After retiring from the rabbinate in 1999, Rabbi Samuel Karff founded the Program on Health, Humanities, and the Human Spirit—the precursor to the McGovern Center. He served as Associate Director of the Center and Visiting Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McGovern Medical School. Rabbi Karff also co-created the Sacred Vocation Program and previously served as the program’s co-director and instructor.
Rabbi Karff graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and a Doctor of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College. Before joining the McGovern Center, he served for over two decades as the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, Texas’ oldest synagogue. A former president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, he also taught in the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University.
He was an influential advocate for civil rights, social justice, and equality. For three decades he worked alongside Reverend Bill Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and the Catholic Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza. Together, the three faith leaders were known as the “Three Wise Men” and “The Three Amigos.”
Rabbi Karff passed away on August 15, 2020.