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Samuel Egal Karff was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1931. He graduated from Harvard University. He served as rabbi for Houston's Beth Israel congregation from 1974 to 1999. After his retirement from Beth Israel, he founded the Texas Medical Center's Health and Human Spirit Program, the forerunner of the McGovern Medical School's Center for Humanities and Ethics. He also lectured for Rice University's Department of Religion for twenty-two years. He was a longtime advocate for civil rights, social justice, and equality, and is honored at Interfaith Ministries for Great Houston's Brigitte and Bashar Kalai's Plaza of Respect, alongside Reverend William Lawson and Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza. Karff died on August 14, 2020.