Article Regarding Rabbi Eliezer Silver's 80th Birthday in 1961 and the Coming Together of the Entire Jewish World to Celebrate
From The Canadian Jewish Chronicle - March 31, 1961
ABOUT HONORING A RABBI
By Alfred Segal
The immense dining hall of the Jewish Center in our town was crowded with guests… all of them around the many diner tables… to celebrate the 80th birthday of the town’s most Orthodox rabbi… the Rabbi Eliezer Silver.
I myself was there in a rather thankful mood, as I looked around among the many guests. I was recalling the time far back when Orthodox and Reform Jews used to be quite far apart in our town… separate groups, though they recited the same Sh’ma to the One God…
Oh, I recall a time when our most Orthodox rabbis would cross a street rather than permit themselves to pass in front of a Reform temple; and Reform Jews thought of the Orthodox as remote strangers who socially were far from their own rather wealthy lives.
The Reform Jews were largely of German Origin then; the Orthodox were largely out of Russia, Poland, Roumania, etc… and Reform and Orthodox thought of each other as different people with little in common.
I was deep in these meditations as I looked around among my fellow guests who were honoring the most Orthodox Rabbi Silver on his 80th birthday. Yes, I could recall long long ago when Reform Jews considered the meaning of Rabbi Silver’s Judaism as something far from their own; while to Orthodox Jews the Reformers practically were goyim to be religiously avoided.
But now, at this dinner to Rabbi Silver, I was counting Reform guests from all over the place… in fact at some tables more Reformers than Orthodox. At my right sat a Reform rabbi… and farther to my left I discovered another rabbi of Reform. In face at tree tables immediately surrounding my own I could count 18 members of Reform temples… all there publicly to pay respect to the one widely known as one of the most Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. I was deeply pleased, even as I wet into the dish of chicken which I didn’t care for so much.
It seemed all a new edition of Jewish life in our town where the Orthodox no longer can feel religiously and socially apart. The same change in life among the Jews has been occurring all over the country, as I hear.
Yes, today the membership of Reform Judaism is largely of people whose lives started out in Orthodox families which had come out of Eastern Europe. The reform Germans of old practically are all gone out of this world.
So many of the newer Reform Jews keep on fondly remembering matters of their earlier Orthodoxy… their mama’s gefilte fish in the house… papa so faithful with his t’fillim every morning… the way the house was made clean… of an chometz at Passover.
These newcomers into Reform out of Orthodoxy were of the many who got together that evening to honor the most Orthodox of rabbis… they have brought changes into the way of Reform.
Oh, I recall the time when never a bar mitzvah was allowed in a Reform temple. Bar mitzvah was an occasion far from the practice of Reform life; it was regarded as a ritual as remote from Reform as winding t’fillim around the head and arm.
But only the other Sabbath I attended a bar mitzvah service in a Reform temple which dates back to early time of Reform Judaism in the U.S. The small bar mitzvah boy recited his portion with the sound of chazan chanting. He filled the Reform temple with old time chants.
Yes, all that is a sample of what’s taking place in Reform Judaism there days; the ways of Reform are being improved by those who in more recent years have come out of Orthodoxy and brought along some of its old aromas. Indeed, after the bar mitzvah service we all got together for kiddush…. with wine and cake… in one of the temple’s assembly rooms. We all spoke of kiddush words with the rabbi. I liked the cake.
Well, this idea of Reform being improved by Orthodoxy in recent years, was also evidence at that dinner given to Rabbi Silver on his 80th birthday. There had been a time in our town when Reformers thought of Rabbi Silver as one just too Orthodox for social relations, far, far from their kind of religious living.
But now at this dinner the Reformers were being taken far, far, back to their old home-life in which papa used to wear his hat at the dinner table and mama blessed the candles on Friday evening. Indeed, at this dinner we all wore yarmelkes… all except Rabbi Silver himself who wore a high silk hat at his table.
Well, I myself a member of a Reform congregation and there was a time when I started out toward being a Reform rabbi though in my second year at Hebrew Union College I was advised to get out of there as one who would never really make a good rabbi. As a Reform Jew I rejoice in the pleasant taste of Orthodoxy that’s coming into Reform Judaism, by reason of the many Jews or Orthodox origin who are Reform Judaism these days.