A Rabbi steeped in Judaic knowledge, a devoted and patient teacher and a guiding light for Kol Chai
Born 10th March 1929 , died 2nd February 2009
I feel honoured to have been asked to write an obituary for Rabbi Rodrigues-Pereira. Sitting down and starting to do so, I also realise how much of a responsibility this is. He was so well loved and such a huge influence on such a huge number of people in Kol Chai that I realise that what I write will be subject to even greater scrutiny than usual.
Sammy was a great Rabbi and a wonderful teacher. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Torah, Talmud and midrash. He was a shy and sometimes diffident man who at the same time, when leading our community in prayer or giving us the benefit of his teaching, had huge presence and charisma. Sammy really came alive when he was leading a service with his deep resonant voice or leading the community in song, with his background of Chazanut.
Sammy was born on the 10th March 1929 as the youngest of three children. He was the son of a Rabbi, his father being a very well respected minister in the Spanish and Portuguese communities. Shortly after Sammy was born his father became the minister at the Montefiore Synagogue in Ramsgate Kent, where Sammy grew up. During the war the family moved to Manchester and Sammy attended Manchester Grammar School. A brilliant student he gained a place and later graduated from Sydney Sussex College Cambridge.
After his army national service he studied to be both a Rabbi at Jews College in London and to be a Chazan at the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation in Lauderdale Road. His first position as a Rabbi was in the Sephardi Congregation in Salisbury Rhodesia. It is a mark of the respect and admiration that Sammy engendered in the communities in which he served, that a family who knew him at that time jointed Kol Chai when Sammy joined us in 1987.
When Sammy returned to England he became a teacher of Jewish studies at King David School Manchester as well as becoming a part time minister at the Sephardi Synagogue in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.
In 1968 he married Anita, who was then a widow with three young children. The love and care that Sammy felt for Anita and his three step children and they to him, was always evident to all. Our hearts go out to them and to Sammy's sister on their huge loss.
In 1970 he became a Reform Rabbi and part of the Assembly of Rabbis of the Reform Movement. He served at a number of Reform Communities: Manchester Reform, Radlett and Bushey, Middlesex New and Hampstead. He was highly respected within the movement and amongst other Rabbis. His knowledge of Hebrew in particular was renowned and appreciated and he was tasked by the Assembly of Rabbis to proof read the 1970s new siddur as well as the 2008 version. Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield, the Head of the Reform Movement commented to me:
"He was the Movement's Encyclopaedia Judaica and the rabbis' rabbi. Any colleague could turn to him for information and he would supply it, instantly, correctly but without ever making one feel inadequate or embarrassed. That is because he was also, supremely, a mensch."
In 1987 he and Kol Chai were lucky enough to find each other. Kol Chai, which had only started in October 1986, was developing as a young possibly slightly brash community whose leaders felt few boundaries as to what a new community could achieve. I became Chairman in March 1987. At that stage we had largely taken our own services and Sammy was introduced to us and quickly volunteered to assist us.
In 1988 he formally became our Rabbi. I never liked to use the term part time Rabbi about Sammy, because he was quite clearly a Rabbi the whole of the time from the tips of his fingers to the ends of his toes. Kol Chai could, however, only afford to employ him on a part time basis.
Sammy fitted in perfectly with what both we and he needed. I do not think it is being unfair to him to say that he disliked the "business" of a synagogue and did not have a great deal of time for the nitty-gritty organisational aspects. Our lay leadership were able to do the things he preferred not to do, and he provided the spiritual heart of our community.
I had the pleasure of working with him extensively whilst I was a Chairman between 1987 and 1992 (with a short break in 1990); and indeed, in my various other roles until his retirement. We relied hugely on Sammy's learning, his ability to teach and his knowledge. He was able to guide and direct the management committee in his quiet unassuming way and it is no exaggeration to say that without that guidance, and his constant humanity, that Kol Chai would not have become the warm, friendly and caring community that it is, and has the reputation for being.
In addition to giving guidance, Sammy was an inspirational teacher. He was always encouraging and one never felt that his immense knowledge was in any way a bar to discussion and expressing ones own views. He loved individual teaching for Bar and Bat Mitzvah and his students did not simply learn from him but also grew to like and admire him. He set a standard in teaching I can only aspire to. He made a huge impression on the young people of our community. He was the same when teaching proselytes and his reputation and his teaching in such an open minded and friendly way did much to develop the inclusive nature of Kol Chai.
Unfortunately, Sammy was also dogged by ill health. He would try to struggle through this but there were periods throughout his career when his ill health interfered and he had to rest. One such episode occurred whilst he was with us and I often feel that it is a strong indication of the love and affection that the whole community had for Sammy that whilst he was not able to take our services, we simply tried to continue in his way, so that when he was able to return there had been no changes.
In 2001 Sammy became our Rabbi Emeritus. Whilst he took fewer services in the community, he continued his teaching. More recently his ill health meant that he was unable to continue even that and he and Anita felt it best to move back to Manchester to be closer to their roots and their family.
He was already missed by us all. We missed his knowledge, his deep humanity on personal and religious issues and his teaching. His passing leaves us all with a deep sense of loss. Sammy, I amongst others probably did not tell you enough during your life how admired, respected and loved you were. I hope that somehow, you were aware of this and know it now.
A tribute by Pete Martin, Former Chairman of Kol Chai