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RECOLLECTIONS  
By the webkeeper, Arnold Berger

The Board of Trustees Meeting

As president of the Temple's Young Adult group I had a seat, ex officio, on the Board of Trustees where I could see another side of this remarkable individual. Abba Hillel Silver said little at these meetings, but when he spoke he was heard.

It was the spring of 1958. The Temple was selling tickets for a major fund-raiser, a benefit concert at Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra. A trustee noted that sales of lower price tickets were doing well, but box seats, which cost perhaps three times as much, were selling very slowly.

Then Rabbi Silver spoke, calmly, almost naively. "I don't understand the problem. Why I made seven calls today and everyone I spoke to bought at least two box seat tickets."

Trustees exchanged knowing glances. A few, out of the rabbi's view, smiled. For they knew that Temple members would respond to a phone call from Abba Hillel Silver the way they might react to a message from On High. No trustee spoke. There was a quiet nodding of heads and a realization that they would all have to work harder to sell those tickets.

 

The Funeral Service

In November 1963 my family and I were living in Pittsburgh (I was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh). We had come to Cleveland to spend Thanksgiving.

Memories of some moments stay with us always. The funeral service for Abba Hillel Silver was one of those times for me and so many others.

It was a sad Sunday morning on December 1, 1963 when Rabbi Silver's congregants and many others gathered, overflowing the Sanctuary of The Temple, to mourn the death of the rabbi who had been the congregation's spiritual leader for 46 years. I was seated in the sanctuary, a few rows behind the section reserved for 400 VIPs. Perhaps expecting to see a simple "kosher" (all wood) casket, I was surprised to a bronze coffin and I thought that Abba himself would not had made that choice.

Dignitaries from near and far (the State of Israel had sent a representative) spoke of his wisdom, courage and deeds. The congregation that for so long had shared their rabbi with the world sat silently.

A boyhood friend who had also become a leader in the Zionist movement told about their days in the Herzl Zion Club, Hebrew-speaking teenagers living in New York's Lower East Side who debated the Jewish issues of the day. (Abba Hillel Silver - then Abe Silver - was, of course, president.) "Abba, Abba, my dear old friend." he said in an unsteady voice. The congregation stirred.

The last to rise in tribute was Richard Tucker, once a cantor and now the leading tenor of the Metropolitan Opera. In this sanctuary, whose 'Classic Reform' custom was for a man's head to be bare, he reached into a pocket, took out a kippah and covered his head. Then Tucker, the son of Bessarabian immigrants, sang the traditional prayer El Maley Rachamim (O, God, full of compassion) in memory of the great rabbi who had come to New York from Lithuania as a boy.

Finally, from the bimah and the balcony, sounds of grief could be heard.

More on the funeral service.

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