter words.

"Masliansky will speak" was a glad irresistible summons to many youth and to many older men and women who flocked here [at the Educational Alliance] and elsewhere to be uplifted, instructed and comforted – to be inspired to a Sabbath mood – to gain wings to see new vistas.

Here came the tired heart after a back breaking week’s work in a sweatshop, peddlers and shop-keepers from the tenements, to enter another world - a finer, nobler world of ideals and ideas and aspirations. For an hour or two they could forget what is, and reach out for what was or might yet be

Here came the immigrant – hovering between two worlds – a world left and one not yet entered. Confused, disturbed, wishing for someone to recall for him the things which made him and the world he came from significant and to interpret for him his place, his role and his direction in a new world.

Here came parents who were trying to understand their children drifting away – caught up in the sweep and surge of America. And here too came youth trying to preserve their spiritual and intellectual connections with their parents.

Here came men who had fled from pogroms and persecution, with the burden of their dread remembrance, who craved for someone who would expunge those memories and in their place put proud and warranted hopes for tomorrow and make their spirits soar again.

Here came scholars from the old world, teachers, writers and plain folk among whom reverence for learning and love of God and Israel, were strong.

And Masliansky spoke. He would speak to all, then to each according to his burden and the needs of his life. He understood them all and unerringly knew the way to their hearts and minds. He had a simple parable for the simple soul – a homily, an anecdote, a bit of humor to smooth out the deep wrinkles in the foreheads and hearts of his listeners. A more weighty discussion for the more learned – drawing upon his rich treasury of Jewish learning. A deft interpretation of a Biblical text, or a Rabbinic message to delight of the cognoscenti - the initiates. An heroic appeal, surcharged with fervor and prophetic passion to his listeners to rise to the highest and strongest in themselves – as men – as Jews – to be free and good men in a free and good land – to rise upon the steps of a great past to a still greater future.

As Masliansky spoke, eyes would be kindled, hearts would be lightened, burdens would be lifted and minds would be stirred, None listened to him but went away uplifted and exulted.

His most fruitful and creative period coincided with one of the great formative periods in our history when a high tide of immigrants from Eastern Europe were pouring in – 100,000 a year. The East Side was the throbbing heart of that vast immigration. Here was their first resting place before they spread. Here the immigrant had his first taste of America and here he shed his first illusions and acquired his first new attire. Here was his first bitter struggle for existence – his first tries at adjustment and integration.

The East Side swarmed and teemed with life – vigorous and fervid. The air was full with many clamorous voices: intellectuals, old world revolutionists, anarchists, atheists and nationalists. It was a world filled with discussion and the wranglings of rival parties and factions in clubs and societies. A world with journalists, actors, poets and dreamers. A world in which the young struggled for a new life filled with promise, and the old tried to preserve a great heritage.

It was in that colorful world of conflict, inspiration and confusion that Masliansky. for more than three decades, preached his message. One theme in many phases. A mighty theme: orientation. The individual must adjust himself to his new experience without breaking violently with his past, without expecting the improbable of the future. Israel must orient itself without breaking with its past, without expecting what history does not warrant us to expect from the future. His two main interests were the problem of the Jews in the New World and the problem of Israel everywhere in the world.

He believed in America and was not concerned about Americanization ...

He was concerned about the strains between an older generation too nostalgic about the old world – and a new generation too enamored of the new, the superficial, the material.

Hence he would remind the old generation not to idealize too much the ghettos, ugliness and degradation they had left behind. He would remind the new generation of the rich spiritual and cultural character and the beauty of Jewish customs, holidays and Sabbaths and the glories of an ancestral faith which their fathers had preserved, of the ethical superiority to Paganism.

He extolled the Bible and Israel. Israel - the eternal, whom suffering refines, whose history is the most glorious epic of mankind. Should such a noble heritage be squandered, such a people be abandoned?

He accepted no escape into self-denial, into assimilation. It is unworthy. It is impossible. It has been tried! It failed! Thus Masliansky spoke, his recurrent theme invoking progress and tradition; building a bridge between the generations; rekindling pride.

His was the most potent and lyrical voice for Jewish renaissance among his people in his generation. He saw in the Zionist movement the spirit which would turn the hearts of children to their parents. Not the Philosopher –Theologian, he was the priest, the Agadist, the great Preacher, whose lips would inspire men to be touched by divine fires!

He remains forever enthroned in the grateful heart of Israel.    ●


view Abba Hillel Silver's notes

 
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