Moreland Hills resident James A. “Jim” Samuels, senior vice president at Guggenheim Commercial Real Estate and a highly-active member of the Cleveland Jewish community, died July 30. He was 68.
Samuels, a longtime member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, was described by his sister, Arlene West of Hartford City, Ind., as “one of a kind, a friend to everybody.”
“He had a lot of friends, but everyone thought of him as their best friend,” West said. “He was my brother. When you talk about family, he was every sense of family. Always there for us, no matter what. We live in Indiana now, but we used to live in Illinois. He was always there for me, always there for me and my kids and especially his great-nephew, who he adored.”
Rabbi Joshua Caruso of Fairmount Temple, who spoke at Samuels’ services, said he met Samuels more than 17 years ago when Caruso came to Fairmount Temple. He said Samuels got involved in the social justice work Caruso was doing with the temple and started a Wednesday morning Torah group. He described Samuels as “a gem of a person.”
“He was incredibly kind, a connector, he know just about everyone in town,” Caruso said. “He was a lawyer by trade, but his vocation became commercial real estate work. He was involved in a lot of civic work … he had an enormous amount of involvement in the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, (where) he served as chair of community relations (committee) … he was a face and ambassador in the Jewish community.”
Both West and Caruso mentioned that Samuels was known for his ability to set up couples, including West and her husband, who were one of at least 13 couples to credit their relationship to Samuels.
“Probably anything you’ve heard about him is true,” said West. “His family meant the world to him and from what I heard at shiva ... he talked about us all the time and he had an extended family (in Cleveland).”
Samuels began serving on the board of trustees for the Federation and the community relations committee when it was known as the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, leaving its board in 2004 and continuing to work with the committee until his death. In addition to other roles with the Federation and in the Cleveland community, Samuels was involved as a member of Leadership Cleveland, a member of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, a member of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the Cleveland Jewish National Fund’s board of trustees, as member and later vice chair of the board of trustees for the Jewish Family Service Association, an executive member for the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, a member of the board of trustees for Playhouse Square Foundation, a member of the board at Fairmount Temple and was an active member of the board of trustees for Menorah Park.
Beth Silver, director of public relations and marketing at Menorah Park, provided the following statement on Samuels’ passing:
“Jim was an enthusiastic supporter of Menorah Park and the people we serve,” Silver said. “As a board member and life trustee for the last 20 years, we relied on Jim for good counsel and to encourage so many others to get involved in our work. He was truly committed to his various roles dedicated to our mission and determined to make a positive impact. We will often picture Jim in his apron, spatula in hand, behind a hot grill, making sure residents and guests were enjoying that first barbecue every summer. It is known throughout the community that Jim never met a stranger; everybody became his good friend. Our friend Jim will forever be in our hearts and memories.”
Caruso said Samuels was “more than a mensch.”
“A lot of people use the word ‘mensch’ pretty loosely, but he was so much more than a mensch, he cared about you as a human being and what you cared about was also important to him,” Caruso said. “He wanted to be an advocate … he was the resource, he was the guy that was going to point you to talk to this person, organization. He loved being that central clearinghouse kind of person to connect you to someone else.”
Samuels is survived by his longtime companion, Ofelia Bernstein; his sister, Arlene (Steven) West; his niece, Allison (Max) Avner; nephew Eric West; great-nephew Hank Avner and many friends. Services were held Aug. 2. Internment was at Mount Olive Cemetery.