Dr. Julian Silverman
Birth: March 15, 1933 in Bronx, New York
Death: April 14, 2001 (age 68)
Eulogy given by Rabbi Lynn Greenhough:
Funeral: April 16, 2001, 23 Nisan 5761
I have been honored by Julian’s family to give the hesped. A hesped differs to some degree from a eulogy – which means to praise. Hesped comes from the verb l’haspid – meaning to cause or enable to weep. In giving a hesped then we grant ourselves the opportunity to weep. Just as Julian would challenge us to look at what caused us pain, what blocked us so too a hesped looks frankly at a person’s life, looks at the difficulties as well as the pleasures and successes of their lives.
I met Julian for the first time a few months before Samantha’s Bat Mitzvah. He walked into our shul , and smiled his great big smile, delighted to his bones that Samantha wanted to learn more about Judaism. Over the next few months he would ask his own questions, his eyes and posture intense, as he tried to understand and assess the who and what of our community. I can still see him hovering near the back door, full of joy that his daughter wanted to be with us and at the same time torn by his own inner battles about what it meant for him as a Jew.
A while back, one Shabbos afternoon, Julian talked a little about his shame about being Jewish, a shame that had colored his life. During these past few months especially, he confronted that years-long shame, as he also acknowledged his childhood dream of becoming a rabbi, a dream his mother had dismissed categorically when he was 13. Julian may not have become a rabbi but he did become a spiritual leader. Over his many years work in the fields of psychology, in universities, at Esalen, and in many private moments he was acknowledged by many people as a leader and a teacher. As their teacher he lived the essence of the meaning of rabbi – my teacher.
Yet even with all his many accomplishments Julian felt himself to be unworthy. Cyndi suggested he might have felt that by not becoming a rabbi he hadn’t done his true life’s work. She said he seemed to live as if he was always trying to find his niche, even as he excelled in his fields.
His daughter Jill told me that no matter how much he had accomplished he always felt like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, “I could have been a contender.” He just could not seem to see the worth of his own accomplishments and seemed genuinely surprised when people told him how he had touched if not transformed their lives. When his brother Harry told him how he would brag about his big brother, Julian was both touched and amazed.
Perhaps his mother’s early disparagement of his dream taught him to contain his sense of self and his own worth. How many of us have, like Julian, retaliated against our parents denial of us, and of our dreams, by not doing exactly what they want us to do? In Julian’s case he married a Catholic girl.
Eric talked about how he felt this was his father’s way of doing to his mother what she had done to him – his marriage contradicted her Jewish values. Yet when he signed a paper promising to not even mention Judaism to his children he was truly crushing his own spiritual core. How often our choices harm us instead of the other we have identified as the obstacle in our life.
Perhaps it was this lesson, learned with the pain of fathering his first three children that opened Julian’s inner eyes. Purpose, perspective; love and forgiveness. These words resonate with our memory of who Julian was. As Eric pointed out not many people are given the opportunity to turn their karma around the way Julian was when he married Cyndi. And even more so when they were eventually blessed with Samantha. Because it was with Samantha that Julian finally allowed himself to follow his daughter back into Judaism.
Finally Julian began to honor himself as a Jew. Within this spiritual journey, he was able to acknowledge his own pain, acknowledge his own dreams. Samantha and her joy in being part of a Jewish community led Julian and Cindy to come to live in Victoria. And as we bury Julian today in this ground the sanctity of the earth will receive his body, its shelter will become his final home.
During these last months Julian desperately wanted to make his contribution to our community by bringing together individuals who were in conflict with each other, in an attempt to achieve reconciliation between them, to help heal our community. He challenged us to confront our own fears about forgiveness, to set aside our own false needs, our own protective perspectives that hindered our vision. His challenge segued into Pesach, a time when we are to remove not only the chametz from our homes, but the chametz from our souls. We are challenged during Pesach to look inwardly and find all that gives us leaven – self-indulgence, pride, vanity – and transform our feelings of self-importance to acknowledge the larger self, our community. This transformation is hard. It can feel as bitter and narrow as Mitzrayim felt for our ancestors. Just as the Israelites left those narrow confines and journeyed to Sinai to receive the Torah and become a people, so too are we personally challenged to transform ourselves from personal enmity to forgiving community. Julian’s challenge lives within us.
Julian died during the counting of the Omer, the counting of the seven days times seven days that are the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. The Kabbalists teach that each day of the Omer has a particular resonance with the emanations of God. The day that Julian died the quality of Yesod of intimacy was shifting into Malkhut, majesty and these qualities were conjoined with Gevurah or severity. Each of these emanations has particular positive and negative qualities. Yesod is the s’firah of intimacy and of promiscuity, Malkhut the s’firah of leadership and stubbornness, while Gevurah is the emanation of respect and fear.
Julian was well respected – and in turn he respected others. Samantha talked about how her dad stood apart from all of her friends fathers with this very quality – from her first moments she felt she was utterly honored and respected by her father.
Much of Julian’s life was about leadership – leading individuals, leading groups into new pathways of self-discovery – of leading them towards their purposefulness. Julian had a mission in life – his gift was to inspire people to live their purpose. He would talk with everyone – to try to find where they were adrift, to set them back on course again. He had tremendous powers of perception when it came to others. For many people these were moments of profound intimacy. Intimacy can be found in ways spiritual and sensual, and Julian tasted both. But his relationship with Cyndi was a profoundly special and a profoundly intimate home for them both, as they delighted in each other’s company.
Julian could also be hard, he could push and poke and provoke. In doing so, he would seek the openness in those around him. And yet until very late in his life I think he was afraid of himself, afraid to accept his own purpose, afraid to really soar with his own special wings, wings that he taught everyone around him to find. We touched on this pain ever so briefly – so much was in his eyes. Julian was humble and arrogant, proud and afraid, joyful and full of pain.
I heard recently that you can tell the worth of a man by his name and by his hands, Julian’s name Yehuda has very special meaning. But his hands truly tell another aspect of his story. I only saw a handful of pictures yesterday while I was at their home. Julian’s hands were everywhere – embracing his children, embracing his wife, embracing all with delight and playfulness.
His work in so many ways was teaching how to love. A naturopath that Cyndi took him to visit just weeks ago said she had never seen so much love as when the three of them walked into the room. Julian lived love. And he taught forgiveness – when he told his little brother so many years ago “You’ll never forgive me” for a childhood prank Harry remembered him saying it with complete seriousness. Forgiveness and love. Purpose and perspective. These words are Julian’s for us to learn from.
Cyndi told me she thought that it was with his death that his work will really begin to be known. Julian challenged many of us in this manner. He pushed hard. I personally wanted to tell him to go to hell. He hurt my feelings, he didn’t understand, what did he know? But over the next few weeks I began to feel myself begin to go where he wanted me to go. I will miss him terribly. Julian was a guide for so many of us. He walked for years in his own b’midbar, his own desert, guiding others on their pathways. Sadly, just as Moshe Aveinu himself did not enter eretz Israel, neither did Julian have time to complete his own journey.
Julian’s Hebrew name Yehuda means praise – it is the name that became the source for our identity as Jew. We share the name Yehuda with Julian; we are Yehudim, Jews. The name Yehuda contains the letters of God’s name yud hay, vav hay. The root of Yehuda means thankfulness and praise. As Jews we have come to be called Yehudim because it is our hope that one of the characteristics of being Jewish is to be grateful to God, to live with an attitude that God has given us more than our rightful share in this world.
Rashi teaches us that Judah’s mother Leah was especially grateful to God at his birth because as the mother of one-third of Jacob’s twelve sons she had been granted more than her rightful share. With the birth of Yehuda, Leah stopped asking God to make her world right. With the birth of Yehudah Leah thanked God, “This time let me gratefully praise God.”
So too do we gratefully offer our prayer for Julian‘s presence in our lives. As a community we stand together with Cindy, with Samantha, with Julian’s family and dear friends and we thank God for opening Reb Yehuda’s heart to his dreams. We praise God for bringing Julian and his family into our midst. And we ask God to receive Julian’s precious soul and his tired body into olam haba, the world to come. There may his soul reverberate and his spiritual body be renewed. May his emanation in olam haba wear the shining garments of the mitzvot he performed in this world and may his memory be a blessing for us all.
Gravesite Details: South Zone – Plot 17
Shine Your Light
March 15, 1933
April 14, 2001
Name in Hebrew: Yehuda b. Yosef v’Sarah
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”