Rabbi’s loss ‘going to be felt in Jewish and general community’

Sergio Carmona, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

The death of Rabbi Solomon Schiff is a loss for not only the local Jewish community, but the interfaith one as well.

Schiff died on April 1 at the age of 91. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in New York City, and was a Miami Beach resident at the time of his death.

Schiff was the director of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Jewish Chaplaincy Program (now Mishkan Miami) and executive vice president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, and served both organizations for more than 40 years. He was also a founding member and a past chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, a committee of the GMJF.

The Holocaust Memorial’s virtual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) community ceremony at 7 p.m. on April 8 will be dedicated to Schiff. Sidney Pertnoy, the Memorial’s chair, mentioned the event will open with a recognition of his memory.

Pertnoy feels its appropriate to dedicate this year’s program in Schiff’s memory.

“He participated in every single Yom HaShoah program at the memorial, including within the last two years when it has gone virtual,” he said. “He was such an instrumental catalyst and force in the creation of the memorial, sustaining it and using it to educate foreign dignitaries and others.”

Schiff was on the forefront of building interfaith relations since coming to South Florida in 1958, including welcoming Pope John Paul II to Miami in September 1987. For his service on interfaith relations, Schiff received a Papal Medal from Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. In 2017, he received a Legion of Honor Award from the Philadelphia-based Chapel of the Four Chaplains, joining the ranks of other past recipients including former United States Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan as well as Nelson Mandela, former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and comedian/actor Bob Hope.

Jacob Solomon, the GMJF’s president and chief executive officer, said, “Within the Jewish community, he was considered a rabbi’s rabbi.”

“The rabbis pointed to him as a leader and a teacher,” Solomon continued. “In the interfaith community, he was one of the founders of Miami’s interfaith dialogue group, and he participated in that for decades. I think the loss of Rabbi Solomon Schiff is going to be felt within the Jewish community and the general community as a whole.”

Father Patrick O’Neill, ecumenical and interfaith officer for the Archdiocese of Miami, described Schiff as an icon in every way.

“When he came to Miami as a young rabbi, the whole religious world was very different,” O’Neill said. “We were all very separated. There was no interfaith dialogue of any kind, and he made an enormous difference. He was not only a rabbi’s rabbi, but he became a community leader out of need.”

Among the local organizations Schiff served on was the American Jewish Committee’s Miami and Broward Office as a board member.

Brian Siegal, AJC’s Miami and Broward director, said, “As a member of AJC’s Miami and Broward Regional Board, and a friend to all of us, he will be fondly remembered for his warmth, wisdom and humor.”

“He was always ready with a kind word, a joke and guidance to everyone he met,” Siegal added.

Siegal continued, “He was a unique force for good in the community for decades and was internationally recognized for his early championing of interfaith relations.”

“What is less well-known publicly is his personal commitment to international relations,” he said. “He could be counted on to reach out to many foreign diplomats posted to Miami and invite them for a personal tour of the Holocaust Memorial on Miami Beach.”

Schiff is survived by his wife, Shirley, and their three sons.