On Tuesday, Sami Rohr, a founder of The Shul of Bal Harbour and major benefactor of the Chabad Lubavitchmovement worldwide, was to have led 30 family members on a multi-generational vacation to Spain.
Instead, his loved ones found themselves in Israel, consigning his remains to the sacred soil of Jerusalem’s ancient Mount of Olives cemetery, next to his wife, Charlotte Kastner Rohr, who died in 2007.
Shmuel ben Yehoshua Eliyahu — his Hebrew name — born April 4, 1926 in Berlin, Germany, died of an unexpected heart attack Sunday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. He was 86.
The Rohrs underwrote Chabad Lubavitch outreach and education projects in many countries with multiple, multi-million-dollar donations, for more than half a century.
“When the history of Judaism in the 20th and 21st centuries will be written, Sami and Charlotte Rohr and their family will be recognized as pivotal forces behind a Jewish renaissance in many countries, cities and townlets throughout the world,’’ Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Lubavitch World Headquarters, told Chabad.org Jewish News.
“Their unending generosity and dedication to their people have enabled countless individuals, families and communities to re-identify with their faith and strengthen their Jewish observance.”
Until his last day, Rohr remained “an active investor in a number of real estate projects in Europe, and fully engaged,’’ said son and business partner, George Rohr, of New York. “He had a very disciplined routine of Torah study and showed no signs of slowing down. He was always an extra disciplined person. Schedules and routines were sacred.’’
Rohr, an only child, and his upper-class parents, fled Germany shortly after “Kristallnacht” in late 1938: the “Night of Broken Glass’’ during which organized gangs of Nazi-inspired thugs terrorized Jews across Germany, destroying their homes, businesses and synagogues.
They stayed one step ahead of the Nazis during World War II as they made their way, on Belgian passports, to the safety of Switzerland in 1943.
Just this spring, Rohr traveled to Basel, Switzerland, for the dedication of the Feldinger Chabad Jewish Center, which his family financed and named for the Basel Jewish family who sheltered him during the Holocaust.
“He talked very openly about that period and shared tons of anecdotes,’’ his son said. “Others might have been more negatively affected by all the running, but he was so positive, and such an optimist.’’
He’d often say: “‘It’s much better to be in places were people are dancing than where bombs are falling.’”
In 1950, Rohr left his family for Bogota, Colombia, where he became a successful developer and pillar of the city’s Jewish community. He met his wife, a Hungarian-born survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, in Chile, where they married in 1953.
By the time he settled his family in Miami Beach in 1970s, Rohr was a wealthy man and respected philanthropist. When Rabbi Sholom Lipskar proposed building The Shul, the Rohrs agreed to help. The Shul opened in 1994.
Rohr was as learned as he was generous, his son said. He spoke six languages, and read literature in all of them.
In a 2006 interview with a Chabad Lubavitch publication, Rohr explained how his past created his need to support Jewish causes.