Rabbi Harold S. Silver
SILVER: Rabbi Harold S. Silver died on March 9 at the age of 92. He was the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford and a leader in progressive Reform Judaism. He was born in New York on July 18, 1924, to Rabbi Maxwell and Jennie Silver. In World War II, he served as a cryptographer in the Army Signal Corps, then graduated from City College in 1947. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1951 at HUC-JIR, proudly taking his place in the sixth generation of rabbis in his family. He began his career in Pittsburgh, Pa., first as assistant to the Reform leader Rabbi Solomon Freehof at Rodef Shalom Congregation, then as rabbi of Temple Emanuel. In 1968, he came to Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, where he served as senior rabbi until his retirement in 1993. He set Beth Israel on a progressive path, including the adoption of an updated prayer book, the introduction of new rituals, and the hiring of the congregation’s first woman assistant rabbi. His resonant voice and distinguished bearing gave him a strong presence in the pulpit. As a leader in the Reform movement, he was an officer of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In recognition of this service, HUC granted him an honorary Doctor of Divinity in 1976. He also followed in the footsteps of his uncle Abba Hillel Silver in supporting Zionism, including terms on the National Executive Committee of the Zionist Organization of America and the editorial board of The American Zionist. Throughout his career, Rabbi Silver championed interfaith causes, inclusivity, dialogue within Judaism, and community outreach. In Pittsburgh, he received the B’nai B’rith Citizen and Civic Service Award for his extensive interfaith work, and helped found NEED, a scholarship program which has sent thousands of African-American students to college. In Connecticut, he served on the Governor’s Task Force Against Racism, organized the Greater Hartford Rabbinic Association, and actively promoted Christian-Jewish dialogue. When a large wave of Russian Jewish immigrants came to the Hartford area in the 1980s, he led the way in welcoming them; when fire damaged nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, he opened Beth Israel’s doors to its neighbors. He had a lifelong love of knowledge, music, and the beach, and he never stopped learning or creating. In his retirement, he wrote two books: “I Will Not Let you Go Until You Bless Me: Memoir of a Reform Rabbi,” and “Converting to Reform Judaism.” He volunteered his time as a narrator of audiobooks for the blind, and took up sculpting at the age of 80; he completed a new sculpture just last month. The family is grateful for the care he received from Vitas Healthcare’s hospice, especially Josie Hatfield, Cathy Kulas and Vinnett James. Rabbi Silver is survived by his wife Ruth Lee, a journalist and award-winning collage artist; three children: son Marc and his wife Beverly of Bloomfield, Conn., daughter Jenny and her husband Lauren Kaplan of Leverett, Mass., and daughter Molly of Brookline, Mass.; and five grandchildren: Rebecca Slitt, Micah Snyder, and Eli, Judah, and Ezra Burstein. He was predeceased by his sister Marion Namm, and a son, Michael. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, March 16 at 11 a.m. at Congregation Beth Israel, 701 Farmington Ave., West Hartford, CT. Interment will follow in the Beth Israel Cemetery, 51 Jackson St., Avon, CT, after which the family will sit shivah at Congregation Beth Israel from 1-4 PM. Funeral arrangements are entrusted to Weinstein Mortuary, Hartford, Conn. For further information, directions, or to sign the guest book for Harold please visit online at weinsteinmortuary.com/funerals.cfm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org) 125 Broad St. 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004; NEED (needld.org), 429 4th Ave., 20th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219; or the Silver Courtyard Fund at Congregation Beth Israel.