On a typical Sunday morning, kids and their parents sit in a circle at the Hoboken Fire Museum and listen to Jack Silbert read children’s books. No one seems to notice Silbert’s artificial legs.
“I see kids on the street staring at my prosthetics,” Silbert says. “But at story time, they’re cool with it. If you can get in there when the stereotypes aren’t hardwired into their brains, maybe you can make more of a difference.”
Silbert, 51, lost his legs four years ago after an abdominal infection related to diverticulitis spread through his body. He spent the early part of 2017 between his Hoboken home and a rehab facility in Saddle Brook. Initially, he was confined to a wheelchair, then was fitted for prosthetics.
“At the rehab facility, a woman walked by and dropped some papers. My gut instinct was to pick them up,” he recalls. “But I couldn’t do it because I was in a wheelchair. It bummed me out so much.”
A longtime editor at Scholastic, Silbert, who is single, had been writing freelance and volunteering at the museum and elsewhere when he fell ill. After the twin amputations, he wiped the slate clean. Instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do, he embraced what he had to do differently. He learned to walk again, climb stairs and drive a car with hand controls.
“You adjust to what life throws at you,” Silbert says.
When the pandemic shut the museum earlier this year, Silbert adjusted by recording his readings and uploading these story time videos to YouTube and Facebook. He continues to go to local concerts, volunteer around Hoboken and Jersey City, and answer phones for a Covid-19-hotline.
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Even with temperatures dropping, Silbert can be seen around town wearing shorts. He doesn’t want to hide his prosthetics.
“If I went bald, I wouldn’t wear a toupee,” he says. “This is who I am. I’m trying to go year-round. You know it’s a special occasion if I break out the pants.”