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January 28: Abba Hillel Silver

January 28, 2016

silverCleveland’s Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, a key player in the mobilization of Zionism in America, was born in present-day Lithuania on this date in 1893. He came to the U.S. at 9 and was educated in New York, which he left after high school to attend the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Graduating as valedictorian, he was ordained in 1915 and became rabbi two years later at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, where he would serve for forty-six years. A proponent of Zionism from his youth, Silver was also a champion of labor rights and an outspoken opponent of racial segregation. He resigned from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce over its anti-union policies and was a member of the state commission that drafted Ohio’s first unemployment insurance law. Famous as an orator, Silver was a founding president of the Cleveland Bureau of Education and a president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as on the boards of some thirty Jewish organizations. He wielded great influence in the Reform movement’s adoption of the Columbus Platform in 1937, which moved Reform Judaism in more traditional directions in its worship practices and embraced Zionism, which the movement had previously rejected. In 1947, Silver served as Zionism’s leading American representatives at the United Nations and helped sway international opinion in favor of the UN’s partitioning of Palestine. To see him speaking before the UN, look below.

“I believe in service. First as a payment of a just debt, and secondly as the only avenue by which men and women can ever find or ever have found real soul contentment and happiness.” —Abba Hillel Silver