By Dave Sorter
Simchat Torah is perhaps the greatest celebration of the Jewish calendar. As Judaism transfers from the end of Deuteronomy back to the beginning of Genesis, the Torah is danced around the synagogue and, in many places, multiple l’chaims are imbibed.
Congregation Shearith Israel and Temple Emanu-El are adding to their celebrations this weekend, as the confirmation classes of 1959 (1958–59 at Shearith) will celebrate unique 50-year reunions. Both classes will gather for a party on Saturday night in rooms across from each other at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant at NorthPark Mall. (For information on Emanu-El’s party, see accompanying story.)
Shearith Israel will have a special reason for more l’chaims. Rabbi Hillel Silverman, Shearith Israel’s rabbi when the class of 1959 was confirmed, will return to Dallas for one of the few times since he left Texas in the mid-1960s to celebrate with his students and participate in weekend services.
“Rabbi Silverman built the shul,” said Shearith event organizer Martin Golman, a member of the 50-year reunion class — which was the first to be confirmed at the synagogue’s current Douglas Avenue facility.
The weekend begins at 7 tonight, when Silverman will review and sign copies of his new book, “The Time of My Life: Sixty Fulfilling Years as a Congregational Rabbi,” at Topletz Auditorium at Shearith. The book is a collection of memories from his days leading Shearith Israel, Temple Sinai in Los Angeles and Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Conn. He now splits his time between residences in Greenwich and La Jolla, Calif.
It includes stories from his days as a machine gunner in the Haganah and his spiritual involvement with Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald at a Dallas jail two days after Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
Silverman and current Shearith Israel Senior Rabbi William Gershon will share the pulpit during services on Friday night in the main
sanctuary. The confirmation class will lead the services, which will honor past confirmands and recognize past leaders of the Shearith Israel community.
And on Saturday, Silverman will deliver the Yizkor sermon at Shabbat/Shemini Atzeret (pre-Simchat Torah) services. He’ll also say a blessing for all previous Shearith Israel confirmation class members, wedding couples and bar/bat mitzvah students at whose simchas he officiated during his 10 years in Dallas.
In addition, Silverman will be honored at several private dinners and events during the weekend. The confirmation class of 1959 is underwriting the entire weekend, funding Silverman’s travel and hotel room, as well as the Friday oneg Shabbat and the various dinners.
“People are excited about this,” Gershon said. “There are a lot of people who remember Rabbi Silverman with great fondness.”
Said Golman: “This has stirred up the juices of people who he was a great influence on. Rabbi Silverman loved Dallas; this was his first real pulpit. Coordinating this with when his book was coming out made this a lot easier for him.”
Golman smiles as he thinks about his friends from Shearith Israel and families that were key cogs within the synagogue — such as the Waldman, Hoppenstein, Donsky and Golman families — and remembers that Silverman used to play golf with his father. He calls Silverman “my rebbe.”
People will travel from throughout the country for the reunion, and Golman said that some people there will not have seen each other since high school. Among those attending will be at least two teachers, Eleanor Ratner and Don Stahl. Stahl will have an aliyah on Saturday morning.
That Emanu-El and Shearith Israel are partners for this event shouldn’t be surprising. The Dallas Jewish community was centered on the three main synagogues: Reform Emanu-El, Conservative Shearith Israel and Orthodox/Traditional Tiferet Israel. Hillcrest Road, where Emanu-El and Tiferet are located, was a blacktop road, and hardly any Jewish people lived north of Forest Lane.
“It was one big family. Everybody went to the other temples.”
Steve Levy, who is organizing Emanu-El’s event, said that going to temple “was my source of Jewishness.”
He attended Highland Park High School, which didn’t have many Jews, he said. “Maybe this is why this is important to me. Those who were going to Hillcrest [High School], there was a lot of Jewishness there.”
The idea for the joint party came up when Levy and Max Friedman, another organizer of the Emanu-El party, were talking with Golman and said “Let’s have a party.”
“Everybody knew each other,” Golman said.
“There was a lot of intermingling,” Levy said. “I had friends at Shearith and through AZA [Aleph Zadik Aleph, the boys’ arm of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.]”
While Emanu-El stuck with the party, Golman believed Shearith should go further, so he invited Silverman and began fundraising to sponsor the entire weekend.
That was easy.
“I thought it would be the right thing to do, to bring in the rabbi who confirmed us,” Golman said. “People just came out of nowhere [to donate money] because he had such an influence.”
Gershon said he is proud to share the pulpit with Silverman, for whom he said he “has a great affection.” The two met at a rabbinical conference shortly after Gershon assumed the Shearith Israel pulpit 11 years ago, and Gershon was struck by Silverman’s depth of feeling for and memories of his old Dallas shul.
“Silverman remembers this place as a good place,” Gershon said. “He spoke only in glowing terms about Shearith Israel and remembered names of all the presidents he worked with. He certainly has been a great supporter of me being rabbi of Shearith Israel.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing to have people who want to get together after so many years. This will have a dimension of memory and dimension of sacredness and a dimension of what will be for the future. That people have kind of rededicated themselves to the synagogue and Judaism is very exciting.”
That rededication is a tribute to Silverman’s work and legacy at Shearith Israel, Golman said.
“He took a congregation and turned it into a community,” he said.
About 40 expected at Emanu-El class of ’59 reunion
By Dave Sorter
Steve Levy is humble about the 50th reunion of Temple Emanu-El’s confirmation class of 1959 on Saturday night at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant at NorthPark Mall.
At least about the comparison between the Reform shul’s reunion and Congregation Shearith Israel’s concurrent 50-year confirmation celebration, which will feature the return of Rabbi Hillel Silverman.
“Ours is mild by comparison to theirs,” Levy said. “We’re planning to get together and have an event at Maggiano’s on Saturday night. Some of us are going to meet at services on Friday. My guess is we’ll not have as great a representation at services as Shearith.”
Maybe not, but more than half of the 78-member class of 1959 are coming. Levy said he expects 40 to 42 people. Many are local, but others will come from as far away as New York, Maryland, California, Michigan and Arizona. Among those attending will be Los Angeles writer David Ritz, whose November 2008 piece in D magazine, “Growing up Jewish in Dallas,” likely prompted many memories from his classmates.
The confirmation class will also be recognized at services on Friday night and at Simchat Torah services.
Confirmation class reunions are rare at Emanu-El. Levy organized a 25-year reunion in 1984, but cannot recall any other classes doing such, though he doesn’t know for sure.
“From what I could tell, nobody really does it,” he said. “I just did it because I was interested.”
Through Internet research, Levy found that 72 members of the 78-member class are still alive. He heard from 50 of them.
“This is really fun to do,” he said. “I found that one gal in the class is married to someone who runs Norwegian Cruise Lines. She spends half of the year in California and the other half in Norway. Some dated each other, some married and some married and divorced. I have spoken with people in planning this reunion that I haven’t spoken to in 50 years.”
He said some class members are even planning their winter vacation around Saturday’s reunion.
Levy said Emanu-El is recognizing its heritage. On Rosh Hashanah morning, the rabbis called to the bimah everyone who was confirmed 50 or more years ago — including Levy’s mother.
“There were more than 70 people on the bimah,” he said.
Though he jokes about the larger celebration planned by Shearith Israel’s classes of 1958 and ’59 — “Hey, we’re Reform,” he said — Levy is happy that his friends from Shearith will be right across the hall.
“This will be a fun thing because we all know each other.”