Aug 13, 2009
Rabbi Solomon Schiff has been the Director of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's Community Chaplaincy Service since 1966 and the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami since 1964; he continues to serve as a Rabbi Emeritus and consultant for both.
Ordained by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein of the Mesifta Tifereth Jerusalem Rabbinical Seminary in New York, Rabbi Schiff received a B.A. in Political Science at Brooklyn College, an M.A. in Counseling at the University of Miami, and a Doctorate of Pastoral Counseling at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois.
Rabbi Schiff tells what has animated his rabbinate as follows: "In the early 1940s, my father took me to a rally at the Madison Square Garden in New York. The rally was to call attention to the atrocities against the Jews in Nazi Europe, and to demand that the United States and the world mobilize a unified effort to stop these atrocities. Over 20,000 people attended the rally, and we and thousands of others stood outside listening to the barbaric descriptions of these atrocities.
"For the first time that I can remember, I saw my father crying. I asked him, 'Papa why are you crying?' He responded, 'Shloimele, they are talking about our mischpacha.' (We later learned that practically all of his family were murdered.) 'What's going to be with our Jewish future?' he asked. I said, 'Don't worry, Papa. When I grow up I will do my part to make up for those we lost.'
"This promise is why I became a rabbi. It was the memory of those horrible years that formed my outlook on my relationship with the Jewish and general communities. I realized that only if we try to live with and work with people of different faiths, races, and ethnic origins, can we hope to prevent the horrors of the past. This principle helped me as I worked with interfaith and community groups."
Over the years, Rabbi Schiff's principles have inspired him to lead, serve on, and/or be honored by the Friends of the People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE, an African American Clergy group), the Dade County Religious Leaders Coalition, and the Clergy Dialogue Group of the National Conference for Community and Justice. He has worked with the Religious Coalition of Greater Miami and the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, He has led two interfaith missions to Israel and received a Papal Medal from Pope Benedict XVI for his outstanding service on behalf of interfaith relations. He has received a peace award from St. Thomas University, where he continues to lecture on a variety of Judaic subjects as an Adjunct Professor.
His connections to the Catholic Church allowed him to be instrumental in arranging an historic meeting between Pope John Paul II and American Jewish leaders in Miami on September 11, 1987. At the meeting, Jewish leaders asked three things of the Pope: 1) to recognize Israel; 2) to condemn anti-Semitism as a sin; 3) to apologize for the Catholic Church's failure to do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust. The Pope followed through on those requests, even using the word teshuva in his apology.
Often relating to his interfaith concerns, Rabbi Schiff has made numerous television appearances locally and nationally, including "60 Minutes", CNN, and “Nightline”, “Viewpoint” (PBS), "Man to Man", and was profiled in Time Magazine.
Rabbi Schiff's wide-ranging chaplaincy activities reflect his interfaith and interdenominational interests. In various capacities, he has led and/or founded the Hospice Advisory Council, the Advisory Council for the Florida Department of Corrections, the Florida Chaplains Association, the South Florida Chaplains Association, and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged and its Hospice, and Mount Sinai Medical Center. Rabbi Schiff serves on several Bioethics Committees at Miami area medical facilities. For decades, Rabbi Schiff has chaired two annual interfaith educational seminars: “Interface between Medicine and Religion” at Mount Sinai Medical Center, and “Ministering to the Elderly” at the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged.
Political activism and concern for Florida's citizenry have marked Rabbi Schiff's activities for years. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, President George H. Bush appointed Rabbi Schiff to serve on the “We Will Rebuild” committee, charged with helping to restore damaged areas of South Florida. The late Governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles, appointed him serve on a Task Force which examined the problems of the homeless and recommended a 1% sales tax on food and beverages in Dade County, resulting in the creation of two homeless assistance centers. Florida Governor Jeb Bush appointed him to his Faith Based Initiative Advisory Board. Rabbi Schiff has taken active leadership roles in the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, the Fair Campaign Practices Committee, the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board, and the Florida Governor’s Commission on Aging with Dignity, the Interfaith Committee for Workers Justice, the Miami Coalition for a Drug Free Community, and the the Miami Beach Disabilities Access Committee for Handicapped. He has offered invocations in the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, the Florida Legislature, and at dozens of Miami Dolphins football games.
Rabbi Schiff notes that, "of course, in addition to all these areas of activity in the general community, my main committment in terms of my promise to my father is the Jewish community. In this capacity, I served as the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Association of Miami for 42 years to foster mutual appreciation by 100 rabbis of the various streams for their various traditions and commitments. The Jewish community's greatest strength is to work together in a spirit of achdut, with each group complimenting the work of the others on behalf of the Jewish Federation, the State of Israel, the strengthening of the religious fiber and educational programs of our community, working to keep the memory and the lessons of the Holocaust alive, and in so many other areas.
"In the final analysis, if we are to achieve our goal of "Never Again," we must commit ourselves to work together as a caring community to combat our common adversaries of hatred, bigotry, intolerance, indifference and ignorance."
In the Jewish community, Rabbi Schiff has founded and/or led the Board of License of the Central Agency for Jewish Education, the Executive Committee of the national Rabbinic Cabinet of the United Jewish Communities, the Holocaust Memorial Committee Chairman, University of Florida Hillel Foundation Board, and the Executive Committee of the North American Boards of Rabbis (NABOR). He has received various awards from the State of Israel, the American Jewish Committee, AMIT Women, and State of Israel Bonds.
In light of his diverse accomplishments, the book “Rabbis, The Many Faces of Judaism” profiled him as one of one hundred leading rabbis throughout the world.
Rabbi Schiff is married to the former Shirley Miller of Chicago. They have three sons and seven grandchildren.