I know I am unlike no one in saying that Joe Silver is unlike anyone you have ever met. If you have not met Joe Silver, avail yourself of the opportunity, as the word “colorful” was invented for Joe Silver. A lot of other words, too. “Precious.” “How’s your health?” “Are you happy?” If you’re not happy, you’ll force yourself to be happy when Joe asks you. You’ll see. The last thing you’ll do is tell Joe Silver, “No, I’m not happy,” since that would put you in a much more uncomfortable position than being unhappy.
Joe Silver is the man with some 175 signs on his front lawn saying things like “be nice, be honest, be loyal,” with similar sentiments imprinted in large letters on the sides of his car, as well as on his envelopes.
Alas, one night the signs were stolen and, in any event, Joe has moved from his long decorated residence. Almost 91, he is not driving any more, but the envelopes remain the same. More important, Joe Silver’s sentiments, his greetings, his personality are unchanged. His philosophy of life — not to mention his unabashed, robust, up front manner of expressing it — are as bold and blunt as ever.
I had the privilege of sitting with Joe in his home last week, where he greeted me with “Can you make me 18 again?” and escorted me out with “stay healthy, be happy, stay on this side of the grass, and do something nice for another human being.” It was vintage Joe, I would say, but this would imply that sometimes Joe takes a breather from his trademark greetings, that he relaxes his acute focus on his message. But since Joe is so committed to his message that he puts it on yard signs, on the sides of his car and his envelopes, Oh and did I forget? also on small signs attached to his lapels, here is a man who is not taking a breather. Joe’s greetings and goodbyes are not “vintage Joe.” They are continuous, untrammeled Joe, ever forthcoming.
As I say, avail yourself.
You’ll have a chance at the upcoming BMH-BJ annual event, March 15, where Joe is the honoree.
When I got a call from BMH-BJ asking whether I would interview Joe in advance of the event, I rejoiced. Because, actually, I had wanted to interview Joe a couple of months ago, on my own. But I couldn’t get a hold of him. This way, I figured the BMH-BJ would make the arrangements, and it did. So I had the pleasure of seeing Joe Silver last week.
Joe is always asking me whether I really believe in G-d. Joe is skeptical, believing in human beings — “all lives are precious” and “the highest form of wisdom is kindness” and “we are all brothers and sisters” and he “wants one precious flower now rather than tears around his casket.” The thing is, where does Joe tell me his humanistic philosophy of life? It is always in the synagogue, after the prayers. Joe, who says he has his doubts about G-d but not about human kindness, speaks to me in G-d’s sanctuary. I am reminded of the rabbinic adage about G-d preferring that people forget Him just so long as they follow His ways.
I approach Joe’s front door. Hanging on it is a prominent sign: “Welcome to paradise.” Indeed. As Joe says, “your health is your wealth” and “laugh more.” This is paradise, the home of Joe “Silver is Better Than Gold.”
He greets me: “I am almost 91. I want to be 18.”
Back in the day with the East High School Angels Joe lettered in football, basketball and baseball (“don’t I look like an angel?”) and then played for the Detroit Tigers. “What do you think I played?” It’s a rhetorical question. Joe is small. “Short stop. Leadoff.” Joe Silver would like to have his body back, the way it was when he was 18, strong and powerful.
After two years with the Detroit Tigers, Joe’s father called and said, “Joe, come home. Help us in the business.” Silver Auto and Radio Supply Company, 1400 and 1429 Champa Sts. So Joe ended his career in Detroit (“batted .320, stole a lot of bases”). He came home because he loved his parents. It is beyond words, he says, how happy his parents made him.
“I want you to put in my mother and my father. Every second of growing up — 21 years — they gave me a honeymoon of life. They taught me kindness.”
As evidence Joe cites Silver Auto and Radio, which, he says, had four female employees, each of whom worked for the company for 37 years. That speaks for itself, but Joe will not let his feelings for his parents, the late Morris and Frances Silver, speak for themselves. “I was the luckiest boy-man in this world,” he says repeatedly. “They made me happy every second of my life.”
So Joe wants to make others happy. The Joe Silver Kindness Charities was founded in 1943.
Another favorite of Joe was the late Rabbi Daniel Goldberger, “the kindest, most precious, most valuable rabbi who ever come to Colorado. He was the best.” A sentiment that many who do not share Joe’s penchant for superlatives would nevertheless share in this case.
Superlatives. They are always present in the cascade of greetings with which Joe says hello to everyone. In my case, his greetings always make reference to my late “precious mother” and the thought that if a human being (not a “person” or an “individual,” but a “human being”) does a good thing, it is G-d.
“Why hurricanes? Why millions of human beings with nothing? I’m going to tell you every time. Every time a human being does a favor for a human being, they are G-d.” In this sense Joe wants to be G-d.
What about his upcoming honor at BMH-BJ?
“I have thankfulness and gratitude because Jeff Kline [synagogue president] asked me to do this.” Gratitude, that’s another one of Joe Silver’s ubiquitous words on his envelopes, car and yard signs. “I had to donate a little bit of money to the synagogue,” says Joe with the candor that others in his position might avoid. “Absolutely I am looking forward to the evening.”
Joe is a regular at many community dinners. Joe’s father Morris Silver used to recite the motzi at countless Yeshiva dinners.
Morris Silver hailed from Russia (Joe doesn’t know exactly where), arriving in the US at age 17 or 18. His was a rags to riches immigrant story, but what Joe remembers is that his father, on a blind date, “was extremely intelligent to know that this lady [who became Frances Silver] was an angel.”
Joe, one of whose mottos is “the best is yet to be,” when asked what stands out among his memories of the last 90 years, says, “The sadness of people being killed, especially in school. Hurricanes, where all of one’s belongings are gone. And the fact that not every human being is a good human being.”
When asked why he is a regular shul goer, given his skepticism, he says, “I go to shul to shake 24 hands — friends. I don’t need all of the speeches. I know all the speeches. To shake those special hands every Shabbos is my joy.”
Among the other aphorisms of Joe is “Laughter is still the best medicine. Human beings do not laugh enough.” Joe is open and candid about seeking joy, and about the methods of achieving it. Besides laughter, there is “Never hurt anyone” and “For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains,” and “keep your word” and “exercise.”
How would Joe sum all this up? By now, readers can probably fill in Joe’s feelings by themselves, but not in his inimitable way of expressing himself.
“My philosophy in life is that every human being born is precious. We’re on this earth to help each other and make this world a better place for all of us. And you might want to put in there: If anyone can make me 18 again, I’ll be deeply and sincerely happy.
“All you have to do is to be a good human being every moment of your life. Make every human being valuable.”
These are the generalities. Joe does not limit himself to generalities.
“I want you to continue to love, respect and honor your wife because it takes two to be happy. I want you to tell all six of your children to say, thank you for having us as your children.”
One more thing. It’s not just human beings. The Joe Silver Kindness Charities, says its report, has “saved the lives of 267 dogs and 143 cats.” It’s animals, too, besides the annual picnics at Lakeside that hosted thousands of people with special needs over the decades — and a long list of other charitable acts — turkeys on Thanksgiving, special toys, countless birthday greetings (I heard from Joe annually for decades).
That is why BMH-BJ is honoring Joe “Silver is Better than Gold”: Thanking Joe for his acts of lovingkneness and good will to our entire community.
Look forward to seeing you, Joe. March 15.
You deserve it.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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