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Mitzvah man

Journal Staff

Barry Silverman with a volunteer on Christmas Day.

DECEMBER 14, 2017 – Instead of sleeping late on Christmas day, Barry Silverman rises with a purpose. For the last 22 years, he has hopped into his car in Peabody and driven to My Brother’s Table in Lynn, where he oversees a cadre of volunteers who serve hundreds of meals to guests who have nowhere else to go.

“I appreciate everything I have in life, and I like helping people,” says Silverman, a financial planner who grew up in West Roxbury. Silverman always has been comfortable serving food. His father owned Heller’s Deli in Dorchester’s Codman Square, and his mother was constantly cooking for him and his seven siblings.

“I was raised in a large family and I learned from example,” says Silverman. “My parents were very involved with our temple. And my brothers and I wanted to help. My brothers and I would pick the lock at the backdoor of our temple so we could beat the Brotherhood men into the kitchen. We’d set up the tables and get the meal going for the Brotherhood breakfast.”

The process of serving as many as 360 meals during a day can be a daunting task, but one of the bigger challenges for Silverman on Christmas is finding helpers. He needs about 50 people to help out, and at the moment he’s still searching for volunteers.

Many come from Silverman’s congregation, Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody, but others have volunteered from churches and civic groups. Some are Jews, many are gentiles, and when they arrive to volunteer they form a cohesive workforce.

Volunteers at My Brother’s Table in Lynn.

Under Silverman and his daughter Sophie’s direction – she started helping her dad on the holiday when she was 5, and has been his assistant for the last 13 years – people are assigned to one of two shifts. The first shift runs from 9 to 11 a.m., and that’s when volunteers prepare the meals from scratch. About 25 to 30 workers peel potatoes, sauté vegetables, and make the stuffing while the main courses – turkey and ham – are cooked. Silverman personally takes charge of the gravy. He also has an affinity for carrots, and he sweetens them with raisins and brown sugar. “It’s a little taste of tzimmes for them,” he says.

The second shift begins at 1:30, when the guests enter and are served by Silverman’s team. Others are assigned to a gift room, where they’ll wrap presents for their guests to take home. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the carving of the meat reaches a peak around that time. Silverman brings his own pre-sharpened knives from home. “I personally choose the people who’ll carve the 15 to 20 turkeys,” he says.

Guests are served cafeteria-style, and Silverman makes enough food for people to have seconds or even thirds. “I make enough for 360 meals, and whatever isn’t used they’ll reuse the next day,” he explains.

For him, the day represents a sense of continuity. He likens it to the community meals he attended as a child with his family at Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in West Roxbury.

“The whole temple was made up of large families, and the mindset was to enjoy each other’s company and to help those who couldn’t help themselves,” says Silverman, who is 61, and formerly owned a nightclub in Gloucester in the 1980s.

“I feel a sense of gratitude,” he explains. “Our focus is to make sure that the people who arrive have a warm meal, and walk out with a gift. I’m so glad they’re not on the street that afternoon.”

To volunteer, contact Barry Silverman at bsfcp@comcast.net or call 978-532-5465.

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