Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Bob Pike, a professional colleague:

When I heard that Mel had died I was deeply saddened. He was a friend, a colleague, and a golf buddy. Hew was not only a student of Active Learning, he was also an active participant in life. He realized how short it was. He, Ken Blanchard and I shared a Faith at Work session at ASTD. I was blessed. He had a long, patient, and courageous battle with cancer. I will miss him.

Bob Pike CSP, CPAE-Speakers Hall of Fame
Chairman/CEO - The Bob Pike Group
Founder/Editor - The Creative Training Techniques newsletter
Chairman of the Executive Board - Lead Like Jesus

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflections from Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

Maxine and I deeply regret that since we are in Jerusalem, it is impossible to be with Shoshana and her family at this difficult time. Mel and Shoshana were the first to suggest to me, some 20 years ago, that I become a candidate for the position of Rabbi at The Jewish Center. I have known Mel and Shoshana, both professionally and personally, for probably 3 decades. Besides respecting both of them as distinguished Jewish educators, they were dear and loyal friends, and it is with deep sorry that we mourn the passing of one of America's most devoted and talented Jewish educators, well-known in both the secular and Jewish worlds. We have fond memories of our times with the Silbermans, having visited them at Ocean Grove several times, and having co-officated at Daniel and Lisa's wedding, among countless other occasions we shared together. Shoshana was education director at TJC when I arrived, and she and Mel were both my teachers in many ways in my adjustment to Princeton and The Jewish Center. We will deeply miss Mel, and join the large chorus of his admirers and friends, of both Mel and Shoshana, who send heart-felt sympathy and condolences to the entire family on this very sad occasion.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sleeping with a Torah

When we were setting up for shiva, siddurim arrived for all the services, as
did one of the shul's Torahs.

I tried to find a place for the Torah on our
first floor, but everyone was concerned that the six grandchildren and
cousins, or even adults in a packed environment, might bump into it
and...don't even say it. The upstairs bedrooms were occupied and the
basement, with its offices and library, was filled with blow-up beds.

Someone reminded me that we had a master bedroom on the first floor. I had
simply never imagined using it for such a purpose. At first it seemed odd,
but then it seemed somehow comforting that the Torah would be near me, day
and night. I set up a bridge table on Mel's side of the bed, covered by a
beautiful white and blue Provencal tablecloth and gently placed the Torah on
it, covered with a talis.

I thought of all the Torah lessons I learned over the years, how it's simple
yet complex text has engaged me. It was hard parting with the Torah this
morning, as it was taken back to its rightful place at the synagogue.

This is the start of a transition as I will soon conclude shiva and return
to a different world, a life without Mel's physical presence. Since I have
known and loved him for fifty three of my sixty seven years, this will be
difficult. I will depend on the support and love of family and friends, as
well as the lessons I learned about life from Mel.

- Shoshana

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hesped from Lisa Silberman Brenner

In a family of writers, please forgive me, but I am going to speak in clichés. While I was grateful for those final days in which I could sit and hold his hand, I found I had little to say. I think this was because my relationship with my father was always so easy. We were kindred spirits. He was my support, my guide, my mentor, my therapist, my teacher, my father. In those moments of recognition, I knew he loved me and he knew I loved him.
The cliché is that my father was my hero. I couldn’t imagine anyone not liking my father. He was kind, friendly, and caring. To me he was a combination of gentle yet strong—easy-going yet passionate. It is, actually, the passionate side of my father that I would like to speak about because I believe that his passions are what kept him going throughout these many years of illness, allowing him to survive over a decade beyond the statistics.
The first is of course, his love and passion for my mother. Not everyone finds true love and happiness in a partner. And while my father’s life was cut short, and I feel that he lived a full life because he found such love and happiness. And luckily he started early! My parents fell in love at 14—and I’ve seen the prom pictures to prove it—and they were married at 21.
Through their many years together, my parents got to experience another one of his passions—traveling. Not only did my parents see the world together—filling their house with photographs and art work—but they kept on traveling even when my father was quite ill. At times like this, I would feel like I was the parent as my crazy mom and dad were off to China or India in between chemo treatments. But then I would realize, as I’ve said, that this was my father embracing his passion for life.
The next two passions I’d like to mention are ones that he and I shared together. The first of these is teaching. I went into teaching because of my father. I remember at an early age going with him to the university, the awe I would hear from his students and those who worked with him as they spoke about him. I attribute my growth as a teacher to him: even throughout his illness he was there to guide me, to offer suggestions, ideas, and feedback. No matter how sick he got, he never stopped teaching and writing—editing his last book in his final days, something from which that I take great inspiration.
The second passion that he and I shared was gardening. I remember as a child, a lush bed of flowers slopping down our backyard hill, followed by vegetables and herbs. He taught me the names of different plants, he taught me about color and arrangements, and I’ve always been amazed how something so simple can bring such beauty and pleasure. As an adult, I relished the times we would go to the garden shop, even when he was walking with the aid of a cane, to pick out a new pot or a plant. Just as the perennials that we’ve planted will grow back year after year, I know that as the seasons come and go he will be with me, as I dig my hands in the warm earth, and bring color and joy to the world as he did.
But there is one more passion that I must speak about, one that I also believe kept him alive these many years, and that is his love for his grandchildren. When my father was first diagnosed, I had only been married for a couple of years, and much to my mother’s frustration, I wavered as to right time to have children. However, as soon as I hear the news, I had no doubts, and I prayed with all my heart that my father would live long enough to see me give birth to a child. Several months and chemotherapy treatments later, I discovered I was pregnant. The last thing my father saw before going in for lung surgery was an image from sonogram of the twins. When Noam and Jonah were born, their names reflected our prayers for healing and strength. Noam’s middle name is Reuvain, Daniel’s uncle who had died of cancer only a month or so before. Reuvain was the kind of person who had chemotherapy treatment in the morning and then literally lifted Daniel onto his shoulders and danced during our wedding that evening. We hoped that Noam would bring Reuvain’s spirit of joy to our family, even in the face of illness. Jonah’s middle name is Raphael, which means God heals, and we hoped that Jonah’s life would bring healing to my father. Both of these hopes and prayers came true. While there was no magical cure for my father’s illness, he lived on to see four more grandchildren come into this world: Ya’akov, Adira, Meir, and Chana. What a gift it has been to have had him in their lives these many years. To play scrabble with them, teach them golf, discuss a sports game, pick tomatoes in his garden, hold his hand and jump the waves at the Jersey shore. Every holiday, birthday, school play, every day really became a blessing.
So, although my father did not live to a ripe old age, I feel that he lived a full life, one that I greatly admire and memories of which I will always cherish. I love you dearly Abba, and I will miss you more than I can express.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mel and Shosh in India....

Eulogy from Rabbi Adam Feldman

Eulogy for Mel Silberman

Moshe Aryeh Leib ben Yoel v’Elka

February 21st, 2010

Eloheinu v’Elohei Avoteinu – Our God and God of our Ancestors, a thousand years in Your sight are as a passing day, an hour of night. Our generations come and go, while You endure forever. We are always in Your hand, O God, in death as in life, trusting in Your love and in Your judgment. O merciful God, strengthen all of us who mourn the loss of Dr. Mel Silberman, especially his dear family; his wife Shoshana, his children Shmuel and Sarah, Lisa and Daniel, Gabe, the dear grandchildren Noam, Jonah, Yaakov, Adira, Meir and Chana; to Mel’s brother Al and sister in law Jane. Help them to look beyond this moment, help them to realize that death cannot destroy the bonds that were created during their years with Mel. Help them to understand that death may end life but it will never end the relationship that they had with Mel, the special bond that each of them felt. May their lives together help to sustain them and add to the blessing which is theirs because Mel Silberman lived. In the valley of the shadow of death, beside the still waters and in the green pastures, You, O Lord, are our Shepherd. Be our strength and our shield, our stay and our comfort throughout all our days as we all say Amen.

We are gathered here in this sanctuary today to mourn the passing of Moshe Aryeh Leib ben Yoel v’Elka, of Mel Silberman, a man who was a loving husband and brother, a caring father, grandfather and uncle, a great teacher and pioneer in the field of Educational Psychology, a trainer and advisor to so many through his professional life and his personal life, a man who was known nationally and internationally for his classes and workshops that he facilitated for so many institutions and organizations, a great author and deep thinker, a proud Jew and a man who loved to sing and who loved to daven in this synagogue, a man who loved to travel and learn about the history and culture of every place he could, a man who touched people’s lives in a beautiful and unique way, a man who loved being an Abba and truly mastered being a Sabba, a man who demonstrated incredible inner strength and a man who fought a battle with cancer for 13 years, probably at least a decade longer than anyone thought possible, a man who knew how to enjoy life, a leader in this community and every community in which he lived, a man who cared so much about others and a man who had a great impact on everyone who knew him, an extraordinary human being – a real mensch. Our hearts are filled with great sadness today for a noble soul has been taken from our midst.

How do we find the words to summarize the life of this courageous man? Well, first we bring our own thoughts, our own associations and our own memories. To this we add the words that will be spoken today and in the end – we hope we will do justice to the memory of someone so adored who will be missed by his dear family, this community, communities in Boston and Montclair, Philadelphia and Ocean Grove, his friends and dear students who were all touched by Mel in a personal way. We are here today to pay tribute to Mel, to mark his passing and also to celebrate his life and honor his legacy.

Mel Silberman was born in Orange, NJ. He and his older brother Al, were the sons of Jules and Elsie, who raised their sons with simple piety and good values. They always emphasized the importance of a good education and to feel a close connection to the Jewish community, two things that Mel felt his entire life. Mel was a natural leader and was able to display these qualities as a teenager through his involvement in United Synagogue Youth where he served as a Regional and National officer. It was during his High School days that he met Shoshana, and for over 50 years, they have been partners, soul mates, mentors, incredible friends, husband and wife and an example to all others of a wonderful couple.

Mel attended Brandeis University, a place that gave him a great education, a place to deepen his connection to the Jewish people and an opportunity to develop more leadership skills as the President of the Brandeis Hillel. In addition to the times he spent learning during college, Mel also made time to teach and mentor others including the summers he spent working as a counselor at Camp Ramah with future Rabbis and Cantors in his bunk. Mel received a Master’s Degree and earned his PhD from the University of Chicago and began his professional life in the field of Educational Psychology teaching for many years at Temple University in Philadelphia. One of his proudest moments was when he received the “Great Teacher Award” from Temple University in 2000. His ambition and drive helped him to succeed in the classroom as well as in his writing through the countless books, articles, curricula, research assignments, grants and presentations over the years. A recent count included over 100 professional organizations that benefitted from Mel’s talents and expertise and his unique emphasis on active training including major Jewish and secular organizations.

In addition to his passion for teaching, Mel also had a passion for life and he knew how to enjoy life in so many ways. He loved music – being equally comfortable at an opera or a Grateful Dead concert. He loved Mozart and a Carlebach nigun. He loved to play golf and watch a wonderful dance recital. But of all the things that Mel excelled at, what he did best was to connect with people. He loved to listen to people tell their story and learn from others. He had a unique ability to help people share their experiences with him and see the challenge that were presented. He loved to study in hevrutah and so many of us have benefitted from being his study partner. Among his students in his life were a number of Rabbis, including myself who will always connect Parashat Yitro to Mel because of the technique he taught me as I prepared a sermon on that Parasha, Rabbi Annie Tucker who also cherished the time she has spent with Mel in their years together in Princeton, as well as Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, the Rabbi Emeritus of The Jewish Center and dear friend of Mel and Shoshana’s for over 30 years. Since Mel’s passing yesterday, Rabbis that knew Mel and loved him have been in touch with me and the family to express their condolences and to comment on the impact Mel had on their lives. Mel’s was a life of relationships, because he was a people person and he loved the intimacy he had with so many people in his life, during the years in Germantown, in Princeton and in Ocean Grove.

Yesterday morning, after Mel passed away, I had the very difficult challenge of announcing his passing to this congregation from this bimah during our Shabbat morning service. I did so at the point in our service when we recite the Mi Sheberach prayer, the prayer for healing that is recited in the name of everyone in our community and anyone in our extended family that is need of healing. As I mentioned to this congregation yesterday, for the past 13 years, Mel’s name has been included each and every time we recited that prayer. For 13 years, this congregation, whether it be here in the Sanctuary or in the Havurah Minyan, whether it be in Boston or in Montclair, or where ever any of us have prayed for these years, we always included his name Moshe Aryeh Leib ben Yoel v’ Elkah, and it will be difficult for many of us to reach that point in the service and not hear his name. As I walked back from spending time with Shoshana yesterday, I had an opportunity to reflect more on Mel’s name – Moshe Aryeh Leib – a name that he was very proud of. Mel is a great example of the Rabbinic adage, kshmo kein hu – He is like his name because each one of Mel’s names was a wonderful description of his character and his life.

Moshe – As all students of Torah know, Moshe Rabeinu, Moses our teacher, was great teacher, a great leader and proud Jew. He was humbled by the choice God made in selecting him to lead the people and in fact he is described by the Rabbis as the most humble man in history. I think we could say many of those same things about our Moshe, our Moshe Rabeinu, our teacher Mel Silberman – a great man, a great leader and a great teacher.

In a prayer we recite every Shabbat, the siddur tells us, yismach Moshe B’matnat Helko – Ki eved ne’eman Karata Lo – Moshe rejoiced at the gift of his destiny when You, O God declared him a faithful servant. Our Moshe, was a faithful servant, a proud Jew, a man who loved to both study and teach Jewish texts, a man who loved to daven and did so beautifully on Shabbat and on Holidays. A man who was a faithful servant to God and the Jewish People.

At the end of his life, the Torah describes Moshe’s relationship with God by saying he knew God Panim el Panim – he knew God face to face. Not only do I believe that Mel had a personal, face-to-face relationship with God, but I also know that Mel was able to know the people in his life, face-to-face, on a personal, emotional level, never looking down at someone but seeing everyone on the same level, accepting people for who they are and looking into their eyes, so that he could see them face to face.

There is a classic Rabbinic phrase that was once said about a different Moshe but I believe it applies to this Moshe as well – Me Moshe L’ Moshe Ein K’Moshe – From Moshe to Moshe there is none like this Moshe. This is certainly true about Moshe Aryeh Leib ben Yoel v’Elka.

Aryeh – Mel was a lion – a fighter – a strong man both in terms of his physical strength as well as his inner strength and his strong convictions. For centuries, the lion has been seen as a symbol of the Jewish people because of our ability to face challenges and fight for our survival. I do not know if there ever was an Aryeh that fought the way that Mel Silberman fought for these past 13 years. When Mel was first diagnosed with Stage Four Metastatic Lung Cancer, no one expected him to be alive this long. His courage, fortitude and altruism led him to participate in a clinical antibody trial shortly after his diagnosis. During these years, Mel saw himself in partnership with his doctors and one of his doctors told me that Mel was always able to understand what was happening because he had an uncanny capacity to intellectualize and compartmentalize his cancer, breaking it down matter-of-factly into its component parts as if it were some endless ever-morphing puzzle that required periodic attention, but never obsession. He never let the cancer define his life, and he never really emotionalized over his condition which enabled him to cope, and proceed forward whenever he encountered another roadblock. So many people have said over the years that his courage and tenacity are unparalleled. The example that Mel was, his tenacity in his battle with cancer for these 13 years, gave so many others, family members and dear friends, inspiration and encouragement as they faced their own personal struggles.

Mel’s strength and drive helped him and Shoshana celebrate every milestone over the years including the very special celebration just one week ago. It was the Bar Mitzvah celebration – 13 years since Mel’s diagnosis, and they celebrated in their home, with the members of the Havurah, davening and singing and coming together to be with Mel – and what a celebration it was, an emotional day yet an extraordinary day, especially when Mel came to the top of the steps to see everyone, to hear everyone singing to him and with him, thanking God for the time they have together, for the gifts in our lives and for sacred relationships.

Leib – Leib has many meanings including the word heart and Mel Silberman had an incredible heart, a very strong heart and a heart that was able to love and feel emotions and to connect to others. Mel had so many people in his life that touched his heart and who gave him strength to continue to fight. He touched the heart of every student or colleague who learned from him. He touched the heart of his care givers in the hospital, at rehab, the hospice nurses and aids. And he touched the heart of his dear family who now feel as if there heart has been broken. All the people in Mel’s life helped to strengthen Mel’s heart so that he was able to fight for so long, until his heart was not able to fight any more. For the past few weeks, since Shoshana brought Mel home, they have been surrounded by their family and dear friends. There has been an outpouring of love and care for each of them and I know they both felt that love in their hearts. During these days, the family has been by Mel’s side. His brother Al and sister in law Jane came to see him. Shoshana, the children and grandchildren have sat with him, fed him, sang with him and crawled into bed with him, to demonstrate their love, and to bring their hearts as close to Mel’s as they could. Mel had an opportunity to be with each of his children and grandchildren, to talk to them, to listen to them and to bless them, moments that will stay with this family for years to come. Until yesterday morning, when Mel passed away, in his home, holding Shoshana’s hand, on Shabbat, the end of his journey, he is now at rest.

They say that life is a book, one chapter ends and the next one begins. The life of Mel Silberman, the life of Moshe Aryeh Leib ben Yoel v’Elkah, was an incredible book, a wonderful story, page after page, filled with lessons and messages, narratives and memories, that will continue to be told for years to come. He touched so many lives during his time on this earth, his students and his friends, his health care professionals and his family, all of us were touched by Mel in countless ways.

Shoshana, Shumel and Sara, Lisa and Daniel, Gabe, Noam, Jonah, Yaakov, Adira, Meir and Chana; to Al and Jane, our heart goes out to you, as you face the challenge of Mel’s passing, of how to continue on without him as you take the lessons he taught you for now and for the rest of your lives. Please know that we are here for you, whatever we can do, in each of your communities as we understand that Mel’s life ends, but his example continues, his legacy survives.