On celebrating his 80th birthday, just six years ago, Sami Rohr said this:
I grew up in Germany, where Judaism was completely destroyed. When I see today that, for example, in an old synagogue in Dresden, Jews under they’ve 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.
This is an important sentiment for anyone who escaped the horrors of World War II to convey after Jewish life was nearly snuffed out on an entire continent. The difference is that, decades of community work and a nearly quarter of billion dollars in philanthropy later, Sami Rohr set in motion a renewal of Jewish life that could make a synagogue in Dresden hum or a Jewish kindergarten in Latvia buzz anew.
The same could be said for countless other communities in innumerable cities and towns in dozens of countries. One such example is the dedication of the first synagogue in Basel, Switzerland, since 1929, which Rohr named after the family that sheltered him there during World War II. The dedication took place just this past April.
Following the war, Rohr went to South America where he excelled in business, developing nearly the entire west side of the city of Bogota, Colombia. He worked to transform Bogota’s Jewish community and, as we mentioned yesterday, was also quite a renaissance man, immersing himself in literature and religious texts. After moving to Florida in the 1980s, Rohr and his wife partnered with Chabad and myriad other organizations to do much of the same act of building on campuses and remote places in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and especially the former Soviet Union—where Jewish life had been largely dormant.
Decades later, a complex network of religious centers, educational foundations, and cultural institutions stand where before there were few. Accordingly, the full reach of his efforts may never be known. Rohr will be buried in Jerusalem next week on the Mount of Olives.