My Zaidi, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, was born in Lithuania in 1882 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1907. He was elected the first president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, in 1929, and is known for having helped save many thousands of Jews in the Second World War. In November 1939, Rabbi Silver convened an emergency meeting in New York City to discuss the recent developments in Nazi occupied Europe. It was at this meeting that the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee) was formed, with Rabbi Silver as president.
He also is credited with launching a fund-raising campaign, collecting more than $5 million, which helped to provide thousands of visas to Jewish refugees in Eastern Europe. Today that $5 million is worth $83.86 million.
I was born at the Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City. Mother and I lived with my gentle, caring grandmother Rose Slutsky. For the first three years of my life I was surrounded by loving aunts, uncles and cousins. After my first birthday, and until I was 19, we spent joyous summers in Belmar, N.J.
During that time, WWII, Daddy, Dr. Nathan Silver z”l, was a Captain in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army, fighting against the Nazi’s extermination of Jews in Europe.
Zaidi had announced that he was only coming east if I was a boy! Rather, Zaidi came to meet me at the hospital as soon as I was born.
That is how early this wondrous man became an integral part of my life.
I had a special relationship with my Zaidi. For ten years I sat opposite him at Friday night Shabbos dinners. I remember his pride when I recounted my learning Baba Metzia – perek Hamfkid aytzel chavero.
I listened to grandfather carefully and intently, and after a time I understood and was able to speak his native Litvak Yiddish, his Mama Loshen (the only grandchild to do so).
Early on I knew the gravity of his mission: Not just by the way he spoke: It was in his essence. To this day I proudly remember and continue to say the Four Questions in Yiddish.
I recall often, with a deep sense of humility, how special I felt when Zaidi would bless me and place his hands over my head.
My mother, of blessed memory, Lillian Silver, z”l, spoke a perfect Litvak Yiddish. Most thought she was his daughter. The enormity of her respect and admiration for him was palpable.
Even though Daddy and Zaidi were less verbal, they could speak volumes to each other with a mere few words. It was a special father-son bond, and Daddy cared for him until his passing in 1968.
Daddy, Dr Nathan Silver, was a cardiologist and Army captain. Zaidi wore his uniform throughout postwar Europe in his search of any and all surviving Jews. This was the same uniform Dad wore when, tasked directly by General George Patton, to examine the heinous infamous Hermann Goering who had an alleged chronic cardiac condition. Dad pronounced him fit to stand trial. The night before his trial, the Nazi coward committed suicide.
Zaidi went to Catholic orphanages all over Post War Europe to rescue living Jewish children, and in the morning when the priests or nuns told him that there were no Jewish children, he decided to return at night when they were about to go to sleep. As he entered the large room of (non-existent) Jewish refugee children, he resolutely recited the Shema, and they all joined in the prayer. He told the priests at each orphanage that “these are my children.”
He left every single orphanage with Jewish children.
Zaidi was a true patriot. He spoke with every American president since Taft in behalf of Jews and regarding Jewish matters. Taft’s own descendants forged ties with the Silver family. His son Sen. Robert Taft was Zaidi’s attorney in a mikva case he won (pro bono). Taft’s grandson Sen. Robert Taft personally assisted me in behalf of the plight of Soviet Jewry. He also helped my mother in her many worthwhile endeavors.Judy Silver-Shapiro