Rabbi Samuel Cooper died in Florida on January 2, 2006, at age 97. The Toronto native visited Charleston in 1932 to lead the High Holiday services for the B’nai Jacob Synagogue. The congregation was so impressed that a delegation followed him on his return home, caught up with him in Baltimore, and hired him as full-time rabbi. Cooper returned to Charleston to begin nearly a half-century in the B’nai Jacob pulpit.
He was the synagogue’s first rabbi born in North America. He guided the congregation from old-style Orthodox Judaism to a more modern Orthodox perspective.
One of his biggest achievements was relocating the congregation from a small downtown building into a newly constructed synagogue near the state capitol in 1949.
Cooper played an active role in Charleston civic life, serving on various boards and commissions. He was named West Virginian of the Year by the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail in 1967 and received the Human Rights Commission Award in 1971. He was also an early supporter of the state of Israel. Rabbi Samuel Cooper retired from B’Nai Jacob in 1981, ending 49 years of service.