Twenty-five-year-old Zach Silver arrived at The Jewish Theological Seminary shortly after the award-winning success of his senior thesis on Mordecai Kaplan, the incisive JTS scholar whose vision of Judaism as a civilization redrew the map of the American Jewish community. Why did he choose to spotlight Kaplan? “Because,” Zach explains, “I couldn’t understand how, right after the Holocaust in 1945, Kaplan could have been excommunicated by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in a democratic country like America. The event had an effect on Jewish life, and I needed to know much more about it.”
And so he began his research, and that’s how a young man from a traditional, but not particularly religious family from suburban Chicago, Illinois, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, wound up studying to become a Conservative rabbi at The Rabbinical School: “The paper I wrote was really an analysis of what it means to be an American Jew. How do we live in both civilizations—American and Jewish—and push full force with each. It goes to the core of what Conservative Judaism is: living in two civilizations and living our utmost in both.” And living his “utmost in both” is what Zach does every day at JTS.
Zach is a second-year Joseph and Jeannette Neubauer Family Fellow (the Neubauers' generous fellowship attracts the best students from around the world to The Rabbinical School) who appreciates all of the encouragement he finds at JTS in learning how to lead and counsel the Jewish people. He hopes to be a teacher, mentor, and scholar so he can return the kindness and generosity of the community he’s found here: “I have the privilege of studying with brilliant teachers who invest their entirety in their subjects and their students. This is not just a school, but a genuine Jewish community. People sincerely care about and support each other.”
When he’s not studying, Zach, who lives in one of JTS’s residence halls, enjoys spending time with his friends, watching college basketball, reading American Jewish history, and collecting ethnic shirts. He scored many of those during his time as a travel secretary on the floating university ship on which his father worked as a professor. They spent four months sailing around the world and Zach says it was “an awe-inspiring experience” during which he “became aware of what it means to be created in the image of God, to live where the course of nature controls what life in that environment does.”
Zach’s environment, it turns out, has always been tempered by Jewish living and an affinity for the big picture. During his summers at Camp Ramah and his years at Solomon Schechter, the study of American Jewish history became a fascination; it’s a passion that led him toward his studies, his notable senior thesis, and, in time, his application to JTS: “Rabbinical school was a process. I applied while in Israel, and then suddenly met a JTS dean at a youth event. I realized that I wanted to become a rabbi so that I can serve, teach, and create sacred space; give people an opportunity to express their Judaism and their emotions.” It’s how he wants to spend his life. He may choose a concentration in Jewish history or Talmud (he’s not quite sure which yet) but either way, Zach will follow the example set by JTS and the men and women who built it—rebels and traditionalists alike—and invest himself in the Jewish people he so loves and respects.