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Hillel Silverman, longtime rabbi whose congregant killed JFK’s assassin, is dead at 99



(JTA) — “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’s assassination, and he knew Jack very well.” 

It was 1976, and I had convinced Eva Rubenstein Grant — a loud woman with an even louder red wig — to appear on an ABC program to speak about her brother, who fatally shot John F. Kennedy’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live television 13 years earlier. 

It was years, however, before I was able to speak to Rabbi Silverman, for a TV program I was producing about the JFK assassination. Our conversation in 1991 was the first of several chats we had about Ruby (and other topics) and the glancing role Silverman played in the national trauma surrounding the president’s murder. He was one of the last surviving witnesses who testified in 1964 before the Warren Commission, 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 the founding rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, and then as the senior rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles for 16 years, among other pulpits. 

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

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

“He came to the minyan one day with a cast on his arm,” Silverman recalled. “I said, Jack, what happened? He said, ‘In my club, somebody was very raucous, and I was the bouncer.’”

Nov. 22, 1963, the day Oswald shot and killed Kennedy, was a Friday. Evening services at the synagogue “became a memorial service for the president,” Silverman said. “Jack was there. People were either irate 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 that was rather peculiar.” 

Two days later, Silverman switched on the radio and heard that a “Jack Rubenstein” had just killed the alleged assassin. The Warren Commission would later come to the still-disputed conclusion that Ruby acted alone — quashing rumors of a conspiracy — and shot Oswald on impulse and out of grief over Kennedy’s assassination.

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

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

Silverman vividly described his weekly jailhouse visits to his now-notorious congregant, who was found guilty of murdering Oswald and who died in prison from lung cancer four years after the assassination. “In prison, Jack deteriorated psychologically,” Silverman recalled. “One time I walked in and he said, ‘Come on, rabbi, duck underneath the table. They’re pouring oil on the Jews and setting it on fire.’ He was quite psychotic.”

Jack Ruby, right, shoots Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Nov. 25, 1963. (Dallas Times Herald)

Hillel Emanuel Silverman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1924 to Althea, a prolific author, and Rabbi Morris Silverman, a prominent Conservative rabbi who edited the Shabbat and High Holiday prayer books used by the movement for more than half a century.

Hillel was ordained as a Conservative rabbi after graduating from Yale University. Following his service as a Navy chaplain during the Korean War, he led the congregations in Dallas and Los Angeles, and served 20 years as a 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, the actor best known for films such as “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” He is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Roberta Silverman, his three children, three step-children (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 told me, “I think I still have one more in me.” He was the recipient of numerous awards, including a Medal of Honor from Israel’s then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin for his “distinguished service to Israel and the Jewish people.” He was past 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 Rutta.

When the COVID pandemic shut down in-person classes, Silverman conducted weekly online Torah study sessions with Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom synagogue. Sharp-eyed participants would notice a movie poster on the wall behind Silverman for “Weekend at Bernie’s II,” in which he appeared briefly as a restaurant maitre d’.

My final visit with Rabbi Silverman took place 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, recalling our discussions about Ruby and wishing me continued success in my career. “Since I am thirty years ahead of you, I can guarantee many more productive, enjoyable years!” he wrote. 

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

The family shared a video of that moment with me, in which Silverman adjusts his oxygen mask, shakes his head and firmly says, “No!”

The post Hillel Silverman, longtime rabbi whose congregant killed JFK’s assassin, is dead at 99 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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