I first met Don Sami Rohr in 1974. At that time, he was a successful businessman in Bogotá, Colombia, a builder of neighborhoods. I was a young rabbi and teacher.

We shared many common interests. Since my parents were German Jews who had come to Argentina before the war and he had lived in Switzerland, we both spoke German. We also shared a similar worldview, valuing Torah study combined with a fully engaged life.

We would study Torah on a regular basis; Don Sami was quite an accomplished scholar. Back in the Swiss city of Basel, he had studied with Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel, who would go on to become a distinguished author and translator of many important Jewish works. In spite of his very demanding business and growing family, Don Sami found time to study Torah. He had a regular regimen of Torah study, a subject to learn in the morning and another for the afternoon. It was a priority for him. His days were well structured and well used.

Don Sami was very involved in communal affairs in Bogotá. Every Simchat Torah he would host a large gathering in his home. The gatherings had an almost magical feeling of camaraderie and inspiration. Although he did not call them that, they were essentially farbrengens, where everyone was invited to participate and contribute to the singing, storytelling, and Torah teaching. They would begin in the early afternoon and would end long after nightfall.

As time passed, Don Sami worried that there was no one to teach advanced Torah and Talmud to the children, since the school and youth groups in Bogotá were on a fairly elementary level. We brought down a teacher, but he only stayed for a year. We wanted someone more permanent who would devote himself to the community. I was familiar with the amazing work of Chabad-Lubavitch from my yeshivah days in New York and had even met the Rebbe on a number of occasions. We determined that the only way to get a teacher who would remain was to bring in a Chabad shliach. We got in touch with Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, from the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the central educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The result was that Rabbi Yehoshua Rosenfeld came to Bogotá and Don Sami was introduced to Rabbi Kotlarsky and Chabad Lubavitch. This opened the door for what would become his lifelong passion: advancing Jewish life though Chabad-Lubavitch all over the world.

Rohr was a “true Torah scholar” who “enjoyed studying the most complex concepts of Torah.”
Rohr was a “true Torah scholar” who “enjoyed studying the most complex concepts of Torah.”

Even after the Rohrs left for Miami, we remained in touch. We spoke often on the phone and would meet in person at least once a year for a long chat. We would discuss communal matters. He was amazingly intimate with every detail of the Colombian Jewish community and very insightful. Ever the Torah scholar, he would recommend Torah books to me. Typically, he would start and end every meeting with a Torah thought, one to greet me and one to bid me farewell.

During the course of these strategizing sessions, I saw how he gradually became more and more involved with Chabad. It was an organic relationship that grew and blossomed with time. He believed that it was the best framework through which Torah and Judaism could be conveyed to the Jewish people.

Throughout the years, I would occasionally ask him for funding for various charitable or communal endeavors. He would often give me more than I asked for. But even more incredible was how he would give, thanking me from the bottom of his heart for giving him the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah of giving tzedakah. He wasn’t posturing; he really felt that way.

He was a father figure to me, especially after I lost my dear father. A year after his passing I think about him very often. Whenever I have a decision to make, I ask myself, “What would Don Sami say?” And I know what to do.

He was a true visionary, Torah scholar, philanthropist, and above all an exemplary mentch. May the soul of Don Sami Rohr, Shmuel ben Yehoshua Eliyahu, serve as a meilitz yosher, pleading before the Supernal Throne on behalf of his family, friends, and all of Israel.