SILVER HAS A PASSION FOR PEOPLE By SCOTT GOLD
Staff Writer South Florida Sun-Sentinel • Oct 04, 1996
BOCA RATON - — Barry Silver is talking on the phone with the governor in his parents' living room. Sam Silver, is, well, just talking - loudly, much to his son's chagrin.
"He's going to the Legislature," grumbles the 84-year-old rabbi. "And all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
To some, three days after voters elected him to the state House in District 89, the words still don't come easily: "State Representative Barry Silver." A lawyer noted for his theatrics, he once represented a dog named Lucky, who survived after being shot five times by a police officer. He once persuaded a woman to race through the County Commission chambers in a thong bikini.
The 39-year-old's campaign was no less entertaining, replete with trampoline demonstrations and endless afternoons of singing, off-key, on the stoop of his campaign office. Lillie Wichinsky, whose husband Glenn lost to Silver in Tuesday's runoff, says her husband's campaign was different in one important way: It was "dignified."
Amusing the public is a Silver family tradition, founded by Sam Silver, rabbi emeritus at Temple Sinai in Delray Beach, community activist, unabashed punster. And if Barry Silver doesn't take himself too seriously, it would seem tolerable, even admirable. But if he doesn't take his new office seriously, that might cross the line with his critics.
A glance inside reveals a Barry Silver that few know and fewer understand: A passionate intellect who finds meaning in all of his cases, even Lucky the dog, Silver will work on two hours' sleep. He is a history buff who understands more about the Torah than some rabbis. He is a multilingual scholar who dreamed of politics over his mother's objections.
His opponents, even some of his supporters, say that Barry Silver would have never won elected office - certainly not by a 16-percent margin - had it not been for his family name.
"It was the most significant of the obstacles in the campaign," Glenn Wichinsky said on Wednesday.
But civic duty, it turns out, is another family tradition, as is a profound devotion to community, to idealism, liberalism and Judaism.
Some of his family members - including two social workers and a stand-up comedian - say they would love to run for office, too. But they can't because their own sermons about values and morals bring them to tears, which wouldn't go over well in public.
"That's just who we are," Josh Stewart-Silver, one of Barry's four brothers, said on Wednesday. "We're different than many people. Barry may do things in unusual ways. But he's just always been someone who is passionate. He was passionate about our dog. He's always been like that."
Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Silver grew up in Stamford, Conn. He attended the University of Connecticut before graduating with a degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University. After vacillating between rabbinical school and law school, he eventually chose the latter, and graduated with a law degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
Those are the roots that made him one of Palm Beach County's most prominent civil lawyers. The roots that made the person, not the professional, grow deeper.
The way Silver family legend tells it, at one point Barry stuck up for animal rights by refusing to wear leather belts and shoes, and eschewed cars for a bike to reduce pollution.
He was 15 at the time, an adolescent activist.
"I said, 'Barry, how can you be a vegetarian? You don't even like vegetables,'" his mother Elaine said this week. "But he didn't want to kill animals. He was always that kind of a person. Many people do things because they are going to run for office. Never Barry. This is the way he's always been."
For one of his campaign events, he asked families to pick up trash on the beach. He has represented abortion-rights advocates and environmental activists, sometimes for free. He has performed Passover seders on cruise ships for 10 years. He performs interfaith marriages. He speaks at Haitian churches.
"All the stuff that I preach about propriety and morality, he practices," his father says.
But those preachings are behind it all. In his father lies not only the foundation of a hokey sense of humor, but of Barry Silver himself. Both, for example, have been admonished by their family for being too idealistic, for levying praise on people who have had nothing but cruel words for them.
"I think the rabbi has had tremendous influence on him, morally and ethically," Elaine Silver said. "Even people that have been mean to him, he compliments them. It drives me nuts. Barry grew up in that kind of a home. He's really, in many ways, almost a clone of his father."
Barry Silver was Wendy Schultz's "dream boyfriend" 13 years ago. This summer, Barry, alongside his father, performed her wedding ceremony. Barry and Wendy remain best friends - Barry has remained close with all of his former girlfriends - and tennis partners.
"His father is the most selfless individual I have ever met and will ever meet," said Schultz, now a Coral Springs insurance agent. "He has absolutely zero needs. Barry learned that goodness. His passion has always been for making our little world a better place. He's definitely one of the very few who are in politics for the right reason."
Today, and for the next two years, how Barry Silver got into politics - and how he won - is a moot point.
"There may be some that can't believe it, but all they have to do is look at the polls," said state Rep. Suzanne Jacobs, D-Delray Beach. "He's in. ... I don't care if God herself got somebody elected. Once you get to Tallahassee, only one person sits in that chair and presses the buttons."
Outside his parents' house, posing for pictures, the folly continues.
New visitors are fresh meat for Sam Silver, who is reciting his full supply of jokes and is paying no attention to the camera.
Elaine Silver is getting into the act. Know what a dairy shop in Israel is called? Cheeses of Nazareth.
Barry is squeezed between them, smiling a bit uncomfortably at the public life he has worked so hard to create. On Saturday, he says, he's finally going back to his regular tennis matches with Wendy.
By the way, he says, did you know that tennis was mentioned in the Bible? Right there in Genesis, it says plain as day that Joseph served in Pharoah's court.