Detroit Synagogue President Stabbed to Death on Shabbat

Samantha Woll, 40, was the Board President of the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue.
October 21, 2023
Samantha Woll (Photo from Facebook)

Samantha Woll, a 40-year-old Board President of a synagogue in Detroit, Michigan, was found dead this morning outside of her home.

Detroit Police say that Woll was found on the 1300 Block of Joliet Place with multiple stab wounds and declared dead at the scene. Authorities report that there was a trail of blood from her body to her home. Police have not yet named any suspects, nor have they said this was being investigated as a hate crime or religiously-motivated. Still, Woll’s murder comes at a time when antisemitic attacks are at unprecedented levels in the U.S. This comes only 14 days after the October 7th terrorist attacks on Israel.

As of 5 p.m. PST, there has been no information released about whether she was walking home from the synagogue or walking to the synagogue, and when or where she was last seen.

The Detroit Jewish Federation wrote in a statement that Gary Sikorski, the Director of Jewish Community Security, “is in touch with law enforcement and reports that there are no known threats to the community at this time. No evidence has been shared to indicate this was a targeted act motivated by antisemitism.”

Woll lived about 1.5 miles northeast of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS) where she had served as Board President since 2022. IADS has been serving Detroit’s Jewish communnity for over 100 years and reopened earlier this year after a major renovation.

She appears (at 01:56) in this video promoting the renovation.

“As Board President, I’m most proud of how our community really came together and really worked to champion this exciting project, really celebrated years and many generations of connection and families to the city of Detroit, and having this vision, and believing in the vision of the future,” Woll said in the video.

The video was posted to YouTube just 16 days ago on October 5, 2023.

“We are shocked and saddened to learn of the unexpected death of Samantha Woll, our Board President,” the IADS said in a statement. “At this point we do not have more information, but will share more when it becomes available. May her memory be a blessing.”

Woll was involved in both politics and Jewish life. She worked as a political director on the successful 2022 reelection campaign of Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“I am shocked, saddened and horrified to learn of Sam’s brutal murder,” Attorney General Nessel — like Woll, a Jewish Michigan-native — wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Sam was as kind a person as I’ve ever known. She was driven by her sincere love of her community, state and country. Sam truly used her faith and activism to create a better place for everyone.”

Woll also worked for U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) as Deputy District Director from 2019-2021.

“I and all of Team Slotkin is heartbroken at this news,” Slotkin wrote on X. “Sam worked for me from nearly the moment I became a Congresswoman, helping us set up the office & helping to lead it for my full first term. She did for our team as Deputy District Director what came so naturally to her: helping others & serving constituents. Separately, in politics & in the Jewish community, she dedicated her short life to building understanding across faiths, bringing light in the face of darkness. My heart aches that we have lost someone so dedicated to serving others in such a senseless act. I’ll miss her relentless desire to serve & her bright smile seemingly everywhere across the Detroit area. Team Slotkin shares in the deep grief of her family & her greater community.”

The Muslim-Interfaith Forum of Detroit, which was co-founded by Woll, shared condolences to its Facebook page:  “Sam was one of the dear founders of this forum. She was such a sweet, cheerful, thoughtful soul. May her memory be a blessing,” the Forum wrote. The forum’s mission is to be “a fresh take on interfaith relations; a grassroots initiative of young adults working towards change.” There are an estimated 70,000 Jews in the Detroit metro area. The nearby city of Dearborn, Michigan, with a population of approximately 110,000 people, claims to have the “largest American Muslim population per capita.”

A longtime friend and colleague of Woll’s, Eric Feldman, spoke to the Journal about how they met while members of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) in Detroit in the mid-1990s.

“She was an energetic and enigmatic person,” Feldman told the Journal. “When I met her in high school, you could tell she was going to be an up and coming leader in BBYO. When in college [at the University of Michigan], you could tell that she was going to be a leader on campus. And we both became adults, we knew she was going to be a leader in the community.”

Feldman, a former Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), posted a photo with Woll to his Facebook page, taken during a visit Woll made to Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of the American Jewish Committee. “She just did everything with passion and I think that she was just a great reflection of everything about the metro community in Detroit. She was passionate and compassionate. She was close to her community and she was a bridge builder to other communities. She was a great leader of the Jewish community.” 

Feldman added, “I think it’s important right now for everyone to focus on remembering Sam and all the contributions she made to the community.”

The American Jewish Committee released a statement today on Woll’s passing, describing her as “a passionate Muslim-Jewish bridge builder and a longtime AJC lay leader who was a member of AJC’s Global ACCESS Steering Committee and co-chair of AJC’s ACCESS Detroit Young Leadership Program.”

The Detroit Federation expressed its condolences to Woll’s family:

“Samantha was a deeply committed and beloved volunteer leader at a variety of local Jewish organizations, including the JCRC/AJC and the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, in addition to serving as President of the Downtown Synagogue. Our condolences go out to her parents, Dr. Margo and Dr. Douglas Woll, her sister Monica, and her entire family. May her memory be a blessing.”

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Are We Going to Stop for Lunch?

So far, the American Jewish community has been exceptional in its support for Israel. But there is a long road ahead, and the question remains: will we continue with this support?

EXCLUSIVE: Inside Hollywood’s “Meeting of the Masters” Brunch

Guy Shalem’s Meeting of the Masters is more than just a dinner club; it’s a testament to the power of food, conversation, and community in bringing people together and creating a space where everyone, regardless of background or belief, can find common ground and friendship.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.