Honoring Our Friend, Sam Woll

Like so many, we at DJJ are devastated by the loss of Samantha Woll (z”l).

Sam was a deeply beloved and integral part of so many communities, including DJJ. Sam attended DJJ’s founding Shabbaton, and just earlier this month helped host our water justice event at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS), where she served as Board President. At these events and all the moments in between, she brought her support, commitment, and kindness.

Those who knew Sam, who attended her funeral yesterday and who have encountered stories about her in the last 24 hours know exactly what she was about: to her core, Sam built bridges – between and within communities, holding relationships across differences with deep sensitivity and commitment. She listened intently – so much so that you could feel her leaning into each of your words, nodding along in encouragement, eager to hold what you had to share. 

The outpouring of grief is a testament to Sam’s outsized impact in Detroit and Michigan. Her contributions spanned far beyond her work with IADS and DJJ, including her leadership in Michigan political campaigns and offices, the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit, the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, and more. Her loss will be felt for years to come.

It’s understandable for people to feel fear, isolation, and anger upon learning of Sam’s death – especially in a moment when our Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities are already in such despair at the ongoing violence in Israel/Palestine. So it’s important to ground ourselves in what we know so far, rather than allowing misinformation or fear to fuel conflict. In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Detroit Police Chief James White stated that, “No evidence has surfaced suggesting that this crime was motivated by antisemitism,” and that “There are no other groups or anyone else at risk.”

We urge folks, in this moment of despair and confusion, to stay true to Sam's core values: bridge building and deep listening. We cannot jump to conclusions. We cannot justify further violence against anyone. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided from our neighbors. 

We can hold each other close. We can turn to our Jewish teachings and to each other for comfort. We can listen deeply. Most importantly, we can recommit to Sam’s vision for community: one that is supportive and connected, that includes all people regardless of faith or race, and in which everyone can be safe and thrive. 

Jewish tradition gives us tools to move through grief in community. Please reach out if you are looking for opportunities to gather, support one another, and continue Sam’s meaningful work.

Zichrona Livracha. May Sam’s memory be a blessing that inspires each of us to commit to the shared work of building a better world.

Allie Zeff, Executive Director, Detroit Jews for Justice
Hayley Sakwa, Chair, Detroit Jews for Justice Board of Trustees

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