From Pizza Boy to Pizza Rabbi

My husband Larry and I missed the Pizza Boy’s bris.

Diane Silverman, the future Pizza Boy’s mom, and I met in 1977. The two of us, along with several new members, sat together at a event sponsored by Clifton Park Hadassah. Within a year, all the women around the table were expecting. Our son Adam was born in April; the Silverman’s daughter Erica came one month later. By the time the eight children were walking, the Hadassah Baby Boom mothers formed a weekly playgroup, one of us baby sat while the other moms got a break.

“Three years apart” must have been the Hadassah mantra, because six of us delivered our second child in 1981.Diane and Mark’s son arrived on March 11. Eight days later, while Todd Harris Silverman was ongoing his rite of passage into Judaism, I was having a planned caesarian-section. Obviously, Larry and I couldn’t be at their simcha. Therefore, Diane and Mark announced the birth of our daughter Julie Rose—to the large group of mutual friends.

As did our two older children, Julie and Todd grew up together. They were in the same playgroup (Hadassah Baby Boom Two), and the same nursery school class. When I went back to work, Diane watched Julie before school. It was Diane who put Julie, along with Todd, on the bus the first day of school as I was teaching my first class.

Julie and Todd were close—maybe too close! At the end of first grade, their teacher recommended the two friends be in separate classes as “Julie was leading Todd around by the nose.”

Todd was a frequent guest at our house, and he loved his pizza. Larry nicknamed him “Pizza Boy,” a moniker that stuck with him for a long time.

By this time, both of our families had joined Congregation Beth Shalom, and we parents shared responsibilities for the children’s religious school carpools.We even were each other’s helping families at their bar/bat mitzvahs.

Early in his religious education, Todd felt the strength and pull of his Jewish roots. Growing up in kosher home, Todd lived in a family that actively participated in Judaism through holidays, simchayots, and synagogue membership. Additionally, he felt surrounded by fellow Jews. “You might be hard pressed to find another kid in Upstate New York who felt like the majority of his family’s friends were Jewish,” Todd said. He realized at a young age that being “a part and parcel of the Jewish community” was important to him.

After his bar mitzvah, Todd joined Temple Gates of Heaven’s North American Federation of Temple Youth’s (NFTY) chapter. He attended summer camp for three of his four high school years at Kutz Camp, the Reform Movement’s youth leadership academy.In 1997, Todd participated in a five-week NFTY-sponsored trip to Israel. He came back bronze-skinned, twenty-five pounds lighter and his eyes opened to Israel.

His religious faith was tested in college. As a theater major at State University of New York at Oswego, Todd found few opportunities for participation in Judaism. Furthermore, the death of three people close to him—an accident, an illness, a suicide—made him seriously question what direction his life would go.

In his last year of college, help came from his NFTY connections. Todd reconnected with a fellow camper from the Kutz Camp, who invited Todd to be on staff at a summer camp in Malibu, California.

Immediately after completing bachelor’s degree in theater, Todd  headed to the West Coast. After the summer camp experience, he found a job as an elementary school teacher at Brawerman Elementary School in West Los Angeles. His experience at the Jewish day school helped confirm his the lifelong belief  that he needed to serve the Jewish people. As Todd admitted, his vision was a “romanticized version of spiritual leader, pastoral guide, educator, and keeper of the stories and traditions.”

In 2011, Todd enrolled in the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As part of his seminary training, he  lived for eleven  months in Israel, learning the language, the customs, and the politics of the Middle East. He returned to Los Angeles, where he spent another five years immersed in history, liturgy, counseling education, pedagogical instruction — everything a series of internships and student pulpits could provide.  

Upon his ordination in 2015,Todd learned of a rabbinical position opening in New Orleans, Louisiana.  His initial reaction: “There are Jews in New Orleans?”  Through the interviewing process, however, Todd learned that the Touro Synagogue, one of the oldest Jewish congregations outside the original thirteen  colonies, had a large and active membership. He felt an instant connection to both the shul and the city.

In July, 2015, he accepted  the position as assistant rabbi and  rabbinic director of lifelong learning. Along with life-cycle events and liturgical duties, Todd oversees the synagogue’s  religious school and Hebrew program and youth group activities.

Todd also continues to teach classes, including courses in .Pirkei Avot and rabbinic literature (Midrash, Mishna and Talmud). One of his favorite duties is teaching each semester a four-part  cooking class called,“In the Kitchen With Rabbi Silverman.”  Session topics have included recipes for challah, Jewish soups, Chanukah latkes and sufganiyot  (donuts); and a Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in a cumin-infused sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions. “I love shuksuka almost as I love pizza,” said Todd

“I preach and I teach and I learn and I walk to work when it’s not 100 degrees with 110% humidity,” said Todd. “And I love every second of it.”

March 11 is Rabbi Todd Harris Silverman’s thirty-sixth birthday, That evening, he  will celebrate the holiday of Purim. He will  help lead a service, join.his fellow congregants as they twirl their groggers, and eat the traditional cookie, hamantashen. Our former Pizza Boy has grown up to become the Pizza Rabbi. I, for one, can not be prouder of him!!

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