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Rabbi David S. Silber, a volozhin descendant

Rabbi David S. Silber was born and raised in New York City, where his
family's achievements stressed both Judaic and secular education. His
parents, both children of immigrants, received their secular education
in New York at City University and Hunter College, and both pursued
graduate degrees at Columbia University. His maternal grandfather was
a noted Talmud scholar at the Volozhin Yeshiva in Lithuania, where his
great-grandfather had also taught. After immigrating to the United
States., his grandfather ran a small kosher bakery in Manhattan and,
with the help of David's grandmother, their home became a meeting
place for the great Talmudists of Europe who lived in or visited the
U.S. Through the stories of his grandparents coupled with the academic
focus in his own parents' home, perhaps this is where he learned the
perfect ingredients for Jewish education: kneading Jewish texts
together with the tradition and the sensibilities of the modern world.

While his formal elementary and secondary education experiences at
Modern Orthodox day schools were negative, these episodes provided him
with the impetus later to build an institution that, conversely,
reflected the values that were anchored in his home and his synagogue.
In synagogue, initially reluctant, David regularly participated in
small group study. It was here, one Shabbat afternoon, as a young
teenager, where his fascination with the study of the Bible was
secured. A young teacher brought in a small book entitled The
Documentary Hypothesis by Professor Umberto Cassutto. When David read
it, the Bible began to make sense.

As a high school student he chanted the weekly Torah reading in his
synagogue. Later, he entered and became a finalist in the National and
International Bible Contest, and as a result, was able to study in
Israel at Yeshivat Keren B'Yavneh. Upon his return, he studied at
Yeshiva College and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. It
would be only a few years later that he would take on the role of the
teachers he had respected; teachers who led him towards helping others
make sense of Judaism and the world surrounding them.

Upon moving to the West Side of Manhattan in 1976, he taught a text
class at Lincoln Square Synagogue and began a Bible study group which
lasted for seven years. He taught others the techniques he had
developed as a way to probe the Hebrew Bible and to understand
different approaches to Jewish life.

In 1979, he founded the Drisha Institute, first, to advance his own
learning and, then, to address the need for quality Torah study for
women. As the Founder and Dean of the school, he is responsible for
the creation of programs within Drisha including the Summer High
School Program, the Scholars' Circle (which received support from the
Covenant Foundation in 1991), Ha Sha'ar (with Devora Steinmetz, his
wife), and the Joseph Straus Institute for Continuing Education. The
institution Rabbi Silber has built, along with his work for the Wexner
Heritage program (which he has been associated with since 1987), has
engaged Jews from differing backgrounds and has sought to symbolize
the values that he holds close—seeking an authenticity in and towards
Judaism; valuing multiple perspectives; and maintaining a strong
commitment to the community that he has served so well, and for so
many years.

From Rabbi David Silber's
Statements of Motivation and Purpose:
"In retrospect, the primary influence in my choosing a career in
Jewish education were my mother and father. My mother's father and
grandfather were scholars at the Volozhin Yeshiva and even after
immigrating to the United States, my grandfather, with my
grandmother's help, kept that tradition alive by opening their home to
the European Talmudists who lived in or visited this country. I grew
up listening to stories about this household--- stories that were
often confirmed in my younger years by teachers who had been
befriended by my grandparents; they repaid my grandparents by helping

In thinking about my formal elementary and secondary education at
Modern Orthodox day schools, remarkably, not one positive incident
stands out in my mind. The lack of positive values, the push to
conform, the emphasis on externals, and the hypocrisy of the
administration would have soured me on Judaism altogether (as it did
so many others) if not for my family's ties to Judaism and my
involvement in the synagogue. Ultimately, the one thing I took from
high school was this: never to build an institution which in any way
reflected the values of my high school.

Following high school, I spent a year of study in Israel at Yeshivat
Keren B'Yavneh, as a result of being a finalist in the International
Bible Contest. My parents put me on a plane to Israel where I was met
(and cared for during my stay) by a distinguished elderly Rabbi
Meltzer, who many years before had lived in my grandfather's house for
four years. This experience was a formative one. It was a place of
authentic learning and real commitments. I was there during the 1967
war and watched my fellow Israeli yeshiva students serve in the army.
People were committing their lives to something they strongly believed
in. I was so moved by my learning and communal experience at Keren
B'Yavneh that I stayed for a second year.

I then returned to New York City to study with Rabbi Aharon
Lichtenstein and Rabbi J.B. Soleveitchik. I studied with these two
great thinkers and teachers for seven years. They exemplified a
precision of thought, and an awareness of, if not always an acceptance
of, an external world. It was at that time that I committed myself to
a life of learning and teaching.

Founding Drisha Institute in 1979 brought me to a new level of
teaching and community. Though I founded Drisha as a vehicle for
furthering my own learning, I quickly discovered a hunger for learning
among a population that had been grossly underserved—women. I believe
that every human being should be able to develop fully as a spiritual
being and that Torah study, from a Jewish perspective, is a necessary
component of spiritual growth. Throughout the years I have remained
fiercely committed to the ideal that every woman, regardless of
background or level of knowledge, should feel respected and heard at
Drisha. Women at Drisha demonstrate time and again that exposure to
multiple perspectives only enriches and enhances Torah study.

All of my experiences and exposures to different types of people have
contributed to my strong belief that there is more than one authentic
way to be Jewish and that people who learn Torah together can also
learn from and about each other. In truth, my real goal is to share
and inspire a more reflective and thoughtful Judaism, a Judaism
embedded in deeper understanding of Jewish text and tradition and its
relationship to the present moment. It is to that end that I dedicate
my energy."

From his Letters of Support:
"Rabbi Silber pulled back the curtain on my experience of Jewish
learning. [He] managed to convince us, a group of fifteen- and
sixteen-year-olds, that we were serious learners and that our
participation in Torah study was crucial to the Jewish nation. Drisha
had inspired in me a new sense of myself as an authentic student of
Jewish texts. Now, in my third year of the Drisha Scholar's Circle,
Rabbi Silber has continued to be an inspiration. As an educator, he
mesmerizes his students by his uncanny Torah insights which are so
intuitively true, that once stated, they seem obvious. As an
administrator, he has created an inquisitive, open, pluralistic
learning environment at Drisha that is remarkably unmuddled by
institutional or denominational self-consciousness. He constantly
demonstrates that one can be both committed and questioning and that
an openness to other people and ideas is not a compromise but a
Wendy Amsellem

"Rabbi Silber is most unusual in that he is a dreamer who is also a
pragmatist, a scholar who is a gifted teacher, a builder who goes out
to raise the funding. He is indefatigable, whether leading a community
in prayer for the high holy days, jumping on a plane to teach for the
Wexner Fellowship, teaching with his wife at a tikun leyl Shavuot in
the wee hours of the morning, or sharing a Gemara with one of his
children at the end of a long day at Drisha.

I can only imagine what career choices I might have made had there
been a Rabbi Silber in my youth. Today, young women have the option to
contribute their scholarship and talent to the Jewish world, or to
combine them with their secular pursuits. Older women, like myself,
who continue to study, find our lives enriched. We are all part of a
new community of Jewish women entering the twenty-first century
prepared to make Jewish text study an integral part of our lives and
to help to enhance the communities within which we live."
Belda Lindenbaum

"To me, David Silber embodies what it means to be a Jewish educator in
the very fullest sense of the term. He stands out as a remarkable
educational leader because he combines several qualities, essential
for educational leadership: he is a passionate learner and a master
teacher; he possesses the vision to see and to respond in action to
pressing community needs; he has the energy, practical flexibility,
and tenacity to translate his vision into the real life of the
community; and he has the courage to build an institution that is
uncompromising in its commitment to educational excellence. Any one of
these qualities is important and noteworthy. Yet, it is rare to find
this precious combination in a single person. As a teacher, at Drisha
and the Wexner Heritage Foundation, David respects both texts and
students because he takes both seriously. He understands the power of
Jewish learning to transform the lives of individuals and to
revitalize the Jewish community."
Dr. Bernard Steinberg