Mr. Shmuel (Sami) Rohr, renowned philanthropist and patriarch of the Rohr family, passed away Sunday, August 5. He was was 86. Mr. Rohr, through the Rohr Family Foundation, spearheaded a renaissance of Jewish life and literacy in Jewish communities and on university campuses around the world. Today the Rohr family name is synonymous with Jewish education and outreach.
A witness to the destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust, Mr. Rohr considered the impact of the war years and the loss of so many family members as a galvanizing moment in his life. It was through the rebuilding of world Jewry then, especially in those communities ravaged by the war, that Mr. Rohr found his calling.
“I grew up in Germany, where Judaism was completely destroyed,” he told Lubavitch.com in a 2006 interview on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
“When I see today that, for example, in an old synagogue in Dresden, Jews under the leadership of the Lubavitcher shaliach there, are again davening, my heart starts beating a little quicker. I am inspired when I see, in a kindergarten in Latvia, four-year-old Russian-speaking kids recounting the stories of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.”
Reflecting on the global impact of Mr. Rohr’s work, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Chabad’s educational arm, and a close personal friend of the Rohr family, views Mr. Rohr’s passing as “not only a loss for his friends and family, but for all of world Jewry.”
“His unending dedication and vision were pivotal to Jewish growth and education to communities and individuals around the world.” Kotlarsky said. “The seeds he planted and watched blossom in his lifetime will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.”
Mr. Sami Rohr, grew up in Berlin, where his father was one of the leading real-estate businessmen. After Kristallnacht, he and his parents left for Antwerp. In 1943 the Rohrs were smuggled into Switzerland. While his parents were taken to a refugee camp in Morgins, Mr. Rohr was sent to a children’s home near Basel. Members of Basel’s Jewish community welcomed the young refugees into their homes. Mr. Rohr was taken in by Shlomo Zalman and Recha Feldinger. This past April, Mr. Rohr dedicated Basel’s synagogue, the city’s first since 1929, in their honor.
Mr. Rohr later moved to Bogota, Colombia, where he became a leading real estate developer and one of the leaders of the Jewish community. In 1953 he married Charlotte Kastner. The two were lifelong partners, raising their three children and dedicated to Jewish life through their philanthropic work until Mrs. Rohr’s passing in 2007.
In an address at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in 2006, Mr. Rohr recalled that Bogota’s Jews, even if not entirely observant, passionately supported Jewish causes. At the time, Colombia’s Jewish community had the largest number of contributors to Jewish causes per capita than any other in the world.
In 1980 Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, blessed memory, to South America.
While in Bogota, Rabbi Kotlarksy attended a farewell party for a local teacher. Inquiring about what would be done to ensure that Jewish education would continue in the city, Rabbi Kotlarsky was introduced to Mr. Rohr.
Mr. Rohr offered to underwrite the expenses of Chabad’s first Shluchim to Bogota. Rabbi Yehoshua and Mrs. Rivka Rosenfeld, were sent to Bogota, where they began to lead a Jewish revival there.
At the time, Jewish locals, often approached by fundraisers from abroad to support Jewish causes, viewed rabbis as a burden on the community.
As Rabbi Rosenfeld recalls, “Mr. Rohr wanted to show the community that Chabad had come for different reasons.”
Rabbi Rosenfeld remembers Mr. Rohr’s immense “humility and kindness” to this day.
“He would often thank me for giving him the merit of supporting our work,” Rosenfeld says. Even after the Rohrs left Colombia, they remained close with the Rosenfelds, offering support and guidance from abroad.
When the Rohrs moved to Bal Harbor, Miami, in 1981, they brought their passion for Jewish philanthropy and growing relationship with Chabad. When a new Chabad House was opened in the city by Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, Mr. Rohr was their first supporter.
“Throughout his life, Mr. Rohr showed love for everyone he encountered. No matter what their station in life.” Rabbi Lipskar recalls.
Mr Rohr’s partnership, together with his son George, with Chabad would expand through the coming decades. A bevy of projects by the Rohr Family Foundation today encompass Jewish educational initiatives across Europe, the Far East, the Former Soviet Union and college campuses around the world.
In an interview with Mrs. Baila Olidort, editor in chief of Lubavitch.com, about his life’s work and partnership with the Lubavitch movement, he said: “During my lifetime I have contributed funds to many different institutions I found that Chabad spends my money more efficiently than all the others. As my son George says, ‘We get far more bang for the buck than through anybody else.”
Mr. Rohr recounted his father’s advice, given the day before his Bar Mitzvah, that the blessing of wealth is only maintained through supporting charitable works.
“The Rothschilds, who, even if they might not all always have been [observant of mitzvot] still today give enormous amounts of tzedaka — and as a result they kept their wealth, while many other Jewish families who were even wealthier than the Rothschilds simply disappeared. The day before his Bar Mitzvah, I told this to my son George. My grandchildren have also received this advice, and I pray to Hashem that they will follow it.”
Mr Rohr was buried next to his wife on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Tuesday morning at 8:00 am. He is survived by George and Pamela Rohr, Evelyn and Dr. Shmuel Katz, Lillian and Moris (Moshe) Tabicinic, and their children and grandchildren.