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Youth
 

Endnote:  Masliansky

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
Henry Adams

Born in Russia, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Masliansky (1856–1943) was the most eloquent and influential Maggid on the American scene at his time. His oratorical skills were recognized when he was a young man. His Zionist speeches aroused much enthusiasm. He came to the United States in 1895 and lectured often in Hebrew and in Yiddish. There has been some suggestion that he had earned smicha (ordination) though he was generally called "Reverend", not "Rabbi".

He had a great influence upon Yiddish-speaking immigrants, especially through his Friday evening sermons at the Educational Alliance on East Broadway. Young "Abe" Silver attended those sermons and, 50 years later, still remembered them warmly.

Masliansky may have been the greatest source of example and inspiration for Abba Hillel Silver's oratorical skills.

Learn more about Maslianskyback

 

Endnote:  Jewish Harlem

The area on Manhattan Island north of Central Park was called Harlem, a village with very few residents and many abandoned farms. In financial difficulties, it was annexed to New York in 1873 — the same year Central Park was completed.

Jews began moving to Harlem in the late 1870s. More ... In 1900 there were nearly 150 synagogues in Northern Manhattan. In the early 20th century overbuilding in Harlem led to low real estate prices. Tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews settled there or, as the Silver family did, moved north from the overcrowded Lower East Side. African-Americans also moved to Harlem, but were restricted by landlords and real estate agents to living east of Lenox Avenue.>

The Silvers came to Harlem in 1908 and lived on Fifth Avenue near West 119th Street. That was one avenue east of Lenox. But by April 1910 they had moved again, still in Harlem but to 232 West 120th Street, one avenue west of the Lenox Avenue divide.

Between 1910 and 1930 a large inflow of southern blacks came to New York City, augmented by perhaps 20,000 from the Caribbean. The city's African-American population soared from 92,000 to 328,000. More ..  Many Harlem landlords now welcomed blacks who, with so few neighborhoods that would accept them, would pay much higher rents than whites. They surged into the area, east and west of Lenox Avenue. These years marked the flowering of African-American culture known as the "Harlem Renaissance."

In the face of this change and following the immigrant practice of "moving up" as their economic status improved, Jews left Harlem. Many of the more prosperous families moved to the Upper West Side. Others relocated to working class neighborhoods in the South Bronx and Brooklyn. more  By 1930 Harlem's Jewish population, which had peaked at 150,000 in 1917, had declined to only 5,000.

Learn more about Harlem When Harlem Was Jewish    back

 
Wheeling 1915 - 1917
 

Endnote:  The Lazaron - Silver Connection
 

Morris S. Lazaron and Abba Hillel Silver, who succeeded Lazaron at the Wheeling congregation, had very different backgrounds.

Lazaron (bio), born in Savannah Georgia in 1888, came to Cincinnati in 1905 from a preparatory school. In nine years he earned a B.A. and M.A. at the University of Cincinnati followed by graduation from HUC in 1914.

Silver, born in Lithuania in 1893, arrived in New York City as a boy of nine. He came to Cincinnati in 1911 from a two year public high school. In four years he earned his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati and his ordination at HUC, both in 1915.

Both rabbis worked hard for social causes, but for very different causes.

Lazaron served as an Army chaplain in World War I and remained in the reserves until age 65. He was a pioneer in interfaith activities as part of the original "tolerance trio" — the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice) first minister-priest-rabbi team that traveled the nation making more than 100 presentations to promote understanding.

In contrast, Silver worked for Zionism and for social justice issues such as suffrage, a worker's right to join a labor union, unemployment insurance and civil liberties. A continuing theme in Silver's preaching and the subject of his 1956 book Where Judaism Differed was the distinctiveness of Judaism.

The two could not have differed more on Zionism. Silver became a leader of American Zionism. Lazaron would become a leading anti-Zionist rabbi. Their opposition on this issue is described in an essay on the start of the American Council for Judaism, which Lazaron helped to form.

Yet their paths connected in several ways.

  • They attended Hebrew Union College (HUC) at the same time, Lazaron graduating in 1914, Silver in 1915.

  • Both rabbis came to the Leshem Shomayim pulpit immediately after graduation from HUC — and at the same salary.

  • Both rabbis soon left before the end of their two year contracts, for large congregations — Lazaron after one year to the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Silver after two years to the Temple in Cleveland.

  • Most remarkable, Lazaron returned to Wheeling in May 1916 to marry Pauline Horkheimer, daughter of Bernard Horkheimer, one of Leshem Shomayim's leading members. Silver returned to Wheeling in January 1923 to marry Pauline's younger sister Virginia. The rabbis had become brothers-in-law. (Pauline Horkheimer died in 1933.)   back

 

Endnote: Some discrepancies between the accounts.

As described by the president of the Temple, the selection was an exhaustive, objective search. Yet Raphael describes it as a personal, less formal process. We present both views. There are also some contacts and conversations between Silver, the Temple Board and others that cannot be reconciled with the Temple president's description of the selection process. We ask the reader to accept these differences, as we have.   back

 

Endnote: Reform Judaism and Zionism

Anti-Zionism, or at least a lack of interest in Zionism, was the view of Reform congregations of the time and would be the prevailing attitude until World War II brought news of the persecution of European Jews. Members were striving to be very American and did not want be open to charges of dual loyalty. But It went beyond member attitudes. The first Reform prayerbook eliminated all prayers for a return to Zion. Reform statements of principles, like the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, saw America as Zion and Jews as a religion, not a people.   back

 

Endnote: Dr. Kaufmann Kohler

If the Temple used outside help in its search, it may have been Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler Ph.D. who, as president of the Hebrew Union College since 1903, would have known all the younger Reform rabbis. Kohler himself had been rabbi of two large congregations. Raphael (21) reports that in 1916, upon learning that Silver had rejected an offer from a much larger congregation in Providence, Kohler had written him as follows:
 

"... in a few years larger opportunities will come to you commensurate with your growing power and the fine qualities of mind, heart and tongue with which a good Lord had endowed and blessed you."

A friend of the Temple - Kohler had occupied its pulpit as a guest preacher -  he may have passed along his high opinion of Silver and suggestions on how to best approach him and his Board.    back

 

Endnote: Who invited Silver to speak in Cleveland?

Who invited Abba Hillel Silver to Cleveland where the Temple's trustees could see his greatest skill at the most opportune time? Our candidate is Alfred A. Benesch, a Harvard Law School graduate who in 1917 was a Temple trustee (at 38, perhaps its youngest) and the city's Director of Public Safety. Raphael (21) notes that Benesch had approached Silver about coming to the Temple. They had probably met through B'nai B'rith, an organization in which they were both active. Benesch, who would later start one of the city's leading law firms, died in 1974 at age 94 after a lifetime of civic and charitable accomplishments. more
back

 

Endnote: Salaries.

Silver's 1917 salary of $10,000 is mentioned in Dancyger (17). Congregations now have budgets for travel, professional dues and other expenses related to their rabbi's activities. The Temple expected their rabbi to be very active and travel extensively and to pay such expenses directly out of his salary. And, as the Temple did not provide a house for its rabbi, some of this may have been regarded as what today would be called "parsonage." For those who wonder how this 1917 salary converts to 2006 levels, multiply by 15.6. learn more    back

 

Endnote: Hymns

The hymns were usually slightly revised versions of hymns created for Protestant services, many by German composers such as Rheinberger. They would be augmented by the organ and the choir.

Sullivan is Arthur Sullivan (as in Gilbert & Sullivan).

Anthem - Jubilate by 19th century Protestant composer George William Warren, a Canadian, is "old wine in a new bottle." It begins "Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands: serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song." These are the first lines of Psalm 100, often recited in the Pesukei D'Zimrah (verses of praise) section of a Jewish morning service.    back

 

Endnote: The Temple's announcement

Congregants knew little about the new rabbi. Yet they are told far more about how thoroughly the selection had been conducted and how ethically all parties had behaved, than about Abba Hillel Silver.

President Lowenstein's conversation with Silver is very reassuring for members. The story reveals that their new rabbi, reluctant to leave his little congregation, is a caring man who puts duty to his "flock" above personal advancement.

As in the paper's April 20 story, Abba Hillel Silver's age is reported as 26, not 24.

Silver is also described as "a native of New York City", which avoids mention of his foreign birth. Perhaps there were concerns about how some members would accept a foreign born rabbi. Also not mentioned are his ardent Zionism and love of Hebrew, qualities which Raphael (23) notes must have given the trustees much concern. Raphael also suggests that many trustees felt that the congregation had gone too far in the direction of radical Reform. They knew that Silver's oratorical gifts would enthrall the members and bring acclaim to the Temple. But in other ways he was a 180 degree turn from Rabbi Moses Gries.

Despite these concerns, the young rabbi and his new congregation were about to begin a remarkable and devoted relationship that would last 46 years.   back

 

Endnote: the celebration

Abba Hillel Silver and his congregants must have learned much from each other. Perhaps in their own very American way they were following the Jewish custom of the "siyyum" — the celebration at the end of a long course of study.

Lowenstein's respectful approach to the leaders of Leshem Shomayim and their consenting to the move may have given the congregation's leaders a sense of having shared in this decision and thus much more likely to celebrate it.   back

 
Zionism
 

Endnote:  Stephen S. Wise  (1874-1949)
 

Born in Budapest, Stephen Samuel Wise came to New York as an infant with his family. His  grandfather had been rabbi in a small town near Budapest: Orthodox, very anti-Reform, but liberal politically. His father had earned a Ph.D. in Europe and was the rabbi of Rodeph Sholom, an 'uptown' conservative congregation of wealthy German Jews.

 


He studied at the College of the City of New York (1887-91), Columbia College (B.A. 1892), and Columbia University (Ph.D. 1901), and later pursued rabbinical studies. In 1893 he became a rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York. In 1900 he became rabbi of Reform Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Oregon.

In 1897, just one year after Theodore Herzl's First Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland, he co founded America's first Zionist federation.. The next year, only 24, he attended the Second Zionist Congress where he met Herzl. Wise was a rarity, a Reform rabbi active in Zionist affairs, perhaps the only one to take a leadership role until Abba Hillel Silver, more than 20 years later..

In 1905, then a Reform rabbi in Portland, Oregon, Wise was being considered for the pulpit at New York's Temple Emanu-El, but learned that his sermons would be reviewed in advance by its Board. This led him to found the Free Synagogue — free of such restrictions and also free from dues. more ... He also founded the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1922 to serve all streams of Judaism.

A superb orator, Wise was a renowned advocate of social justice and human rights. In the 1930s and early '40s he was America's leading Zionist, its best known rabbi, and perhaps its most influential and respected Jew. Learn more.

In his youth he had been a rebel, pressing for radical changes, challenging authority. In the 1930's and early '40's. Wise would concurrently head several major Jewish organizations and become close to President Franklin Roosevelt. His detractors would accuse him of having become unwilling to share leadership and too compliant with those in power. Wise had some accomplishments, as Medoff writes, often those that helped FDR near election time or that asked other nations (not the U.S.) to accept Jewish refugees. Learn more.

Events of July 1943 would move Stephen S. Wise aside and place Abba Hillel Silver in the forefront of Zionist leadership.  Wise died in New York in April 1949.    back

 

Endnote:  the Biltmore Program

In May 1942 there had been a prelude to the 1943 transfer of power. At an international Zionist conference at the Biltmore Hotel, Silver's eloquence led the assembly of more than 400 delegates to a near-unanimous adoption of what became known as the "Biltmore Program". It was perhaps the strongest statement yet of the rights of Jews to a homeland in Palestine. (read statement) and it was far more aggressive than Wise's position. After this stunning victory for Silver and his followers this interaction took place:
 

When Wise encountered Silver in a corridor, he pleaded: "Rabbi Silver, I am an old man, and have had my moment in the sun. You are a young man and will have your proper share of fame. It is not necessary for you to attack me." Silver walked away without a word.

Abba Hillel Silver had worked for the Zionist cause since he was a boy of fourteen. He was then 49 years old and at the peak of his powers. In a time of crisis, Wise, who had been in power so long and was ill with cancer was speaking condescendingly to him as if he was a brash young man. What could Silver have said?    back

 

Endnote:  Wise and Silver

Some who write about this period of American Jewish history say that Wise, 19 years older than Silver, was his mentor and Silver was Wise's protégé. Our view is that Wise may have had that perception, but it was not shared by Silver.

It appeared that these two "stars" of the Reform rabbinate had much in common. Both were foreign-born, sons and grandsons of rabbis. But there were major differences. Wise, had come to the United States as an infant, with no European memories. He lived a very comfortable 'uptown' life in a family with much "yichus" (stature). In contrast, Silver had come here as a Yiddish speaking youth of nine. His rabbi grandfather had run the family soap and cosmetics business in a small Lithuanian town. The Silver family lived in the Lower East Side. His father, Rabbi Moses Silver, had no congregation but was a poorly-paid Hebrew School teacher. His sisters helped support the family by sewing neckties at home..

In 1917, when Silver was considering the position in Cleveland, Wise cautioned him not to accept for it would compromise his principles, given his strong Zionist feelings and the Temple's anti-Zionist stance. Raphael describes Silver's annoyed reaction to this suggestion.

The two leading Zionist Reform rabbis, both of them the tall, handsome, eloquent "matinee idols" of Reform Judaism, may have been rivals.

While Silver's first years in organized Zionism were in the same groups Wise worked in (or led), Silver was soon to strike off in a parallel direction leading his own group.

In the early 1940's their differences would grow, Silver pursuing a much more aggressive Zionism than Wise.  back

 
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