Friday, November 9, 1984
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
A H LPIN
Bo b McKe o w n
Deli owner Maxie Silk uses a
lifetime of contacts to raise
funds for terd ► inally-ill
children in Detroit
BY MICHAEL BENCSIK
Special to The Jewish News
Maxie Silk and Fr. Russ Kohler share some soup and fundraising plans.
n size, the soup bowl re-
minds you of the water bowl the -100-
pound German Shepherd down the
block drank from when you were a kid.
This is chicken soup at Maxie
Silk's Left Field Deli. The little man
who has run the deli near Tiger
Stadium the past 16 years charges
$1.25 a bowl.
A regular at the deli, and a reg-
ular chicken soup man, is Father Russ
Kohler, founder of the Pope John
XXIII Hospitality House in Detroit.
The house is a retreat for terminally
and seriously ill children and their
On a recent weekday afternoon
Kohler sat at the counter — the only
seats in the deli — and while eating
the soup he spoke with Silk, who for
five years has been a primary funder,
fixer and a schemer on behalf of Hospi-
Their latest endeavor is to send a
group of terminally-ill youths to Israel
for the holiday season.
It would be nice to be in Tel Aviv
for Chanukah and then in Bethlehem
for Christmas Eve," Kohler said. We
want to sustain the endurance of these
kids. They are striving for life and we
should help them."
As Kohler speaks, Silk nods and
occasionally smiles. This man with _
dark brown eyes set close together,
thinning hair and a thin voice prefers
for his cohort to do the talking.
"Talk to the priest," Silk says. He
is the one who runs things. He is im-
If the excursion to Israel is pulled
off it will be the third "pilgrimage"
sponsored by Kohler and Hospitality
House this year.
In February, two teens with ter-
minal cancer pilgrimaged to the
Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
In April, two more youths were taken
to Rome for Easter Week.
"These prilgrimages give them
something to live for," Kohler ex-
plains. "Ffrst; it is an escape from the
sterility and needles of the. hospital
world — the only world they now
know. Second, it shows themselves
and their peers the value of enduring
— the promise of life."
Kohler, who also serves as a
Catholic chaplain at Sinai Hospital,
explains the financing for the trips as a
collection of donations and a little fun-
draising by his ace money man Maxie
"Maxie sold an omelette one day
for 50 bucks," Kohler said with .a
twinkle of his blue eyes for emphasis.
Silk simply shrugs his shoulders
in acknowledgement. He then turns
and walks to the grill to create a mas-
sive Swiss cheese omelette for a cus-
tomer, dressed in hand-me-downs.
The deli at 1266 Michigan Ave.
serves patrons ranging from derelicts
to divinity. Kohler says it is all part of
the wealth of Maxie Silk.
"No, he isn't wealthy in the finan-
cial sense, but he has a wealth of con-
tacts. He knows a lot of people."
.Silk, 77, said that comes with a
lifetime of serving the public.
"I've been behind the bar all my
life," he says in his high-pitched voice.
"During Prohibition, after Prohibi-
tion. When I bought this place it was to
put a bar in here, but they wouldn't let
me because there were too many in the
neighborhood. So it ended up a deli."
Deli or bar, Silk is one of those
people who quickly make friends. His
eatery has gained him a variety of new
contacts he has used to Hospitality
"Maxie got us a Cadillac ambu-
lance free," Kohler says. It really
helps when it comes to transporting
some of the kids."
"Oh yeah, a friend up north," Silk
says with another shrug.
He also got us a Hudson taxi to
drive around in," Kohler adds.
The kids love it," responds Silk
with a smile.
Kohler explains the Silk system of
operation when it comes to acquiring
"Things get started when I call
Maxie and tell him what I need," he
said. He thinks about it for a day,
makes the connection with the person
who has what we need and then he
calls back to say it's on the way."
Kohler said contributions to Hos-
pitality House have increased sig-
nificantly since 1980 and boomed last
winter after a reporter accompanied
him and the youths on the Mexico pil-
"I could tell from the calls coming
in that this went over big," he said.
Silk thinks the pilgrimages
should continue and, in a rare mo-
ment, offers the briefest but signific-
"They deserve a chance to go," he
says with a nod of his head. "They de-