Shmuel (“Sami”) Rohr—benefactor, mentor and friend, whose quiet generosity inspired and contributed to the ongoing growth of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions worldwide—was remembered today on the first yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing).

Many communities around the world joined in learning sessions in memory of of this man who accomplished so much on behalf of Jewish life. And a selection of memorial tributes written by some of those close to him were posted on the Judaism website, Chabad.org.

Rohr was a “man who expressed his love of Judaism through a dizzying range of philanthropic activities,” wrote Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. “He did what he did because he loved G‑d, he loved His Torah, and he loved His people. No more, no less.”

Which is why, Kotlarsky said, Rohr saw in the dedication of the emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (of righteous memory) to serve their fellow Jews “nothing less than the future of the Jewish people.”

Expressing Gratitude to the Rebbe

Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, rabbi of the congregation in Bal Harbour, Fla., where Rohr lived for most of the last three decades, told of Rohr’s deep love and admiration for the Rebbe. Rohr refused to take even a moment of the Rebbe’s precious time, Lipskar wrote, especially for his own personal matters, which he considered insignificant in face of the Rebbe’s responsibilities; thus, he did not meet the Rebbe in person for many years.

Lipskar wrote of the time when Rohr finally decided that he needed to express his thanks and admiration to the Rebbe in person. Lipskar explained that Rohr was a “true Torah scholar” who “enjoyed studying the most complex concepts of Torah,” yet never considered himself a Torah teacher. However, after learning a particularly spirited talk from the Rebbe about the necessity to teach others, he finally agreed to a request by Rabbi Lipskar to give a weekly class to the congregation on the Torah portion in memory of his recently departed father.

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.”

His class, wrote Lipskar, combined deep analysis with extensive research on multiple commentaries, and people “came to describe his weekly lecture as ‘warm, brilliant and very accessible,’ even to students who were not Torah scholars.”

After a year of teaching, Rohr was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the satisfaction and pleasure he had derived from the Rebbe’s directive to teach, he felt compelled to express his thanks to the Rebbe in person. He said to the Rebbe: “In my entire life, I haven’t learned as much as I do now, because I have to prepare for the class!” The Rebbe replied: “That’s a very good thing,” and suggested he add a few more minutes to each class.

Those moments he spent with the Rebbe were deeply cherished by Rohr, noted Lipskar, and he would often repeat how the Rebbe was the most important person he had ever met.

In Latvia: Building Jewish Life

Co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Latvia Rivkah Glazman wrote of her appreciation of Rohr as a lifelong friend and partner in her and her husband’s work in Riga, Latvia’s capital. He conceived of and sponsored their shlichus and visited them often.

Rohr helped the couple buy a large building in 1995 for their Ohel Menachem Kindergarten and Day School. Later, when he got to witness the students learning and praying, “tears of joy spilled from his eyes,” she said. He also paid for busing, Glazman noted, so Jewish children from near and far could get to a Jewish school, and he pushed them to hire top teachers so students also got an exemplary secular education.

Glazman recalled that Rohr genuinely cared not only about their work, but also about their personal well-being. He always “made me feel like I was the hero—as [an emissary] of the Rebbe on the frontlines.”

In Colombia: The ‘Personal Touch’

Chana Kugel also wrote about Rohr’s personal touch. In 1980, in response to a request spearheaded by Rohr from the local Jewish community, Chana Kugel’s parents were sent by the Rebbe to serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Bogotá, Colombia.

“My family and I were privileged to know him also as a private person,” Kugel explained about Rohr. “And the private man was as noble and as good as was his public persona.”

As a child, Kugel remembered Rohr and his wife, Charlotte, as “surrogate grandparents” who always kept up with every detail of her life.

She marveled at how he stayed in touch with so many friends, making sure that each one felt special and important, even while ambitious in his business and philanthropic pursuits. “Now, with the benefit of adult hindsight,” Kugel wrote,” I keep asking myself: How did he manage to keep up so many personal relationships? To never lose his personal touch?”

She noted that she aspires to follow his example: “To do more. To give more. To share more.”

In Russia: ‘The Triumph of Judaism’

Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia, first met Rohr in the early 1990s during a business trip Rohr made to Russia, where he was looking for investment opportunities. Lazar asked him why and recalled his insightful answer. “I myself may not see any profit from it,” Rohr said at the time, “but my children and grandchildren will. I’m investing for their sake,” both economically and Jewishly.

“As Reb Shmuel spoke, I saw before me a Jew with great vision, a person with enormous foresight,” Lazar said. “He envisioned a revolution—and he took a leading role in making it happen.”

Lazar wrote of Rohr’s determination to undo Stalin’s attempts to stifle Jewish practice in Russia, and how Rohr glowed when he later visited the former Soviet Union and saw communities simply bursting with Jewish life. Far earlier than originally foreseen, “he saw the triumph of Judaism.”

In Bogotá: ‘A Father Figure’ and Mentor

Rabbi Alfredo Goldschmidt, who knew Rohr since 1974, praised Rohr’s scholarship and commitment to personal and communal Torah learning. The two would learn together often and also worked together to bring Chabad-Lubavitch to Bogotá.

Goldschmidt described how Rohr got more involved with the Lubavitch movement over time, as well as the pivotal role Rohr played for Judaism in Bogotá, even long after he moved to Florida.

“He was a father figure to me, especially after I lost my dear father,” Goldschmidt revealed. “A year after his passing, I think about him very often.”