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   WHEELING: 1915 - 1917
1 - From HUC to Wheeling    2 - Wheeling 1915-17    3 - From Wheeling to Cleveland

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, 1916
Source: Temple Shalom archives

January 1916
Rabbi Silver speaks on general subjects

The story from the January 7, 1916 issue of the Wheeling Register, reads in part (emphasis is ours):

"The 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.
 

 
The 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. (A.B.)

He was a gifted orator from the start as some quotations from Raphael (chapter 2) show.

Abba Hillel Silver 1962

  • Immediately after his arrival in Wheeling he 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 from 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."  (Raphael, 17)
     

  • 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 heard."

Next: The Temple in Cleveland searches for a new rabbi

 
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