The Board of Trustees Meeting
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
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.
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.