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Yom Kippur 2012

George Silverman

My journey began at the Boston Lying in Hospital on March 2, 1940. Both of my parents were Jewish.  Hence, I was Jewish at birth.  At the time of my birth my mother was 45.  The Doctor reported to my mother that he had never seen a goofier grin then when he informed my father that a boy had been born.  Let me tell you something of who my Jewish parents were.

My mother was born in Minsk, Russia, and was one of 8 siblings.  She immigrated before WW1, by herself, at the age of 17.  She earned her nursing degree from Tewksbury State Hospital.  She also earned an Associates Degree from Boston University.  By the time I was born, she had become the Board of Health nurse for the City of Revere.

My dad was born in Avouch, Russia and arrived in this country at about age 6, along with his parents and 5 siblings.  He never went beyond the 7th grade.  My Grandfather and my dad’s uncles were tailors.  I am told that my Bar Mitzvah suit was a great fit.  My Father was a traveling salesman, selling automobile and truck tires throughout the New England states for a Boston Distributor.

My father was truly a man who cared for others.  He made sure that his family and extended family were cared for.  During the war years he bought shoes for neighborhood children who were barefoot.  I well remember the story that my mother owned a 3 Decker many years ago.  Times were tough following the depression and during the war, my father would go to collect the rent.  HOWEVER, he would often return home back with less money than he went with “Florence, they were eating boiled potatoes.”

Both my parents observed the rituals of the Sabbath.  Every Friday night my Mother lit Shabbat Candles and served a Shabbos dinner. My mother kept kosher.  On most Sundays we would visit my Father’s mother, my Bobbi in Mattapan.  We belonged to Tifereth Israel, a small Orthodox Shul in Revere.  We lived near town hall in Revere, so my mother was close to her Board of Health office on Broadway.  Revere did have a large Jewish section nearer the beach.  In our Christian neighborhood, I was the only Jewish kid through 8 grades of school.  In order to get to Hebrew School I would have to take the trolley car about 30 minutes each way, 4 days a week.  Yes, there was some anti Semitism among my peers but nothing that I couldn’t handle.  Not like where my ancestors had come from. 

My Maternal Grandfather was a Medical doctor in tsarist Russia - not a simple matter for a Jew.  He had served during the Crimean war and received an invitation to be the chief medical doctor for the Russian rail road on the condition that he gave up Judaism.  To give up his religion was unthinkable, so he never accepted the position.  

My mother always emphasized to my sister and me the importance of education.  “Prepare your self for life, education they can not take that away from you.”

I remember my Bar Mitzvah in that small shul.  I remember our rabbi, Rabbi Landis, he of blessed memory.  In my mind’s eye I was sure that Rabbi Landis was what God must look like.  Of course, the Bema (from which the Torah was read) was located in the center of the sanctuary.  The men sat in pews surrounding the Bema.  All the women, including my mother and sister, sat upstairs.

I remember the Cantor complimenting me and saying I had a good voice and he would like me to join the choir.  I recall asking if I had to continue in Hebrew School.  The Cantor, (G-d rest his soul), said “of course!”  But I wanted to play baseball, so I did not continue in Hebrew School.  I was never very good at baseball and would have served myself better if I had continued religious school.  I am making up for that lack of Jewish education as I speak.  I have even recently signed up to take the Me’ah course.

At the suggestion of my brother in law, who was serving in the Army at the time, I joined the National Guard when I was 17 ½.  In undergraduate school at Norwich University, a private military academy, I was required to join the Army ROTC.  After two years at Norwich University, I transferred to Boston University but continued with the ROTC program.

Being anxious to meet a “nice Jewish Girl,” I went one fateful day over to Hillel at BU.  I happened to be in my ROTC uniform.  At Hillel I met the cutest girl who seemed to be attracted to me and my uniform.  The reason became clear when I learned that her father was the head of the ROTC program at his alma mater, MIT.  Her father, Col. Irving W. Finberg, was a career army officer and a Jew at that.  With her father, her mother and an older brother, she traveled all over the US, Okinawa, and France.  My father-in-law was a deeply committed Jew.  In fact, while serving in North Africa during WWII, he developed gum disease as a direct result of the difficulties in trying to maintain a kosher diet.

Needless to say Harriet and I dated, became engaged and we were married 50 years ago at the MIT Chapel.  Officiating at the ceremony was Rabbi Seymour Moskowitz, a Jewish Army Chaplin whom my in-laws and wife knew from their service in Poitiers, France.

I would like to note that in Russia, my Maternal Grandfather graduated the same University as Graf Nikolayevich Tolstoy.  His diploma read “Gerson Treistman, YID.”  I graduated Boston College Law School, a Catholic Jesuit institution.  My diploma reads George S. Silverman, LLB.  We must never lose sight of what this great country stands for in the importance of individual and religious freedom like no other country on earth.

I was commissioned during the summer of my first year of Law School and, upon graduation, entered the service.  I spent 4 years on active duty during the Vietnam epoch, with my last duty assignment as Law Instructor at the US Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Harriet and, by then, our two children were with me.  On many Friday nights we attended services at the Army chapel.  My service never took me out of the United States.

My Father in law, Col. Irving W. Finberg was one of Patton’s combat engineers and was highly decorated for his service both in World War 2 and Korea.  Both of my beloved in-laws are buried at Arlington National cemetery.  Among the myriad white stones however that one, among many others, has carved on it the Star of David.

I was born Jewish and never really gave it much thought except for being somewhat jealous of my friends when I was a child, with their Christmas trees and presents.  I was born Jewish, the religion of my parents and ancestors.  I am Jewish.  I married a Jewish Girl and we raised our son and daughter in the Jewish faith. 

But Judaism is more than not eating bread on Passover or fasting on Yom Kippur, which I have always done.  I have over the past several years been driven to know and understand more of the religion that I was born into.  Over the past several years I have become more involved in religious study.  I remember a seminal moment when I attended a Saturday morning Minyan service in order to observe a yartzeit.  I discovered the warmth and inclusiveness of the group of attendees.  I came to the conclusion that one of the great gifts from Judaism to mankind is the Shabbat day of rest.  I stopped going to my office on Saturday morning, preferring the Torah discussions and camaraderie of the “minyanites.”

But most of all, I became truly and deeply impressed with the weekly discussions concerning the Torah Pashat of the week, the give and take of those in attendance.  I liked that my fellow minyanites expressed such commitment to ethical thought and human values.  True Jewish values.

I have always been convinced that God’s greatest gift to us is life.  Judaism emphasizes Life and how it should be lived.  “Be mindful of the widow and orphan.”  Did I really know the underpinnings of the religion of my birth??  Had I truly ever studied it, had I thought about it or merely accepted this accident of birth?  I have always worn a mezuzah, not eaten bread on Passover and fasted on Yom Kippur.

I have finally - all these years after my Bar Mitzvah begun to study Judaism.  I am convinced that Judaism in its Reform mode makes eminent sense to me.   It emphasis life and how it is to be lived with our fellow man.  The sage said “Do unto no man that which is hateful to your self.  The rest of it is commentary."

We are not taught to live life in anticipation of being seated at the foot of some ethereal throne on high!  Our religion emphasizes the importance of living life fully, with clear compassion and empathy for our fellow man, until we are gathered unto our ancestors.  I truly believe that Life is God’s greatest Gift and how we live it, with honor, compassion and respect for our fellow man is the teaching of Judaism.  I am impressed that so many people, whom I value as friends and consider highly, have chosen to convert to Judaism as their chosen religion.  As one friend said to me, "It just makes sense.”

I am proud to say I am not only a Jew by Birth but also by thoughtful choice. I am a JEW.

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784