My Classmate Was A Force of Nature: Rabbi Bob Samuels

Jun 27, 2017 by

My Classmate Was A Force of Nature: Rabbi Bob Samuels

Each of my HUC-JIR classmates (Cincinnati ’60) has had a transformative impact on his congregation or community.  (Yes, sadly we were a class of all men.) We taught and counseled, provoked and celebrated in ways that enriched and deepened the lives of those we served.

One of the members of our class had a particularly powerful impact on his community.

Bob Samuels made aliyah to Israel with his family in 1962 and never looked back. The saga of his amazing career is captured in a newly published book, Stepping Up to the Plate, Building a Liberal Pluralistic Israel, which Bob completed shortly before his death in 2016.  Published by the CCAR, it is the first volume issued under its newest imprint, “Rabbis Press.”

Bob was my cherished friend and my hero. His entire life was powered by the ideals of the Hebrew prophets. Every day of his life, Bob translated those ideals into real life action that lifted up the fallen, fed the needy, and embraced those who live at the margins of society.

Bob understood that Progressive Judaism would flourish in Israel only if we raise up exceptional leaders. The Leo Baeck Educational Center in Haifa, which Bob built into one of the premier institutions in Israel, produced such leaders.

Bob was a force of nature. I have never known anyone with as many talents, as determined a spirit, and as much energy as Bob Samuels.  A star first baseman at Brandeis who was scouted by Major League Baseball, Bob knew what it meant to “step up to the plate.” He never flinched.  Even after he was diagnosed with a devastating disease, he continued to live a life of courageous determination, doing good and loving us all.

Our colleague Michael Marmur wrote, “This book tells his story. Reading it can do what Bob always managed to do in his life. Even if we are disheartened and out of new ideas, even if the next step seems unclear, it builds us up.”

I hope you will read and be inspired by this amazing story about what it means to be a leader of our people.

Charles A. Kroloff is past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.  Currently Vice President for Special Projects at HUC-JIR, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanu-El, Westfield, NJ.  Rabbi Robert L. Samuel’s book Stepping Up to the Plate, Building a Liberal Pluralistic Israel, is now available for purchase from CCAR Press. 

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