Sunday, February 28, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
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.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
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
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.
Monday, February 22, 2010
One thing that was always fun was when Saba took us golfing. In the past few years Saba, Noam (my twin brother), and I after going golfing would go get smoothies. Saba taught me a lot and now I am good at golf! I remember when we (noam and I) didn't have good timing in our swing so Saba told us to sing Zipadee Doodah (I think that is how you spell it)to help us. Guess what? It worked..... kind of. I still couldn't get it, but Noam (still my brother) could. Eventually I did have good timing. This was one of the best memories I had with Mel Silberman (Saba).
Saba was very generous. He gave me many presents and was always available to talk to. Some of my favorite things I did with Saba were going to a baseball game (the Phillies) and he came to Boston when my sister had surgery, and he took us to Chuck E. Cheese like twenty times!
This is a picture of Saba, me and Savta. I miss him so much. This picture is placed at my house in Montclair. Saba came to many of my soccer games and in this picture there is a soccer goal in the back.
I love him so much and I will never forget him.
We were co-partners in caring for dad during his illness and in our father's final months. In addition, his tenacity in battling his cancers for 13 years gave me the inspiration and encouragement to overcome my serious illness. In some ways Mel was sending me subliminal messages while I sick and he gave me the courage to get the care I needed.
I asked Shoshana last night if it would be appropriate if I tried to capture the playful spirit of Mel in this eulogy. So before I speak in a more formal manner about Mel’s legacy, I want to reflect on a question:
What would a Mel-style Eulogy look like?
Mel was recognized internationally as one of the most creative educators of his generation. So I started to think: If Mel had the educational challenge of giving a eulogy, how would he transform the format?
He would envision a Jigsaw eulogy – every person go up to someone that they do not know and tell a piece of Mel’s story and then go to groups of four and then eight and then sixteen, until we are all one big puzzle of Mel’s life. Or he’d do a clothesline eulogy – we all line up from those who first met Mel in his hometown in Orange, New Jersey to those who first knew Mel from his beach house in Ocean Grove, New Jersey and get a chronological life story. Or we’d have a eulogy where we’d stand in a circle and all shout out words from our hearts to create a collage of Mel.
Things that made Mel happy:
Hanging out on the beach, especially in his deluxe blue mesh chair
lounger, listening to his ipod playing Mattisyahu.
Hitting a great tee shot on the golf course. Hitting a great approach shot on the golf course. Hitting a great putt.
Driving in his BMW MINI -- before the engine troubles.
Shooting the basketball in the driveway at the Linden Lane house.
Riding his bike on the boardwalk in ocean grove – once he got the comfort seat.
He loved his old dog Meg, and the new one, Scooter.
He liked the Chat and Nibble Café and Bistro Ole.
Dancing with Shoshana to anything from Motown.
He liked Italians and Italian food.
He loved the Philadelphia Eagles.
He liked walking by the canal in Princeton.
He liked ice cream, particularly chocolate ice cream.
Leading an amazing training session.
Telling stories from travels to Europe, India, and China.
He loved stretching out on the porch furniture with the New York Times and doing the crossword puzzle.
He loved wearing shorts, t-shirts and sandals or a pair of comfortable jeans.
He liked the view in Croatia at the Dalmation Coast
Giving away ridiculous tzockes that were fun to use in training, like sunglasses or inflatable microphones.
Lying on the bed in Ocean Grove and watching something ridiculous like
“America’s Got Talent” with his grandchildren.
Drinking Iced Tea.
He loved the sound quality on his Bose Stereo.
He loved Broadway musicals – Showboat and South Pacific. And watching James Gandolfini in God of Carnage.
Planting things in the garden or helping Lisa figure
out what to plant in our flower beds.
The fact that at one point practically every male neighbor on the
block in Ocean Grove was named Dick.
He loved movies. He loved moronic comedies and well-crafted arts films.
He loved seeing the Taj Mahal.
He loved Tuna Melts.
He loved telling the story of the time when Gabe hid the afikomen in the tape slot of the VCR.
He loved the Old City in Jerusalem.
He loved Rachmaninoff’s vocalese, he loved B.B. King and he loved Shlomo Carlebach.
He loved going out for Pizza and taking us for a tour of his old neighborhood in Orange, New Jersey.
But more than any of these loves, were the loves that he had in his family. I officially entered into the family only fifteen years ago, so I was in a good position to see, as an outsider, what that meant.
Shoshana, Mel was crazy about you. He loved your sense of humor. He loved hearing you teach. He loved creating with you. He loved being a community builder with you. He loved hosting Passover Seders with you. He knew how hard it was for you to care for him through his illness. He loved that you were there to hold his hand in his last moments.
Shmuel,I know that your father’s spiritual path was deepened by your decision to embrace observance. I’ll never forget him dancing at your wedding, or celebrating at Yaakov’s bris or marveling at the ability that you and Sara had to weather Chana’s illness. He also knew deep down that your devotion to working with children with special needs was not simply a career, but a part of that spiritual path.
Lisa, I can never love you as much as your dad loved you, but I will try. He rejoiced when you received your doctorate and he loved watching you grow as a teacher, as a theater artist, and as a mom.
Gabe, your father had a rare calming spirit and an ability to connect to and listen to anyone. I know that he saw that spirit in you and I could see how happy he was that you had found a career that could utilize those gifts.
I was so incredibly lucky to be one of those people other than his wife and kids that Mel loved. But there are many others. Although he and his older brother Al never agreed on politics, I saw how he valued his extended family and drew joy as Al and Jane’s daughters, Lori and Carrie, pursued careers that focused on the written word and formed wonderful families with Jack and Omid. He loved the many times that the entire family got together.
Sara, I remember how thrilled he was to meet you and how excited he would be to go up to Boston to visit you. He loved your hamische spirit and valued those times that he got to speak with you quietly, away from the bountiful energy of your children.
Mel had love for friends, from his chavurah circles and from elsewhere, for colleagues, for thousands of students in his forty one years of teaching, for neighbors, for his doctors – there was never any prejudice in his heart, he could connect to anyone, from any background.
But I know that more than anyone, Mel got the greatest joy from his grandchildren.
Noam and Jonah – Saba loved your sense of humor, loved watching your talents develop, loved how you sang in shul and at the shabbes table, and loved watching you play sports. When we get to your bar mitzvahs we’ll do something special to honor Saba.
Adira – Saba loved how smart, outgoing, and caring you are. Every hug you gave him and time you talked to him on the phone made him smile. Saba was proud of you and loved watching you make Savta happy.
Ya’kov – Saba loved watching you grow-up to be the thoughtful, caring, and playful boy that you are. He was excited that you were interested in things he liked – like politics, sports, and singing. Most of all, though, he was impressed that you took on so much responsibility in your family. He was very proud of you.
Meir Simcha -- Saba loved you and thought that you were very special. He loved watching you grow up and learning how to be a real mensch.
Chana – Saba loved you and he loved talking to you and playing with you.
Mel’s death presents us all with a paradox.
Maimonides observes, “when his teacher dies, the
student tears his clothes until he reveals his heart, and the tear
But we also learn that “Tzaddikim b’mitatam hayyim heim” – The righteous, in their death, are still alive.
Mel, you are gone and there is a tear that will remain forever. We can only pray that through acts of righteousness that we perform in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead that you spirit is still alive.
Abba was the best father I could have ever hoped for, as I can never remember a time - even a split second that he disappointed me. From my earliest memories he was my "Superman" an indestructible force that I could always count on to protect me. When I was little, I remember resting on his stomach and feeling so safe and so comfortable. As I grew older, Abba was always there for me, again, I can't recall a time that he wasn't. I was always proud of him and he seemed to figure out a solution for every problem.
He told me stories that inspired and entertained me. My favorite one was a true account that involved him trying out for the basketball team at school: While certainly not the most gifted athlete and with his parents forbidding him from playing sports (due to a heart murmur), he still made the team because the coach was impressed with the hustle he displayed while stealing the ball. This type of zest for life never waned, as I can recall some many poignant examples: his passion for singing (in Chavurah services and in the La Shir choir), his pursuit of "Active Training" ( using his ideas and techniques for engaging the learner) his love for the family and friends, and of course his will to endure stage IV lung cancer for 13 years!
My Abba was not only the best Dad, he was a close friend that I could talk to about anything, even during the most difficult of times. Again, he was there to help and direct me in all aspects of life. I recall while still ravaged with cancer, Abba's immense assistance in helping me complete my Master's Thesis. He would not allow me to procrastinate or fail as so many do in this juncture of life.
Abba never asked anything in return for all the love and passion he gave out. He only desired the best for friends and family. Abba is the definition of altruism and unselfishness. I want to thank Imma, the best mom in the world for all her love and devotion during these difficult years. Imma all of us - ( we will be there for you and we love you!
While I am grateful for all the years he defied the odds (and lived long enough to seeand love 6 grandchildren), he was taken too early for such a great and loving man. The void in my heart is so vast: I miss and I love my Abba!
NOAM REUVEN AGE ELEVEN AND A HALF
Saba was an excellent teacher. He taught my twin brother, Jonah, and I to
play golf when we were just three years old. He got us these little golf
clubs and took us to a driving range. Later we went on a real course with
him. I remember once, he was so excited when I hit a ball high into the air
and straight. He loved to come to our house and listen to our band, called " Jew Twins". Saba was very musical. He played the piano when he was child and could play
keyboard, which is what I play. Saba taught me how to do an A Minor chord.
He also liked to see our modern dance recitals and watch us play soccer.
Saba was intelligent, graceful, nice, and kind - and always fun. I made an
acrostic with his name, MEL:
M - MARVELOUS
E - ENTHUSIASTIC
L - LOVEABLE.
JONAH RAPHAEL - AGE eleven and a half
Saba was such a good golf teacher that when I went to a one- week golf camp,
I tied for first place in the camp tournament. Saba was very creative. He
used a song, Zippity Do Dah to help us with our timing in hitting the ball.
I remember that each time we drove home from the driving range, Saba stopped
and got us smoothies for a treat. Saba liked when I played the guitar for him. He also came to many of our soccer games and liked it when we played a good game for him. Even though we live in Montclair, because of Saba I root for the Phillies and the Eagles. Saba was nice person, a supportive person and a strong person. He survived 13 years, the record at the Princeton hospital for his kind of cancer. I
think Saba survived so long because he was never lonely.
YAAKOV YEHUDAH AGE TEN
Saba was smart. He was a professor and knew a lot of answers. He liked to
talk to me on the phone about sports. He also asked me about what I was
learning at Torah Academy. He came to Boston just to hear me sing in a boys
Hanukkah choir He was always happy when I came to visit. Saba never got mad
or upset and he always did chesed (acts of loving kindness.)
ADIRA CHANA AGE NINE
I loved being in Ocean Grove and going to the beach with Saba. One summer my
parents let me come down all by myself. Saba taught me to make a paper
airplane and a paper cup. We played a lot of Scrabble.
Saba had the best garden. The flowers were so beautiful. He knew just what
to plant. I helped him pick raspberries and tomatoes, and also helped him
with the watering. He taught my mom and me how to make a colorful garden at
home in Montclair. Saba was funny and fun to play with. He was really, really nice and kind and sweet. He was helpful, amazing and magical.
Saba came to so many of my performances at Solomon Schecter Day School, and
my soccer games, dance recitals, and African drumming concerts. He liked
seeing me grow up. He was a good saba.
MEIR SIMCHA AGE SIX
I loved going to the beach with Saba. We would dig in the sand very deep.
I was a little scared of the water, so Saba threw a ball into the waves.
Then I would go in a little to get the ball when the waves brought it back.
I remember when we went to the beach together early in the morning to bless
the sun. (This blessing is said when the sun is in a certain position every
Saba liked to go to the playground with me and watch me go on the slide.
I look a little like Saba when he was a boy. He had blond hair like me.
Saba always gave good hugs and kisses and was proud of me.
CHANA D¹VORAH AGE FOUR
Saba took me to the playground and pushed me on the swing very high. Then
we came home and read a lot of books together. I colored pictures for Saba
when he was sick. He liked to watch me dance and he gave me a lot of
kisses. Saba smiled every time he saw me.
The title of one of my father’s books is People Smart. This name represents my father’s life. He was forever understanding people, teaching people, thinking about how to bring out the best in people. In turn he was loved by people. “Who is honored? One who honors others.” He was greatly honored. No one in his community was more so.
Hashem created the world to bestow His kindliness to others. My father had compassion for everyone. He felt sorry even for the wicked. He emulated the A-mighty. He would have gone a step further and pleaded for Sodom. He was a child and inheritor of Avraham Avinu.
‘Who is wise? One who learns from others.” He was interested in everyone. He was fascinated by Hashem’s creations, human and otherwise. There are many talkers in the world but few listeners. He excelled at listening. Anybody could talk to him whenever. In this way too he emulated the A-mighty.
Hashem is erech apayim. He holds his nose, so to speak, and waits patiently in the face of man-made destruction. My father never stopped waiting. He had faith that others would learn more and do better. He did not give up on others even if they grieved him. As a master teacher himself he believed people could be taught.
“In the image of G-d He created him.” He was concerned with the dignity of everyone. When I told him I was working as a Shabbos counselor in a home for the retarded, he said it would be good if they were treated like adults as much as possible. He was a religious humanist.
“Whoever pleases the spirit of people pleases the spirit of Hashem.” Hashem is pleased with those who are pleasing to others. He was beloved to all. People craved to be in his presence. His life was a beautiful example if how to give pleasure to others, and a reproach to us when we allow our relationships to be clouded by petty things.
My father was a man of chochma. His students numbered in the thousands. They wanted to learn from him. They needed him. We still need him. He was a reservoir of wisdom concerning what it meant for human beings to relate. We need to go back to his teachings. He was concerned that I act like a Jewish husband. He was concerned that all people fulfill their potential. We must ache that marriages and families are split apart solely because they do not have the proper coaching in human relationships. We can still look back to my father and remember this example of humanitarianism. He was an I-Thou person.
My father’s name has so far not been mentioned in full. He is Moshe Aryeh Leib HALEVI. Levi means to be attached. I believe this is the source for the English word “alleviate.” This was my father; he was attached to others.
It is not enough to miss my father. We cannot go on with business as usual. He must live on as a beacon of light for a world that needs healing. We must live with the ever present awareness of the dignity of human beings as created in the image of Hashem. May his memory be for a blessing.
I met Mel at a regional Hebrew High School, when we were both fourteen years old. At fifteen, we agreed that marriage was in our future. We decided to give our love a test by going to separate colleges and dating others. At twenty, we knew we wanted to be together and became engaged. The plan was for me to graduate from Columbia a year early and join Mel in Waltham, where he’d finish his senior year at Brandeis.
In order to do this, I had to spend the summer before the wedding, taking courses at Columbia. Mel was a counselor of the oldest teen boys at Camp Ramah. Well, a few times a week, Mel waited for his campers to settle in and then drove to New York City. He returned in time to wake up these future rabbis and one prominent cantor. Little did I realize then, that this was an example of the “super Mel” that would astonish everyone by his ability to will himself extra years, not just for himself, but because we needed him. Many years later, we learned that the campers and junior counselor all knew his “secret” and had pretended to go right to sleep, so he could leave. Even then, everyone rooted for him!
It was easy to be attracted to Mel. He was handsome and popular, as well as a born leader. He served as both a regional and national USY officer. He also was president of Brandeis Hillel. He was not only a top–notch student, but also someone who could wisely make use of knowledge in a creative way. These qualities made him a star, but it was his character that made him a mensch: his truthfulness, integrity, kindness, compassion and respect for everyone. He quite naturally gave people the benefit of the doubt and always judged on the side of merit.
Mel exhibited the rare combination of one who had both the capacity for simple fun and deep thought. He could go from watching his beloved Eagles to studying the Daf Yomi, (the daily Talmud assignment.) He could write interesting books or touching love letters. He was never boring.
Mel was always open to new experiences. When we were in graduate school at the University of Chicago, I asked him to join me at a modern dance concert. Although he had never seen modern dance before, he became an instant fan. He was equally comfortable at the opera or a Grateful Dead concert. Mel loved the chamber music concerts at Richardson Auditorium. These were not just aesthetic experiences for him, but spiritual ones, as well. He loved to travel and became a master of the guidebook. Together we went to thirty-four countries, and he went to several more on his own to do workshops. He was a people person and conversed with everyone he met, whether or not he knew the language. He also loved the seashore and spent some of his happiest moments in Ocean Grove.
Over the years, Mel reinvented himself. He began as a professor of educational psychology, but branched into counseling, adult education and corporate training. Yet all that he did was based on his belief that all learning must be “active.” For him, real learning took place only when the mind was truly engaged. His many books influenced people all over the world. Most fortunate, though, were those that he taught. No one took a course with Mel and did not rave about him. In fact, he won the Linback prize and “The Great Teacher Award” at Temple University. He indeed left his mark. There’s a stone at Temple with his name carved into it.
I once observed his doing a session for 600 people at a conference. I was astounded to see him warm up the audience with humor, as if he were a professional comedian. Then he easily put them through learning exercises. What struck me was the joy in the room. He connected with all 600 participants! Mel really loved teaching and his students benefited from his energy, knowledge and skill. Despite his numerous chemotherapies, surgeries, and radiation treatments, he never missed a single class. During his last semester, family and friends drove him to his weekly five hour class at the Center City branch of Temple University. Then they drove him home after class - at 10:00 PM.
I also remember a time he taught at the chavurah minyan when he discussed the return of his cancer. He told everyone how important it was for him to be able to proclaim his illness and ask for support (“Tammai, Tammai, Ten Rachamim.”) He was able to define what he needed and guided us all. Mel was never in denial about his cancer, but somehow remained an “optimistic realist.” He wanted to live as normally and as fully as possible. He set the tone and the pace for those of us less courageous or strong.
Mel enjoyed his friends, both male and female. He liked people who were both smart and kind. He often used the word “sweet” to describe his closest male friends. Actually, I think this is an appropriate word to describe Mel himself. He was strong in every way – including sweet.
His greatest role was that of father and grandfather. He gave so much of himself to his children, their spouses and the six grandchildren. He loved them so much and always came through for them. He was a source of wisdom and inspiration. Mel provided a model for them of how to live a life based on Torah values. The first line of the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) “Yitgaber K’Ari Lamod BaBoboker Al Avodat Boro”, directs us to rise in the morning, with the fearlessness of a lion, to serve the Holy One. Moshe Leib, became a “double lion” due to his adding the Hebrew name “Aryeh” meaning lion, to his Yiddish middle name “Leib”, which also means lion, following his original diagnosis. Indeed, he showed how this should be done.
When I was in high school, I often doodled Mel’s name in my notebook. I marveled at how through all of time and space, we found each other. To me, his love was the greatest gift possible. Later, I realized that the gift of Mel also included his enabling me to grow and become my own person and to be a full partner in the adventure of marriage. He was the most supportive, and encouraging husband. He was a mentor, friend and always my “True Love.” After all these years, I still marvel that through all of time and space, we were destined to be together. Mel once told me,” I will love you beyond the grave.” I believe him. If anyone can do this, Mel can.
PRINCETON…Dr. Mel Silberman,67, Professor Emeritus at Temple University, a pioneer in the field of educational psychology and training and a founder of vibrant Jewish communities in Philadelphia, Princeton, and Ocean Grove, died peacefully at home on Saturday, February 20, 2010. He passed after a thirteen year battle with lung cancer.
Dr. Silberman grew up in Orange, NJ, married his high school sweetheart Rosalind (Shoshana) Ribner, earned a B.A. in Sociology at Brandeis University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago. He taught for forty-one years at Temple University, winning the Great Teacher Award in 2000, authored thirty-four books on education and training, and rose to international prominence for his contributions to the field of training.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Shoshana Silberman, three children, Steven(Sara)Silberman and Gabriel Silberman all of Brighton,MA ,Dr. Lisa Silberman Brenner(Rabbi Daniel Silberman Brenner) of Montclair,a brother Albert Silberman of Roseland,six grandchildren Noam, Jonah, Yaakov, Adira, Meir, and Chana.
Funeral services are Sunday 11:30AM at The Jewish Center,435 Nassau Street,Princeton.Burial will follow at Mount Lebanon Cemetery,Iselin.The period of mourning will be observed at the Silberman residence in Princeton.The family respectfully requests memorial contributions be offered to “University of PA Medical Center”referencing (In honor of Mel Silberman/Thoracic Oncology)Penn Medicine Office of Development,Attn:Shawn Kleitz,3535 Market St,Suite 750,Phila,PA 19104 or
The Jewish Center(Adult Education Fund)