Wednesday, May 18, 2016

7 Questions with David Silver, Docent at the Museum At Eldridge

David Silver, a native New Yorker, is currently serving as a volunteer docent at the Museum At Eldridge Street. In addition to his being a docent he consults with corporations in the area of leadership. And he developed his own leadership skills and behaviors while serving as a pilot in United State Air Force as a Forward Air Controller during the Vietnam Conflict.   

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I have been interested in history since my undergraduate college years but it was more on a casual basis rather than as a serious student of history. I remember reading Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day and I think that is what got me hooked on history especially reading as much about the history of WW II as time allowed. Throughout these subsequent years my interest in history has expanded to include the Civil War years and history of NYC.      

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
For me, it has been about imagining what my life would have been like during the periods in which I am reading, especially about living in New York City. My family settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 1900’s. As I continue to read about the city I walk to areas that are discussed in my readings and see some of the buildings described in the readings. And in other cases, I visualize what the area looked like when those buildings existed. And I still discover new sights in NYC.     

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
Part of my interest in history has been biographies of business leaders. I remembered some of their lessons learned to guide some of my decisions regarding career direction. I managed to avoid the pitfalls that they highlighted in their careers and took actions that fostered their career successes. History has also helped significantly in my professional life. Organizations, in which I have been part of, are affected by world events both past and present. Understanding these events have helped me make decisions when organization change was needed. I often used history in preparing my business cases to influence the decision-makers.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
History repeats itself one way or another. And there are incidents in history we should not forget about because we might need to avoid those that caused terrible world events. Understanding history allows us to put events in perspective. I sometimes have dinner with friends and their children join us. When the subject of American and world history is brought up it confounds me that these children, who attend school, are not able to join in the discussion. And the knowledge of history has us understand events that have brought about the world, as it is, today. Their failure in studying and understanding history is an obstacle to having a reasonable dialogue about current events. 

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
My initial struggle with history was narrowing my particular area of interest. For awhile, it was about the history of the U.S.’s involvement in World War II in the Pacific and Europe. Then my focus turned to the major battles of the Civil War. Next came biographies of military leaders. Finally, and for the past few years it has been about the history of New York from the early 1800’s thru 1940. The history of NYC is of particular interest because many of the men who made America great were based in NYC. The great banks and railroads have their history in NYC in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

6. How did you get involved with the Museum at Eldridge and what do you do as docent?
A friend of mine is on the Board of Directors of the Museum at Eldridge Street. He invited me to the dedication of the Museum in 2007 and that was my first contact with the Museum. In the subsequent years I attended a number of events and in 2014 I attended a fund raising event. At that event the Director of the Museum invited me to become a docent. I went through the training and the rest is history, so to speak. As a docent I conduct tours of the Museum. As part of the tour I describe the history of the congregation that has and continues to worship in the synagogue that is part of the museum. I help explain about the causes of the immigration of Russian Jews to the USA and the specifically to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Much of my narration focuses on the highlights of the congregation’s growth and decline and the impact this had on the building…..especially the sanctuary.       

7. Why is the Museum at Eldridge an important part of American history?
The Museum is one of the last symbols of the great immigration of Russian Jews to America in the 19th and early 20th century. The Lower East side would probably not be as notable a feature of New York had it not been for the immigration of Eastern Europeans to the USA. And there are few remaining synagogues in the Lower East Side that still stand as a testament to the over 2 million Jews that settled in such a small area of New York.   

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