Hillel Silverman, rabbi whose congregant shot JFK assassin, passes away

“If you want to know about my brother Jack Ruby, you should talk to Hillel Silverman. He was our rabbi in Dallas for 10 years before President Kennedy was assassinated, and he knew Jack very well.”

It was 1976, and I had convinced Eva Rubenstein Grant—a vigorous woman with a red wig—to appear on an ABC program to talk about her brother, who had won John F. Kennedy’s presidency. alleged killer was fatally shot lee harvey oswald 13 years ago on live television.

However, before I could talk to Rabbi Silverman, a TV program I was producing about JFK’s assassination took place. Our conversation in 1991 was the first of many chats we had about Ruby (and other topics) and Silverman’s illustrious role in the national trauma surrounding the president’s assassination. He was one of the last surviving witnesses to testify before the Warren Commission in 1964, which investigated the assassination.

The Kennedy assassination was a relatively minor aspect of a 70-year career in the rabbinate, during which Silverman served as founding rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, and then as senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Los Angeles for 16 years. Worked in other platform.

Life of Hillel Silverman

Silverman, the son of a prominent Orthodox rabbi, died this week in Los Angeles of pneumonia at the age of 99. It was a month after his birthday—and the birth of a great-grandson and the upcoming wedding of a grandson—at Wally Beth Shalom in Los Angeles, where he served in his last official role as a visiting scholar.

Ruby shoots Oswald, who is being escorted by Detective Jim Leavell of the Dallas Police. (Credit: Robert H. Jackson / Dallas Times Herald / Wikimedia Commons)

Silverman was the spiritual leader of Shearith Israel in Dallas from 1954 to 1964; Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner with ties to the Mafia, was one of his entourage. Silverman told me in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy and Oswald assassinations, that Ruby would attend services to recite the Kaddish, a memorial prayer for her father.

“He came into Minyan one day with a cast on his arm,” Silverman recalled. “I said, Jack, what happened? He said, ‘At my club, someone was very rowdy, and I was the bouncer.’

November 22, 1963, the day Oswald shot and killed kennedyIt was Friday. Evening services at the synagogue “became a memorial service for the president”, Silverman said. “Jack was there. People were either angry or in tears, and Jack was neither. He came over and said, ‘Good Shabbos, Rabbi. Thank you for visiting my sister Eva in the hospital last week.’ I thought it was rather strange.

Two days later, Silverman turned on the radio and heard that a “Jack Rubenstein” had killed the alleged killer. The Warren Commission later came to the still-disputed conclusion that Ruby acted alone – dismissing rumors of a conspiracy – and shot Oswald on impulse and out of grief over Kennedy’s assassination.

“I was shocked. I met him in jail the next day, and I said ‘Why, Jack, why?’ He said, ‘I did it for the American people.’

I interrupted Silverman at that point, because I read other reports in which Ruby said she did it “to show that Jews had guts.” The rabbi sighed. “Yeah, he mentioned it. But I don’t like to mention it. I think he said, ‘I did it for the Jewish people.’ But I have tried to erase that statement from my mind.

Silverman detailed his weekly prison visits to his now-infamous congregation, who had been convicted of Oswald’s murder and who died in prison of lung cancer four years after the assassination. “In prison, Jack deteriorated psychologically,” Silverman recalled. “Once I went in and he said, ‘Come, Rabbi, sit under the table. They’re pouring oil on the Jews and setting them on fire.’ He was very psychic.

Hillel Emanuel Silverman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1924, to Althea, a prolific writer, and Rabbi Morris Silverman, a prominent Orthodox rabbi who created the Shabbat and High Holiday prayers used by the movement for more than half a century. Edited the books.

Hillel was appointed as a orthodox rabbi After graduating from Yale University. Following his service as a Navy chaplain during the Korean War, he led congregations in Dallas and Los Angeles, and served for 20 years as the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Connecticut.

He and his first wife, Devora, had three children: Gila Rutta, Dr. Sharon Pollock, and Jonathan Silverman, best known for such films as “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs”. He is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Roberta Silverman, their three children, three stepchildren (David Smotrich, Debbie Diamond and Arona Smotrich), 12 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Silverman wrote or co-edited a dozen books, and during a visit when he was 95, he told me, “I think there’s another one still inside me.” He was the recipient of several awards, including the Medal of Honor from Menachem Begin, the then Prime Minister of Israel, for “distinguished service to Israel and the Jewish people”. He was a former president of the Zionist Organization of America, Southwest Region.

In his 90s, he continued to officiate at High Holiday services in Southern California, at times with one of his grandchildren, Rabbi Matt Ruta.

When the COVID pandemic shut down in-person classes, Silverman conducted weekly online Torah study sessions with Rabbi Ed Feinstein of the Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue. Sharp-eyed contestants will spot a movie poster on the wall behind Silvermane Weekend at Bernie IIin which he appeared briefly as a restaurant maître d’.

My last meeting with Rabbi Silverman was last October. He was in a wheelchair, living with his daughter Sharon and son-in-law Mark, and his mind and sense of humor remained as sharp as ever. Last month, I was thrilled to receive a birthday email from him, remembering our discussions about Ruby and wishing him continued success in my career. “Since I’m thirty years ahead of you, I can guarantee many more productive, happy years!” He has written.

During his final hospitalization, a family member at his bedside asked the rabbi’s former congregants one last time: had Ruby had anything to do with the conspiracy?

The family shared with me a video of the moment Silverman fixes his oxygen mask, shakes his head and says firmly, “No!”