Sami Rohr, Philanthropist Who 'Invested' Millions in the Jewish People

Appreciation

No Edifice Complex: Sami Rohr was a humble person, who did not want to have buildings named after him. He hoped to spend his money supporting the Jewish people around the world.
No Edifice Complex: Sami Rohr was a humble person, who did not want to have buildings named after him. He hoped to spend his money supporting the Jewish people around the world.

By Ezra Glinter

Published August 09, 2012, issue of August 17, 2012.
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Rohr’s contributions to Chabad can be felt today in many of the organization’s outreach efforts, including its Rohr Jewish Learning Institute for adult education programs and centers at university campuses in cities around the world. When George Rohr began investing in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, his father took a special interest in Russian Jewry, assisting virtually every Jewish community throughout the FSU.

“He was interested in Russian Jewry when nobody was interested,” said Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Lubavitch chief rabbi of Russia. “He said we’re going to invest and bring them back to Judaism.”

According to Lazar, Rohr was especially passionate about restoring synagogues that had been seized during the Soviet period, and he contributed to everything from building campaigns to providing hot food after synagogue services. Most notably, he committed himself to pay the salaries of rabbis in cities that otherwise could not support them. According to a 2006 JTA report, the Rohr family had underwritten the salaries of some 500 Lubavitch emissaries around the world.

While much of Rohr’s philanthropic efforts were directed at religious organizations, family and friends also spoke of him as a widely cultured person who enjoyed secular pursuits. “For my grandfather, the real common theme was Jewish literacy, and that was in both religious and cultural manifestations,” said his granddaughter, Rebecca Rohr.

It was in that spirit that his children honored him in 2006 with the creation of the Sami Rohr Prize, which is awarded by the Jewish Book Council and “recognizes the unique role of contemporary writers in the transmission and examination of the Jewish experience.”

“They’ve really helped change the face of Jewish literature over the past six years,” said Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council. “Even in business, he liked to help youngsters, and this award is supposed to go to an emerging author.”

“I think the prize also reflected not only the sensitivity and goodness of his children, but also what their father was about,” Lassner added. “It reflected a concern for the Jewish people at large and the future of Jewish culture. If you think about it as a successful businessman, the return will be incredible.”

Contact Ezra Glinter at glinter@forward.com or on Twitter @EzraG


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