From his perch at age 92, Joe Silver never did make it back to age 18 again, as he so devoutly begged every rabbi and anyone else whom he thought could or should make it happen. Nor did he escape one instance in the litany of blessings that he showered on people — the instance of the implied fate in his blessing to “stay on the right side of the grass.” Death came last week to the colorful, unique Joe Silver, whose passing now robs scores, perhaps hundreds, of people from receiving his periodic phone calls, made to remember the birth or anniversary or other stellar event in the lives of the people on the other end of the line — and, while he was at it, to tell them all how wonderful they were, if not to tell them how indispensable they were to all of humanity.
The term “colorful” in Joe Silver’s case is not just a character description. His clothing, the decals on his car, the welcoming messages on his front door, were all set down in a blaze of colors. One could spot Joe from quite some distance, and that is just how he liked it. He liked to be in crowds, to mix with people, to see and to be seen. Joe “Better Than Gold” Silver preferred superlatives. Truly, he was a person whom one cannot begin to imagine without having known.
Stick with Joe Silver long enough, however, and a serious side did emerge. He honored his parents to no end. He honored the Shabbos, repeatedly offering the opinion that “of all the Jewish holidays, none is more precious than Shabbos.” Precious. That was one of Joe’s favorite words, which he applied to so many people, but among them were people he did not talk about often, namely, the children or others whom he and his various charitable endeavors (always configured differently from everyone else’s) sought to help.
Joe Silver was a skeptic, or so he said, over and over. It wasn’t religion that counted. It wasn’t prayer. It wasn’t observance, it was the human being that counted — and being kind to the human being. This is what mattered, Joe Silver said over and over. The thing is, where did he say it? Inevitably, in the synagogue. Even as he preached the superiority of kindness over ritual, he couldn’t stay away from shul. He was a regular. Despite himself, Joe Silver showed himself to be a man of faith, certainly measured by his actions. He knew that Judaism elevated ethics and found no more congenial place to say so than in the place where he prayed to G-d.
Joe Silver would like to be remembered as the athlete he says he once was, and we have no reason to doubt him; but that was long, long ago. Virtually no one alive today knew Joe Silver when he was 18. We do know that Joe did not need to exercise his body to bring wide smiles and surprises to everyone he met. Joe, we loved you, maybe, just maybe, as much as you loved us.
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