Rabbi Samuel Cooper (November 14, 1908-January 2, 2006) was born in Toronto, Canada. He came to Charleston in 1932 to lead the High Holiday services for the B’nai Jacob Congregation. A recent graduate of Yeshiva University seminary in New York City, the young man so impressed congregation members that on his return journey home, he was followed by a delegation that caught up with him in Baltimore and offered him the permanent position of rabbi. Cooper agreed, and embarked on nearly a half-century in the B’nai Jacob pulpit.
Cooper’s achievements included overseeing B’nai Jacob’s move from a small former church building to a newly constructed synagogue and community center on Virginia Street in 1949, which remains the congregation’s home. As B’nai Jacob’s first native North American rabbi, he guided the congregation from old-style Orthodox Judaism to a more modern Orthodox (traditional) orientation. He played an active role in Charleston civic life, serving on numerous boards and commissions. In 1967, Cooper was named West Virginian of the Year by the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail, and he received a Human Rights Commission Award in 1971. He was also an active and early supporter of the state of Israel, attending the World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in 1946.
Rabbi Cooper married Lillian Bass of New York City, and the couple had three sons. He retired from B’nai Jacob in 1981, and he and his wife moved to Florida where he died.
This Article was written by Deborah R. Weiner
Last Revised on October 05, 2012
Meyer, Simon, ed. One Hundred Years: An Anthology of Charleston Jewry. Charleston: Jones Printing, 1972.
Shinedling, Abraham. West Virginia Jewry: Origins and History, 1850-1958. Philadelphia: Maurice Jacobs, 1963.