Rabbi Philip Silverstein leaves legacy of music, joy and unity

Rabbi Philip Silverstein
Rabbi Philip Silverstein PROVIDED PHOTO

Rabbi Philip Silverstein is being remembered as a Godly servant with a love of music, a penchant for humor and a gift for building unity.

The 84-year-old who served at Beth Shalom Synagogue from 1989 to 2004 died Monday at the Community Living Center at Dorn VA Medical Center. The cause of death was not known Friday.

“He really made an impact on Jews and gentiles and people of all stripes,” Beth Shalom Rabbi Jonathan Case said Friday. “He was who he presented himself to be. When he sat in a room, what he said was what he truly believed.”

It was that belief, Case said, that drove Silverstein’s passion for people.

“I cannot tell you how many times I have been walking through the grocery store or had some come to the synagogue and ask me to give Rabbi Silverstein their regards,” Case said.

Forest Lake Presbyterian Church senior pastor, the Rev. Ellen Skidmore, met Silverstein in the mid-1990s while serving with him on the Community Task Force for Drug Alcohol as an associate pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church.

Skidmore lauded Silverstein’s efforts to educate the public about treatment options for alcohol and drug abuse and said she was moved by his desire to embrace and help others, regardless of their spiritual traditions.

“He was strongly rooted in his own tradition while also being respectful and open to other traditions, and that’s a rare piece,” she said.

Skidmore recalled how Silverstein regularly welcomed youth from her church’s confirmation classes to Beth Shalom to teach them about the customs and traditions of the Jewish faith.

“It was to provide an interfaith witness and just to extend hospitality and help us understand,” she said. “I just always found him to be a prince of a gentlemen. I will miss him.”

Silverstein was born in Antwerp, Belgium and immigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in 1941, just as the Nazis were invading the city from which they were leaving. The family settled in Brooklyn.

After an extensive education that included degrees from Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Long Island University, he was ordained in 1955 and began his career as an Air Force chaplain at Warren Air Force Base.

He returned to civilian life two years later and resuming his chaplain work with the Army in 1971. He served at Fort Bliss, Fort Wadsworth, Fort Bragg, and Fort Knox and in Europe, where he was the Army’s senior Jewish chaplain.

Silverstein retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1989 and moved to Columbia to become rabbi at Beth Shalom, while continuing to work as a retired chaplain at Fort Jackson and holding services and seders there into his 80s. He left Beth Shalom in 2004.

Case said that while Silverstein had modeled many lessons the biggest impression left on him was his authenticity.

“Be true to yourself and be fiercely protective to what God created you to be and live up to the mission that God gave you ‑ because he did,” Case said.

Silverstein is survived by his wife, Susan Levi Wallach; daughters, Terri McWilliams and Meira, five step-children, two grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and a sister. He was predeceased by his daughter, Aviva and his second wife, Adinah. Services were held Tuesday at Beth Shalom.

Services for Silverstein were held at Beth Shalom. Memorial donations may be made to Beth Shalom, (5827 N. Trenholm Road, Columbia, SC 29206), or the Adinah Kitchen or to Beit Midrash (2509 Decker Blvd., Columbia, SC 29206.