Remembering My Friend, Sam Woll

Sam Woll and Paul Spurgeon, a mutual friend of Sam and Jenny, at Jenny's wedding in 2017. Photo courtesy of Paul Spurgeon. 

Editor’s Note: Samantha Woll was the board president at the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue. She was found fatally stabbed on the morning of Saturday, October 21, 2023. Detroit police have said that Woll’s killing did not appear to be related to antisemitism. The criminal investigation is ongoing.

Sam. Beautiful Sam. Sam and I connected in college at the University of Michigan—a magical, chaotic time of life. We were young. We were passionate. We were in the moment. We were organizing and campaigning—connecting people in our lives from anywhere and everywhere—campus, high school, camp, BBYO, student organizations, our families, our hearts, our souls.

We were messy. We stayed up way too late, had way too much fun giggling the night away in her third-floor bedroom at the top of the stairs. Driving around Ann Arbor at all hours in her minivan because we needed Slurpees or apple pie.

Sam was allergic to dairy, nuts, and fish. Sam never used her phone on Shabbos, and often wanted to meet up after Hillel services. Finding her or waiting for her was always a production, but more than worth it to go on whatever adventure she had in store for us. And it was always an adventure.

Being in Sam’s life meant being family. It meant Passover seders in her parents’ West Bloomfield basement that would go late into the night and include the most fascinating collection of relatives, friends, and most likely a recent acquaintance or two. It meant that her sister, Monica, and her friends were my friends. It meant calls with her grandma on speaker phone. My brother, Jacob, and his friends were ubiquitous in her life, too.

Like I said, we were messy. The drama was constant. We debated. We argued. We made up. We talked and talked and talked. We laughed and laughed and laughed. We shared clothes. We looked out for each other, supporting each other through the toughest times.

Sam moved home to Detroit around the time I left for New Orleans. But rarely did a trip home go by that she didn’t host us for dinner or let us use her apartment to watch the Thanksgiving parade. She was one of the first people my now husband met in Detroit, and he loved her instantly. Once, when she was in New Orleans for a conference while I was working at Tulane Hillel, she came in and we braided challah together—while talking to her grandma on speaker phone, of course. She came down for our wedding, where she reconnected with old friends and, to no one’s surprise, made new ones. She was always completely present. Old memories celebrated. New memories made. 

Our shared years in Ann Arbor were finite, but our relationship was and is foundational to who I am and how I have grown and evolved over the past twenty years. I know without a doubt that my life has been bigger and freer because of Sam’s presence and inspiration. She supported. She encouraged. She fought to live the life she wanted. It was not easy for her, but look at what she accomplished. Look at how she changed the world

Now that Sam is gone, we are broken. We will never be the same. But we are here with each other. Friends from all parts of her life, united. Instantly connected. Family. We will love each other and we will fight for justice and we will engage, engage, engage, just as she did. Sam never backed away from the opportunity for dialogue. She never stopped hoping that our shared humanity could guide us through the most difficult conflicts and help the world become a more peaceful, just, and equitable place. We won’t stop caring, and we won’t stop loving each other and believing in humanity, even in light of this brutal tragedy. Because her life meant more than that, and we will carry her with us as we find a way to carry on. 

Samantha Heather Woll, z’l. May her memory be for a revolution.

A version of this piece also appears in Nu?Detroit.


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What a touching tribute, beautifully written.

This is a lovely tribute, and I'm so sorry for this loss. Like many people who worked in the social justice scene in Detroit, I knew Sam and thought she was great. I kept up with her over the years because she was so extraordinarily kind and open. I am so sorry for her close friends like you, and her family. Her loss is as meaningful as her life. We're all worse off without her.

I did not know Samantha but somehow, somehow her death has left me grief-stricken. I see the beauty of her soul and feel the spirit that lived in her. Thank you so much for this article, it has touched me indelibly. We are all better for people like her. May her memory be a blessing.

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How to cite this page

Nathan Simoneaux, Jenny. "Remembering My Friend, Sam Woll." 26 October 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <>.