Solomon Schiff, or the “Sol” who called him by anyone who knew him, was a rabbi by training and a leader in the community by choice. He never neglected his work as a priest or as a student of the Torah.
He followed two important Jewish traditions in living his life. The first was Tickoon Olam, the duty to improve the world. I first became acquainted with Sol as a member of the Dade County Community Relations Board. We worked together for many years. He became president during an important period in Miami (1979-1980). There was a major protest after six white police officers beat and killed black insurance company Arthur McDuffy. He was chased by a motorcycle traffic violation and stopped.
To avoid a jury’s biased pool, the trials of the four officers were moved to Tampa. The trial was from Gavel to Gavel on TV. Sol and I agreed that a daily analysis of the trial would show that the judicial system was working. Under Sol’s leadership, we organized a group of criminal lawyers to conduct nightly reviews of the day’s trials.
Police officers were acquitted in May 1980, turning peaceful protests into riots. How did Sol react? He obeyed the law. As the Bible says, when God called for Abraham, he replied “Hineni” — I am here. Whenever the community needed it, it was Sol’s answer. He always replied: “I’m here.”
He oversaw and dispatched the CRB Bi-Racial Street Response Team to bring peace to the streets. I followed Sol as a chair and turned to his wisdom and leadership as a lighthouse of light.
The next opportunity to observe and work with Sol was when I attended the MCCJ Board of Directors (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews). Sol responded to the call for leadership as usual. He was over 75 years old and provided the time and effort to continue the priestly dialogue, the oldest interreligious priestly dialogue in the United States.
He made a tireless effort to recruit Muslim members. He personally recruited Imam. He created the priest Silver Medallion, which was awarded to Imam in 2017.
Whenever it was necessary to develop diversity training, Sol replied. “I’m here.” He rarely missed a controversial meeting, adding his smile, jokes, or funny stories.
When the organization in our country broke up, he helped us close the funding, branding and structural gaps.
I’m proud that Sol is a believer, a great community leader, and a friend of mine.
Don Bierman is a former chairman of MCCJ.