We mourn the passing of our friend and former leader, Robert M. Schrayer, National Chairman of the American Friends organization from 2006-2007, in Highland Park, IL, on February 21, 2008.
Bob was, above all, a humanitarian, dedicated to nurturing community and preserving and enriching our heritage. His steadfast commitment to the Jewish people was exceptional, and he expressed it in dedicated service to many organizations and philanthropies, including AFTAU. Bob cared, and he made a difference in the world.
An Extraordinary Communal Leader
Robert Schrayer's family was long involved in the Jewish community, and with his wife, Barbara, he proudly continued that tradition. In the 1970s, he was in the vanguard of the movement encouraging connection between local American communities and Israel.
His communal and philanthropic leadership comprises a long list. In addition to chairing AFTAU, Bob served as president and chairman of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and led campaigns of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for all North American Jewish Federations.
He served on the board of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council and was vice president and regional chairman of the United Jewish Appeal. He was also was a member of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Israel. But family and friends say Mr. Schrayer's greatest legacy is passing along his sense of duty and obligation to his children and grandchildren.
His children — Max "Skip" Schrayer, Elizabeth Schrayer and Deborah Karmin — have taken up many of his causes, and for the birthdays of his eight grandchildren, he would give them "charity checks" left blank for them to address to their chosen charity, from developmentally disabled children to injured Israeli soldiers.
A Bar Mitzvah at 75
Bob reached a special milestone last year. As reported in the Chicago Tribune:
"For more than a year, Robert M. Schrayer studied in secret, practicing Hebrew until, on the eve of his 75th birthday, he gathered with his family and rabbi and read to them from the Torah.
"Though he had served as one of the most prominent leaders in the Jewish community for decades — holding posts on boards and committees across the region, country and world — Mr. Schrayer had never officially become a Bar Mitzvah, a responsibility traditionally assumed at age 13.
"'He was afraid he wasn't going to be able to learn Hebrew, so he didn't tell anyone,' said his son, Max. 'It's not the easiest language to learn in your 70s.'
"But Mr. Schrayer labored on, and in October 2007 passed along to his eight grandchildren the importance of tradition and the lessons contained in the ancient text."