Don't worry, be silly

Meet another member of the many-sided faith community in South Florida. This week we're talking with Rabbi Robert Silvers, spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton.

More about Rabbi Silvers

Title: Senior rabbi at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, since August.

Other job experience: Former worker in advertising and marketing; former assistant rabbi at B'nai Israel.

Other community posts: Member, community Jewish-evangelical Christian dialogue; volunteer chaplain for Palm Beach County Sherrif's Office; member, National Association of Temple Educators; member, Association of Rabbis and Cantors.

Education: Degree in advertising and marketing, University of Minnesota; ordination at Academy for Jewish Religion, New York.

Personal: 58. Born in St. Paul, Minn.

Family: Married to Ava, a preschool teacher at the synagogue. Two children.

Q: Does your background in advertising and marketing affect the way you do the rabbinate?

A: I think so. I have more insight into the business side of the synagogue. Most rabbis are the CEOs of a synagogue. I've also excelled in ad copywriting. It helps me write sermons. I also e-mail weekly messages to the congregation.

Q: Why did you switch careers?

A: I've always been involved in Jewish life. After I graduated high school, I worked as a youth advisor, a bar/bat mitzvah tutor and religious school teacher.

I married in 1984 and we moved to Florida, and I led services for a synagogue in Royal Palm Beach. Their first fulltime rabbi was my age, and his two kids were same age as ours. He helped train me in assisting him in services. Finally at 39, I decided I wanted to pursue this. My wife likes to say that I went back to school at the same time one of our children went to kindergarten.

Q: Do you have an overall philosophy of ministry?

A: I often say that the time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, the way to be happy is to make others so. And Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said, "If the only way to make yourself happy is by doing something silly, do it." That's what I do.

Q: An example?

At a Purim carnival, I sat in a dunk tank and came in a gorilla costume. Nobody knew who I was.

Q: How do you like to relax?

A: With my wife. happy to sit at home, put on TV, go to movies. I love going to Israel, even taking trips. I've gone 18-19 times.

Q: Favorite pastime?

A: I serve the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office as a volunteer chaplain. I enjoy that. It's a way for me to give back to the community. I'm constantly preaching on how we need to help others and improve our world. I've got to do my share, too.

Q: What book have you been recommending lately?

A: I probably have more Hasidic, rabbinic and midrashic stories at my library at home than anything. Anytime I see a new storybook come out, I grab it.

Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?

A: My wife and I love to cruise. We've been to Hawaii and Alaska, and the Baltic Sea a few years ago. We visited Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Q: Do you have any favorite TV shows?

A: Anything that's sci-fi. If I watch TV, it's for escapism.

Q: How about favorite film(s)?

A: I liked "Thor," "Green Lantern" and "Green Hornet." Waxing nostalgic.

Q: Favorite music? Favorite performer(s)?

A: I'm a big Motown and Beach Boys fan. My kids kid me. Though I do like "Seriously Sinatra" on satellite radio. And when I drive, I put on smooth jazz to calm me.

Q: What person in history would you like most to meet?

A: Noah. Why didn't he confront God when God said he was going to destroy world? I'd like to meet Jesus, too, to have a good understanding of the man who started Christianity.

Q: Do you have a treasured possession?

A: My wife comes from a long line of rabbis. Her father passed to me a Megillah (scroll of the Book of Esther). It's very nice to have.

Q: If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

A: Why we all seem to fight over him, as though God somehow belongs to this Christian or Jewish group.

Q: Your most memorable spiritual experience?

A: I went to Israel in 1975 and met my wife on that trip. She was five years my junior. She'd hurt her knee and was waiting for a medic. She was in pain and crying. I held her hand and fell in love. We were apart five years, but then in Chicago I got a letter from her after she was out of college. We married in 1984.

Q: Something most people don't know about you?

A: I played basketball with Dave Winfield, in my intramural days at University of Minnesota. I learned that a nice little Jewish boy, maybe 5-7, doesn't belong on a basketball court with Dave Winfield.

Q: Is there one thing you can't stand?

A: Intolerance. One of my students just got beaten up in public school just because he's Jewish.

Q: When you feel down, how do you revive spiritually?

A: I watch a good comedy, like Abbot and Costello or The Three Stooges. My father's first cousin used to work for Jerry Lewis.

Q: Have you ever doubted your faith?

A: No, I enjoy my faith. I've never doubted.

Q: But isn't doubt part of faith?

A: Maybe, but I accept my doubts. We are the people who wrestle with God. I enjoy the struggle. It enlightens us, makes us more resilient. And ultimately, it brings us closer to God.

Q: Motto, or favorite scripture verse?

A: Hineni. "Here am I." I'm here for God. I'm here for you.

Do you know someone we should profile? Tell James D. Davis, Religion Editor, Sun Sentinel, at 200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL. You may also e-mail him at or call at 954-356-4730.

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