Abba Hillel Silver in Wheeling June 1915 - June 1917
Rabbi of The Eoff Street Temple (Leshem Shomayim)
Marc Raphael (15) writes
of Abba Hillel Silver
"He left the HUC passionate for Zion, gifted as a
performer and speaker, deeply committed to the Hebrew language,
and ... filled with an enormous thirst to implement the Reform
Jewish emphasis on prophetic justice and social ethics."
He supported the suffragist
cause and was active in local charities. The detailed record
(again, see Raphael)
of his years in Wheeling shows great energy and initiative. But it was his
reputation as a speaker that spread most rapidly and widely.
Some examples are shown below.
At HUC he replaced "Abraham
H." in his name with "Abba Hillel". Newspaper accounts and materials of Leshem Shomayim used neither first name; he was
simply "A. H. Silver."
Photo of Abba Hillel Silver,
Source: Temple Shalom archives
Rabbi Silver speaks on general subjects
The story from the January 7, 1916 issue of the
Wheeling Register, reads in part (emphasis is ours):
general subject for the series will be Aspects of
American Life. The lectures will touch on topics
related to business, home, the stage, politics,
school and the press and will be given in Rabbi
Silver's characteristic manner."
Abba Hillel Silver came to
Leshem Shomayim in September 1915. The decision to offer this
series of Sunday morning talks at the Eoff Street Temple would have been made in December 1915. In
only three months his qualities as a teacher and speaker had
been recognized by his congregation and his city. He had not yet
celebrated his 23rd birthday.
eloquence of Abba Hillel Silver
I heard his sermons often and have rich
memories of them. In his sixties,
hair full and gray, he looked like
a prophet. Sometimes he spoke the way I
thought our prophets of old, God's messengers,
would have spoken. I've never heard
anyone with more eloquence and strength of
conviction. Nor did I ever cease being
amazed that Silver, the best English speaker
I knew, had grown up speaking Yiddish and
Hebrew. What determination it must have
required to transform himself that way.
was a gifted orator from the start as some
Raphael (chapter 2) show.
Immediately after his arrival in
spoke at the YMHA and an
editorial in the Wheeling Daily News
called his address "one of the most
impressive and beautiful sermons
ever delivered in this city''.
Abraham L. Feingold, a young man
nearby Bellaire Ohio wrote this
description of a Silver speech in
1916: "[Silver] uncrossed his legs,
placed his hands on the two arms of
the chair, and pushed himself up
with elaborate slowness. Then the
voice began, like a soft syllable
prying loose an avalanche, its
music, packed with enormous power
and gaining force with each word,
until the air quivered with pathos,
rumbled with wrath, and glowed with
sheer grace of phrase and thought.
When he closed his eyes, mine were
opened on a realm of harmony and
rapture. When he stepped back and
lifted his mighty arms, an
intellectual thunder rolled up and
out from him, and shook the
clustered lights and swept from pew
to pew into the choir loft and out
through the windows into the night."
Louis Wolsey, rabbi of the Euclid Avenue Temple
[Anshe Chesed, Cleveland's
other Reform congregation] said of Silver's
guest sermon at the Temple "It
was the finest Jewish sermon ever
Next: The Temple in
Cleveland searches for a new rabbi