Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 1, Page 26
Fall 1993
Alumni Profile
Silver-tongued rabbi hosts witty talk show

     "I've done so many radio shows in my time they call me the
     Radio-active Rabbi!"
                              Rim shot! Laughter!
     "Sure, I retired to Florida, but once I got here I started a new
     congregation. I'm not so much retired as recycled!"
                              Rim shot! Laughter!
     "Before I went to rabbinical school, I sold shoes in Wilmington. What
     a career change! From shoes to Jews!"
                          Rim shot! Laughter! Applause!

     The one-liners come so fast and furious that he could easily have been
an opening act in Vegas. Instead, Rabbi Samuel Silver, Delaware '33, gets
laughs from a smaller weekend audience as the headliner at Temple Sinai in
Delray Beach, Fla.
     It's an audience he knows and loves, and the affection is mutual.
Article after article written about the man describes him as Temple Sinai's
"beloved spiritual leader."
     The jokes that open and illustrate his Friday night and Saturday
morning sermons are not the only acts that endear him to his congregation.
It's the accumulation of little things-like the time he takes to write a
birthday letter to each of the 1,150 members of his flock.
     In addition to his traditional role as a rabbi, Silver has been a
well-known radio talk show host wherever he has lived. He also is the
author of five books (one published each time a son was bar mitzvahed), and
he is widely known as "the marrying rabbi," a reference to his willingness
to conduct inter-faith marriages. He has spent much of his life promoting
understanding among people of different faiths.
     Silver was born in Wilmington, Del., on June 7, 1912. "The other
disaster that year was the sinking of the Titanic!" he likes to joke.
     After graduating from Wilmington High School, he hitchhiked to the
University every day for four years. For a year or two, he edited the
University student newspaper and represented Delaware on a touring debating
     He credits W. Owen Sypherd, then chair of the University's English
department, and later University president for two years, for fostering his
interest in the Bible.
     After graduating from the University, Silver went to rabbinical school
for six years and was ordained in l940 at Hebrew Union College in
     His first job put him back on a campus. He was serving as the rabbi at
the University of Maryland when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, and he
immediately entered the infantry as a chaplain.
     During the war, he served on ships in the South Pacific and on the
island of Leyte for l8 months. During his four years of military service,
he frequently was the only clergy available and often conducted Protestant
and Catholic services. He says today that this inter-faith experience
helped shape the views he holds.
     Discharged from the Army in 1944, Silver relocated to Cleveland as the
rabbi of the Euclid Avenue Temple. Six years later, he moved to New York as
director of public information for the National Reform Jewish Movement,
headquartered in Manhattan.
     In 1959, he became rabbi at Temple Sinai in Stamford, Conn., a post he
held for l8 years. While there, he became well-known for his radio shows
and for inter-faith dialogues he would conduct from the pulpit with invited
guests. He has debated theology and traded witticisms with Victor Borge,
Sam Levinson, Norman Vincent Peale, Cardinal Sheen and Cardinal Cushing,
among others.
     Silver traded the "snow, storms and sleet" of Connecticut for the
"sun, sea and sand" of Florida, moving in 1977 to the west coast near Fort
Myers. A short time later, he was invited to start a new reformed
congregation in Delray Beach. He has taken that fledging congregation from
a small group meeting in an Episcopal church to a congregation of well over
500 families with an ultra-modern temple that has already expanded to
include a Hebrew school, a library and even a ballroom.
     During groundbreaking ceremonies a few years ago, he cracked: "It took
the people of Israel 40 years to get to the Promised Land, but it only took
the people of this temple five years to get this land. This is not only
groundbreaking day, it's the last day you can join this congregation at
reduced rates."
     His radio career has run parallel to his vocation as a rabbi,
beginning in the early years in Cleveland, moving to New York (where
comedian Joey Adams, writer of the "Strictly for Laughs" column in the New
York Post, once devoted an entire column to Silver's jokes) and ending up
in Florida, where he calls the witty talk show he shares with clergy of
other faiths "Parson to Parson."
     The five books authored by this one-person dynamo also reflect his
light touch. The titles include Explaining Judiasm to Jews and Christians,
What Every Christian Should Know About Judiasm, Why I Am An Ecumaniac,
Mixed Marriage Between Jews and Christians and How To Enjoy This Moment.
     One more aspect of Silver's career is the speaking engagements he
books with his wife of 40 years, the former Elaine Shapiro of Bridgeport,
Conn. A concert pianist and graduate of the Juilliard School, Mrs. Silver
works with her husband to present programs of music and discussion on such
topics as the heritage of Jewish music.
     Perhaps his biggest fan, she says, "People love his preaching. He
always starts with a joke but he always makes things relevant."
     "Oh," he replies. "All these years, I didn't know she stayed awake!"
     Asked to sum up the philosophy of his life, Silver turns serious.
     "I do what I do to convey to people that, ultimately, whatever our
religious teaching, we can improve the caliber of our lives. We have been
endowed with the ability to make progress."
     In his listing in Who's Who in the World, he writes, "The greatest of
all miracles is that we need not be tomorrow what we are today, but that we
can improve if we make use of the potentials implanted in us by God."
                                                  -Beth Thomas