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Philanthropist Sam Sher passes on





Written by Sam’s grandson DAVID SHER

“Sam has departed. South Africa has lost its glory” declared Rabbi B Grossnass; “The whole community is in mourning over the loss of a tzaddik in our time and one of the most wonderful philanthropists in our city” lamented Isaac Reznik in a ChaiFM tribute. Anguish was felt across Johannesburg, Manchester and many towns in Israel when friends, family and beneficiaries of the late Samuel Michael Sher, learnt of this exceptionally humane philanthropist’s passing last Monday.

Born in Anterlypt, Lithuania during 1926, Samuel (known to many as Sam) immigrated to South Africa with his parents during 1927 and settled in Doornfontein. His family was religious and Sam attended Shul first in Bertrams and then in Berea; his non-frangible bitachon (faith) and selflessness are attested to by the thousands who came into contact with him. Working during the day, he attended night school, trekking to and from the CBD each evening in order to study.

Sher Sam 

RIGHT: Sam and Rose Sher


Qualifying as a pharmacist, and through his vivaciousness and perspicacity he eventually built up a pharmaceutical portfolio and prospered. He married his wife Rose in 1956 at the Great Synagogue; she remained his devoted companion for well over half a century.

Sam was always communally engaged; he was Senior Warden at the Oxford Shul and became Chairman of the United Hebrew Congregations of Johannesburg alongside Chief Rabbi BM Casper in 1987. One of his particularly outstanding endeavours was his support of the fledgling ba’al teshuva movement in South Africa and beyond. Ever a visionary, he recognised the proficient capability of Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch and sponsored the new Torah Centre building in Yeoville (opened by Mayor Harold Rudolph); the only Shul still functioning in that area.

The Chofetz Chaim Shul in Raedene and Rabbi Aaron Pfeuffer’s Yeshiva Maharsha were other formative ventures and he led the purchase of the magnificent new premises on which one finds this latter key institution today. In 1987 the Torah Centre celebrated the first Sefer Torah to be completed in South Africa in over 50 years due to his munificence (he paid for many such scrolls); this event was captured inter alia by The Citizen newspaper.

A great lover of Israel, the Vilna Gaon Shul was built by Sam and opened by his wife Rose several years later in Jerusalem and the venerated Etz Chaim Yeshiva of Jerusalem was assisted in being kept afloat by him. A Kollel and Synagogue followed during 2005 in the Modi’in Illit area of Jerusalem and one of the world’s most majestic Shul Arks was unstintingly donated by him to a vibrant Betar Congregation. In his later years he was an unwavering supporter of the Kollel Yad Sha’ul and the West Street Shul.

Never one to exhibit his affluence, he lived unassumingly, often rapidly striding the some three miles to the Torah Centre every Shabbos from Houghton for many years (He learnt Tehillim by heart on these walks).

He became a confidante of many of Israel’s most distinguished Rabbis and of those in Johannesburg. Samuel’s empathetic style endeared him to his manifold employees (some of half a century standing) who revered him for the way he treated them, as he did all he met, with dignity and compassion. Assisting countless brides to marry, he never refused to provide to any individual in need; “Giving is better than receiving” was the dictum he lived by and he would give away costly medication gratis to those in need.

On his visits to Israel a burdened orphanage was assisted discreetly and a wedding hall was secured by his and Mendel Kaplan’s intervention to enable the marriage of impecunious couples.

Myriad causes in South Africa and Israel, – most of which he never made known to his family and friends – benefitted from his kindness of heart. He is survived by his 3 children, 11 grandchildren and 1 great grandson.

May his memory serve as a blessing.

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  1. Choni Davidowitz

    Jan 20, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    About 10 years ago my wife, daughter and myself were walking along a crowded pavement/ road in Meir Sharim. (the ultra religious area of Jerusalem).

    As we were strolling along a very tall ultra orthodox man accidently bumped into me. var’shkuldig mier (excuse me) he said. dos magt nit ous; I replied in broken Yiddish (Yiddish is the only language spoken in the area). Listening to me the Rabbi said; fun vanit kumst to. (from where do you come from). Drom Africa I replied; (from S.Africa I replied).

    Do kenst efser a Mr. Sam Sher ?( do you perhaps know a Mr. Sam Sher he asked.). Quite surprised I pointed to my wife and said. Ot is Mr. Sher’s shwetzer (This is Mr. Sher’s sister). It was as if an angel came down from Heaven. The rabbi got so excited that he called all his friends in the area to meet Sam’s sister.

    Imagine bumping into this rabbi amongst this crowded area. Sam Sher donated a large sum of money for the orphanage that the Rabbi supervised. 

  2. jack shnaier

    Feb 20, 2014 at 2:43 am

    ‘I knew Sam Sher since Habonim days.We were Gedud Trumpeldor and we met every Saturday night at the Doornfontein Talmud Torah premises in Beit St Doornfontein.This was around 1944.Sam was Rush Gedud.I met him on many occasions thereafter,especially at Oxford Shul.I used to see him walk through Norwood to his house in Houghton.He was a great philanthropist, not wishing to boast about his success in life & sharing his wealth with the community here & in Israel. He will sadly missed’

  3. ariel

    Mar 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    ‘Everyone at the Kollel Yad Shaul remembers Mr Sher for his great warmth and kindness. He was up at the crack of dawn and at his davening place long before any of the younger members. He learned Torah and loved Israel and every Jew. Johannesburg and South Africa was privileged to have him as a Jewish leader; rarely have our community leaders been so religiously inclined. Who else was friends with both Rabbi Sternbuch and Chief Rabbi Harris and Chief Rabbi Casper? On cordial terms with the likes of Rabbi S Z Auerbach and Rabbi Pinkus?

    In England too he was known as a supporter of Gateshead Yeshiva and the Shaarei Torah Yeshiva in Manchester. All this was done behind the scenes. The whole community mourns the passing of this humble yet great man. ‘

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