In 1980, upon the request of the local Jewish community, spearheaded by Mr. Sami Rohr, Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin and Rivkah Rosenfeld were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to Bogotá, Colombia, to serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. Upon the occasion of Mr. Rohr’s yahrtzeit, daughter Chana Kugel offers the following memories and reflection.

The Jewish world knew Mr. Sami Rohr as a successful businessman and prominent philanthropist. He dedicated his life to helping Jews the world over, whether they lived in Latin America, Russia, Israel or elsewhere.

My family and I were privileged to know him also as a private person. And the private man was as noble and as good as was his public persona.

On the occasion of his first yahrtzeit, here is my modest attempt at sharing but a few childhood memories, from the perspective of a little girl.

As far back as I can recall, Don Sami and his beloved wife, Señora Charlotte, who was truly the warmest, most beautiful and regal woman I ever met, were a loving presence in our lives. My siblings and I were born and raised in Bogotá, far from the New York and Montreal communities where my parents grew up, so Don Sami and Señora Charlotte became our surrogate grandparents.

They took care of us in the way that loving grandparents look out for their precious grandchildren. Our happiness was their happiness.

Don Sami and Señora Charlotte showered us kids with gifts that they chose with purpose and forethought. Even at a young age, however, much more precious to each of us than their special gifts was the quality time that they spent with us. I remember particularly that Don Sami always made the time to listen to our stories.

I remember one particular Torah discussion between Don Sami and my father lasting from 11:00 PM till early in the morning

In fact, as a six-year-old child, I was confused when my father tried to ensure that I didn’t take too much of Don Sami’s time. Why, I thought, he clearly wants to hear every one of my stories! There seemed to have been nothing more important to him in the world!

Whenever we would come to shul and Don Sami was there, we always ran to say “Gut Shabbos” to him. We couldn’t wait to tell him what we’d been up to.

After the Rohrs moved to Miami, we stopped off to visit with them once en route to New York for a family celebration. Knowing up close how limited was our access to kosher dining in Bogotá, Don Sami treated us to something we had never before experienced—he took us kids out to eat!

But that wasn’t enough for him. While at the restaurant, he inquired of each of us whether we were enjoying what we ordered, and if we weren’t, he made sure to order us something else that we would enjoy. As he listened to us, you could see his face radiating joy and nachas from observing our happiness.

A few years later, we were invited to the Rohrs’ house for a Friday night meal. The table was set impeccably, and the food was delicious. Señora Charlotte made sure that there was kid-friendly food for every course and in her loving tone encouraged us to “ess, mein kind” (“eat, my child”). Don Sami listened as if enraptured to our divrei Torah, and after the soup course showed us where all the board games were in the house, so we could play with them.

As we grew older, his personal interest in our maturation and our schooling continued apace. We never had a conversation with him without him asking us to share something that we had recently learned.

Don Sami would call my house quite often to get updates on my parents’ Chabad work. Whenever I answered his phone call, he always knew exactly what I was doing that year, and he’d inquire how I was doing in school. (I also remember one particular Torah discussion between Don Sami and my father lasting from 11:00 PM till early in the morning, as my father pulled out what to me appeared to be a growing mountain of books from the shelves, while the telephone conversation between them became ever livelier.)

My oldest brother, Mendel, never tires of retelling one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

“I will never forget when my parents called me and told me that Don Sami was coming to Paris for business,” he says, “and that he’d love to visit with me there.

“I was overjoyed. I was living so far away from my family; I counted down the days with eager anticipation.

Leah’le, Reb Shmuel’s daughter (who was living in Paris at the time), told me the exact time that Don Sami had set aside devoted solely to me. As soon as I walked into the house, he greeted me like a child, with a warm hug and a kiss.

“For the next thirty minutes, Don Sami didn’t take any phone calls, receive any visitors, or do anything else besides focus on me. He tested me on what I was learning, and then asked me all the questions a parent or grandparent would ask a child: How do I like the yeshivah, do I have friends, how’s the food, and so on and on . . . I felt like there was nothing else in the world that mattered to him then besides my happiness.

“Looking back, the love and affection I felt during that encounter gave me the fuel I needed to continue my studies abroad for the rest of the year.”


Growing up, I took all this for granted. As did many others to whom divine providence introduced the Rohrs. Don Sami devoted himself fully to each of his many friends in Bogotá, Miami, Europe and elsewhere. He respected and cared for each one, no matter whether they were wealthy or from the humblest of backgrounds. He always made each one feel special and important.

Now, with the benefit of adult hindsight, I keep asking myself: How did he manage to keep up so many personal relationships? To never lose his personal touch?

I’m even more amazed as I learn more about the enormous business and philanthropic interests that dominated his time: How did he manage to achieve so much, simultaneously, in both the personal and public spheres?!


But what absolutely takes my breath away when I think about it is this:

Intensely private as he was, Don Sami really didn’t have two lives, the personal and the communal. No, not at all.

Rather, the private, caring, loving Don Sami was the very same public Mr. Rohr!

For it was indeed his exquisite care for each individual that propelled his vast tzedakah endeavors, and was perhaps the foundation for his success!

He didn’t simply contribute large amounts to great big projects. Instead, each time he gave he was actually giving individually to each one of 20,000 Jews there, and three Jews there, and 190,000 or two million Jews there.

No wonder that this extraordinary man chose to join the Rebbe’s program for outreach, and partnered with Lubavitch!

Surely he saw in the Rebbe, the quintessential ohev Yisrael, lover of the Jewish people (and lover of each individual Jew!), to whom no Jew was too small and insignificant, and at the same time no task too daunting, no wall of secularization and assimilation too thick to penetrate—he saw in him the very best one with whom to partner.

How blessed were we all.


It’s hard for me to talk about him in the past tense. The reality that I cannot call him up to share some nachas with him, or see his warm smile light up, hasn’t fully set in—and I wonder if it ever will. I miss him so, so much. Yet now, more than ever, when I know that he can see what we are really up to, is when I feel propelled to emulate his example. To do more. To give more. To share more. To share the love that he gave me with every individual I meet.

When Don Sami would bless his family and friends he’d always finish with the wish: Es zol zein mit gezunt un menuchah (“It should be with health and tranquility”). This phrase guided him through his life, ensuring that he dealt with each person he knew as an individual seeking happiness under G‑d’s guidance.

Es zol zein mit gezunt un menuchah. A blessing for Don Sami; a blessing for all of us.