By Father Joseph D. Wallace
As I was working on my column on the High Holy Days for the Jewish community I heard the sad news that a man I have known since I was in eighth grade had passed away.
Sam (Israel) Schoffer and his wife, Sara, were the owners of the Lafayette Motor Inn on North Carolina Avenue in Atlantic City back in the 1970s. I began working there in eighth grade and continued working there until I was in the college seminary in the 1980s. It was a hotel that catered to religious Jews who liked to vacation at resorts that kept a kosher restaurant and hotel. It was torn down to make way for a parking lot for the casinos. It was just one of the many business ventures that the Schoffers managed over the years.
Sam Schoffer came to this country in 1949 with his wife and daughter from Vilna, Poland. He was a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and the Holocaust. When he came to this country he and Sara worked hard as poultry and egg farmers. In time he established a career as a well-respected and accomplished builder and real-estate developer. I remember well, even though they owned and operated the hotel in Atlantic City, they would pitch in with every aspect of running the hotel from the laundry room to the kitchen if needed. They knew what hard work was.
I had fallen out of touch with them until five years into my priesthood when I was assigned the position of director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the diocese and ran into Sam at the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill at some kind of program. I learned that his dear wife Sara had passed away and that they were involved in Holocaust awareness here in South Jersey. He was a generous philanthropist and supported a number of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation. One of his greatest donations was establishing the Sara and Sam Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton College.
The mission of the resource center is to commemorate the Holocaust and develop sensitivity and understanding by combating anti-Semitism, racism, hatred and oppression; to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust and pay tribute to the survivors, liberators and eyewitnesses; to focus on the study of the Holocaust by fostering academic research and by serving as a repository for Holocaust materials, including oral histories; to educate future generations by sponsoring awareness programs and exhibits, by providing workshops and seminars to train those teaching the Holocaust and by making available printed and audio-visual material to students, educators and scholars; and to promote greater awareness of the Holocaust through special activities such as symposia and lectures.
Sam’s funeral took place this past Monday at Beth El Synagogue in Margate, presided over by Rabbi Aaron Krauss. Rabbi Krauss was the rabbi of the Temple that used to be on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City near the old Lafayette. He used to visit there regularly when I was in high school. As he knew I had an interest in the seminary, we often had wonderful conversations. We have remained friends all these years. He has worked in the field of civil rights and has a gift for bringing diverse communities together in harmony. He is one of my role models in life.
The Book of Leviticus 23:26 says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves.” Our Jewish friends celebrate “Yom Kippur” — “Day of Atonement,” today. They will atone for the sins of the past year. They believe that God keeps “books” in which our names are inscribed. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day for the Jew is the last appeal, last chance to have the judgment changed, by demonstrating repentance and making amends. It is a day of prayer and fasting. Most of the day is spent in synagogue and at one point sins are confessed. The sins confessed are basically relational sins. Mistreating other people usually by speech, (offensive language, scoffing, slander, talebearing and swearing falsely.…)
When the “books” are opened for Sam Schoffer on this Yom Kippur, I’m sure all his good deeds go with him. I hope all my Jewish friends have a sweet new year and a holy Day of Atonement.
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.