Rabbi Harold Stanley Silver

It was my privilege to share these thoughts at the funeral of Rabbi Harold Silver:

With so many family members speaking this morning in addition to Rabbi Pincus, there is no need for me to review Rabbi Silver’s exemplary pulpit career in Pittsburgh and here at Beth Israel, or the remarkable things he accomplished after he retired. I only want to briefly express why I personally have such great love and respect for him.

High among my many blessings since Vickie and I came to Congregation Beth Israel nearly twenty years ago was having Rabbi Harold Silver as Rabbi Emeritus.

Among the congregations, where I have been invited to speak in the coming weeks, there is one served by rabbis who left their previous community precisely because the Rabbi Emeritus there meddled in congregational matters to the point where their lives became miserable.

I tell you this only to have you understand that having an Emeritus who knew when to let go—but who was always available for helpful advice—is not something a rabbi can take for granted.

Harold Silver was a prince … a prince of a man, a prince of a husband, father, grandfather, rabbi and—most precious to me—a prince of a Rabbi Emeritus.

I actually knew that before I came here and before I met Harold. Shortly after Rabbi Silver retired from Beth Israel in 1993 he wrote an article for the Central Conference of American rabbis Journal, which I rank as the most valuable article in that journal that I have read in my 43 years as a rabbi.

It spoke to a real problem of rabbis who do not know how to retire gracefully and presented a model for the Emeritus to gracefully and graciously step away. What an enormous contribution that article made to Reform Jewish life!

Rabbi Silver was always there for me, whenever I asked his advice, and I asked it often. He was a wonderful sounding board.

Yet in 14 years, showing remarkable restraint, he only criticized me twice. The first time was when the first Yom Kippur services I conducted ran far longer than the normal Beth Israel custom. Even on that occasion he was gentle, tactful, and gracious.

The second time was when I announced my retirement from the pulpit. He could not understand it. He thought I was too young and still had many good years left. I hope he was right.

Eventually he accepted my explanation that I always wanted to leave the pulpit before not after people began to ask, “When is he going to retire already.”

As Rabbi Emeritus of this congregation, I hope I am worthy of Rabbi Silver’s example. Rabbi Pincus, Rabbi Fliegl and Cantor Phillips, I want to be available to help you in any way I can, but I hope never to foist myself–or my opinions–on any of you. If I succeed in that lofty goal, I hope that each of you realize that you have Rabbi Harold Silver to thank for the example I try to follow.

His memory is a blessing to all of us.

The memoir Rabbi Silver wrote after he retired is titled, I Will Not Let You Go Until You Bless Me, based on the words Jacob said to the Eternal One (Genesis 32:27) in his epic struggle with all that he was and all he hoped to be.

Rabbi Silver,although we must let you go, we still seek your blessing on our lives, thoughts and deeds.