September 21, 2006
Jewish bond doesn’t draw all to Holiday observances
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As a girl, she said, she had a somewhat more active religious life than her father indicated, mainly due to her mother's influence.
"My dad just went along for the ride," she recalled.
There is no doubt that Willis, a chief financial officer for a bank subsidiary, leads a more observant life now than in her childhood.
"I think it's when you start having kids, you ask yourself how you want to raise them," she said. "I know I want my future grandchildren to be Jewish. I want them to carry on the tradition."
Dr. Irwin Silberman's great-grandfather was a pious man, born in the biblical town of Safed, six of whose seven sons became rabbis. The exception was Silberman's father, a jeweler, who emigrated to the United States.
Silberman has done many things in his life, including hundreds of circumcisions. "I was a gynecologist-obstetrician in the U.S. Army medical corps for 20 years," he recounted. "At that time, most male children were circumcised, so I did it almost automatically in the delivery room."
Today, Silberman is a tall, hearty world traveler, after retiring as a colonel from the Army and subsequently from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
His father was a physician in the Navy, who moved his family frequently from one base to another. Young Irwin had his first taste of High Holiday services in Norfolk, Va., and found them boring and incomprehensible.
He had a "rushed" bar mitzvah, because his father was about to go overseas. "It felt like a graduation, and I felt I had now done my duty," said Silberman. Later, in 1949, he joined a Jewish fraternity, Kappa Nu, at UCLA and was even elected chaver nassi or president.
"All the guys were Jewish -- they wouldn't be accepted in a gentile fraternity -- but there was no religious element," he recalled. "We never went to a temple or to Hillel."
His first "Jewish act," post-bar mitzvah, was to get married at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, but the marriage ended in divorce.
A few years ago, Silberman went to a seder, hosted by friends of his non-Jewish wife.
"My wife enjoyed it, but I didn't," he said. "It had no more meaning to me than a Catholic ritual."
But Silberman does not reject his name or his ancestral past. "I feel connected to Jews by a bond of common heritage," he said. "We'll meet a Jewish couple on a cruise and feel drawn to them. I know they grew up in the same environment and the man was also called a 'Jewboy' at some time."
He added, "I don't go to services, but I believe in God. I became a believer when I was a medical intern and took care of people who were dying. Then I said, 'God, can't you help me save this person?'"
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