I have never used my column to eulogize friends who have passed away, as their loss affected me and an inner circle of people who knew them – but not necessarily the community at large. But that is not the case for Shimie Silver, a”h, for without exaggerating, his circle of friends numbered in the thousands and transcended borders.
Without a doubt, expatriates from New York who now live in communities both near and far-flung, in the US, Canada, Israel, the Orient, and everywhere in between, reeled at the news that the brilliant light that was Shimie Silver had gone out. Though they might not have seen him for years, even decades, so strong was the impact he had on people that their world dimmed somewhat with the news of his petirah.
Shimie single-handedly enhanced the lives of hundreds, even thousands of men, women and children who came from every walk of life; individuals who represent the melting pot that is Brooklyn -Jewish and gentile, religious and secular, rich and poor, “cool” and not so cool.
No one was invisible to Shimie. Shimie personified ahavas Yisrael and showed exemplary respect for all of Hashem’s creations. We are taught that all human beings are made b’ tzelem Elohkim – in G-d’s image. Shimie took that lesson to heart, treating everyone – no matter who they were – or weren’t – with consideration and thoughtfulness, never forgetting that they were Hashem’s handiwork. He understood that looking down on someone because they were different or “outsiders” – not Jewish, not frum, not educated, socially awkward, poor etc. was disrespecting their Creator.
Shimie had unconditional love and respect for everyone, even for those who were problematic and would have deserved a cold shoulder. I once witnessed how he handled the anger-inducing comments of a close-minded individual whose disparaging remarks on a certain subject were based on ignorance fueled by religious fanaticism. I could tell Shimie was deeply perturbed, even furious by what he heard, but he eloquently, and in a calm, respectful tone pointed out the flaws in the other person’s reasoning. Shimie maintained his dignity and that of the other person and did not allow their opposing points of view to turn into a heated shouting match.
(I am convinced that if Shimie becomes aware of a Heavenly gezarah against Am Yisrael, he will, in his typical charming and persuasive manner, engage Hashem in a deferential but passionate debate to get Him to cancel it.)
But Shimie went beyond just being respectful to people. He brought simcha into their lives. There is a Judaic concept called “choteh v’machti” – a sinner who leads others to sin. For the sinner, it is not enough that he sins; he wants others to follow his ways. L’havdil, Shimie was a “smiler” – but it wasn’t enough for him to smile. He led others to smile and to be b’simcha. Shimie had a joy for life that he shared with everyone who crossed his path. It is said, misery likes company; in Shimie’s case, his joyfulness loved company, and even the most morose person was pulled into his vortex of happiness. In that sense, Shimie was the “pied piper” of Flatbush. He had this almost magical ability to pull people out of the crevices of their sadness and follow him in his celebration of life. To that end he would do his best to alleviate whatever it was that “ailed ” them – whether it was something as simple as lending a sympathetic ear; approaching a “wallflower” and showering her with compliments; networking for those who were financially down and out and helping them get a job. He internalized what Torah is all about – treating others how you would want to be treated – and having fun in the process. No matter what. Despite the many “curveballs” life threw his way- and some were “real doozies “- Shimie would not let them pull him down. He was that rare person who had a true hakaras hatov and hence was sameach bechelko.
Yet he didn’t see himself as being a big deal. During a long ago conversation, we talked about his days at Brooklyn College. He told me that at some point he decided to find out who was very popular on campus. To his utter shock, he found out that HE was.
Despite his very handsome looks, his impressive musical talents (playing his guitar and bongos at a very late night impromptu kumsitz in Niagara Falls many years ago almost got him arrested), his graceful, head-turning moves on the dance floor, his keen wit and his sharp intellect that produced insightful, enlightening, yet entertaining d’vreiTorah, Shimie had no idea how “cool” he was.
He was an anuv in the true sense of the world – someone who had a lot to “crow about ” but didn’t. Not because he refrained from bragging – but because he truly didn’t think he was special.
But everyone who came within his orbit was not clueless. They knew they were in the presence of someone “yotzeh min ha’klal. ” Someone extraordinary.
Shimie did not have any children in the traditional sense of the word, but if a parent is someone who offers unconditional love and acceptance; who does his best to enhance quality of life; who freely gives of his time, strength and resources to nurture the vulnerable; and who does his utmost to bring simcha to another – then Shimie left a legacy of thousands of “children” to mourn him, to remember him and to learn from his unwavering example of ahavas Yisrael and yiras Shamayim.
Cheryl Kupfer can be reached at [email protected]