Murdered synagogue leader was an ally of Muslims ‘We refuse to be enemies’

Samantha Woll, the Detroit synagogue leader killed on Saturday, was considered a “bridge builder” between Muslims and Jewish communities, according to her relatives and local advocacy groups.

Woll, 40, board president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS) since 2022, was found stabbed to death outside her home in Detroit’s Lafayette Park neighborhood on Saturday morning, according to the Detroit Police Department and the Michigan State Police (MSP).

“Michigan State Police are on scene and working with the Detroit Police Department as they continue to investigate the tragic death of Samantha Woll,” MSP Col. James F. Grady II said in a statement.

A motive for Woll’s murder had not yet been determined at the time of publication. According to a statement from the department Saturday evening, DPD Chief James E. White cautioned against drawing conclusions and urged people to be patient as the investigation continues.

Samantha Woll kills
The head of the Detroit synagogue, 40-year-old Samantha Woll, was found stabbed to death outside her home on October 21, according to local authorities.
Courtesy of the Jewish Community Relations Council

Newsweek asked DPD and IADS for comment via email and Facebook on Saturday.

For her professional achievements, Woll was featured in the editorial “36 Under 36” from The Detroit Jewish News in 2017. The medium noted that she was “instrumental” in the founding of the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit, which promotes positive relationships between these communities.

The “36 under 36” section states that the forum co-founded by Woll has helped to build and deepen relationships that did not previously exist between young Jewish and Muslim people in the region.

“By reaching out and creating space for connection between Muslims and Jews, she exemplified the values ​​of healing the world.” The Detroit Jewish News wrote.

Newsweek I reached out to the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit via Facebook for comment.

Sam Dubin, a spokesman for the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), said Newsweek on Saturday evening that the advocacy group was “completely heartbroken” over Woll’s death and called her “an incredible leader.”

Dubin said Woll, who was a JCRC member, was a “passionate Muslim-Jewish bridge builder.”

“We mourn the loss of her family and our community,” Dubin said. “She will forever be remembered as a ray of sunshine by all who knew her.”

Woll has been leading efforts to unite the two communities for years, including a 2015 event she hosted at Wayne State University to bring together “unconventional allies,” Woll told Detroit public radio station WDET. The public event was planned by the Greater Detroit Muslim Jewish Solidarity Council and featured artwork and essays by Muslim and Jewish high school students participating in a program titled “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”

During her role as board chair of IADS, a century-old institution that is the only freestanding synagogue in downtown Detroit, Woll recently led the renovation the renovation of the historic building on Griswold Street.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan praised in a post

“A few weeks ago I shared a joyful day with Sam at the dedication of the newly renovated Downtown Synagogue,” he wrote. “It was a project that she successfully led with great pride and enthusiasm.”

In a subsequent post, the mayor added: “Sam’s loss has left a huge void in the Detroit community. The entire city joins her family and friends in mourning her tragic death.”

Woll also served as co-chair of the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS Detroit Young Leadership Program and as a board member of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan.

In addition to his active work in the Jewish community, Woll also had political connections. She previously worked for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and on the campaigns of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and state Rep. Stephanie Chang, all Democrats.

Chang said in a Facebook post that Woll was a “beautiful friend.”

“Sam Woll was an endlessly positive, brilliant, creative, supportive, beautiful friend with a big heart and a wonderful smile.” Chang said in the postand added that Woll was “passionate about social justice, Detroit, her faith and bringing people together.”