Remembering Eric Samson z”l

It was with great sadness that the United Jewish Campaign learnt of the passing of Eric Samson z”l, a devoted husband to Sheila, a loving father to his children Jeffrey and Elana Samson, Dorothy and Leonard Sank, and Franki and Steven Cohen and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

As the Talmud says: (Moed Katan) “Weep for the mourners, not for what is lost. He found him rest, Tis we are left distressed” and indeed we have been left distressed.

To the Jewish community Eric was irreplaceable. He was a source of wisdom and understanding, a modest and visionary leader. Although the Pirkei Avot (1:2) teaches us that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, avodah, and gemilut hasadim, in Cape Town, we had the benefit of an additional pillar, Eric Samson z”l, on whom we could rely whenever assistance was required to advance those three pillars.

When it came to the study of Torah and Jewish education, or to the support of the services in synagogues and temples, or to fund a wide range of acts of loving-kindness both in the Jewish and the non-Jewish community, Eric was always there. Projects in South Africa like the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, in America like the Cleveland Clinic or in Israel like the Independence Hall, the Samson Assuta Hospital and numerous other projects, Eric was the go-to person. Eric, with the full support of his devoted wife Sheila, was always there. Eric was a true mensch in every way and his impact on Jewish life in our city was immense.

Another one of the Pirkei Avot (1:17) states that it is not what one says but what one does that makes all the difference in the world, and it was what Eric did that made all the difference and the wellbeing of the Cape Town Jewish Community often depended on him. No one gave tzedakah so willingly and on the scale and generosity that Eric and Sheila did. Their philanthropy changed lives and enhanced the sustainability of so many of our communal organisations.

If there was a need to support Torah learning and living, shuls and yeshivot, Eric was willing. If the Cape Jewish Seniors Association needed transport for its members or the CSO needed to equip a medical response car, Eric would provide it for them with an open hand and a warm heart. It was the Eric and Sheila Samson Foundation that helped fund our Jewish day schools and youth movements, our welfare organisations, Highlands House, the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, the Jacob Gitlin Library, the Chevrah Kadisha and the cemetery. All the organisations in the Samson Centre like the CSO, the Cape Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Western Province Zionist Federation and of course the United Jewish Campaign benefitted from their funds. It was not just what Eric gave that was impressive, it was the manner in which he gave. His passing is a deep loss for us all for we have lost a giant.

May Sheila and the family be comforted amongst the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem, and may the days of their mourning be ended.

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.

The Cape Town Jewish community was shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of Eric Samson.

Tributes and messages of condolence began pouring in online after news of the passing of the steel magnate and philanthropist in Newport, California on 19 January.

Below are excerpts from a few social media posts that spoke to his generosity and vision:

“…The magnitude of his achievements was surpassed only by the greatness of his heart” SA Jewish Board of Deputies
“…We owe much of our communal continuity to him, and our sustainability will be his legacy.” SA Zionist Federation
“…He didn’t only support Jewish organisations. His generosity extended to the wider South African society where he was able to help the less fortunate and previously marginalised people of South Africa. Eric was a true mensch.” United Herzlia Schools

“…it is now up to us, whose lives were so beneficially touched by Eric, to live up to the standards he set and build on the strong foundations he so energetically laid. It is in following his example that we shall best be able to pay tribute to the memory of a great human being.” Jewish Community Services

Days later, messages of condolence are still pouring in on social media as testimony to the many lives he profoundly changed for the better.

Eric is survived by his wife Sheila, children Dorothy and Leonard, Franki and Steven, and Jeffrey and Elana and 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Published in the print edition of the February 2021 issue. Download the February 2021 issue PDF here.

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