Dr. Amoz Chernoff Passes

Dr. Chernoff and wife Renate


With heavy hearts, The National Capital Dahlia Society and American Dahlia Society mark the passing of our close friend and long time member, Dr. Amoz Chernoff, who passed away at his home on March 25, eight days after celebrating his 100th birthday with his family.

Dr. Amoz Chernoff came from a highly educated family.  His father, Rabbi Isaiah Chernichovsky, and mother, Celia Margolin Chernoff, immigrated to the United States from Russia.  Rabbi Chernichovsky was a Hebrew educator who taught in many locations, including Detroit and other cities in the northeast, and started several Hebrew schools during his career.  Amoz was fluent in Hebrew and knew from the phrasing when reading Torah when a reader did not understand the words he was chanting.  Amoz enjoyed chanting Torah and Haftorah, something he did frequently at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, MD and even very recently at their retirement home in Riderwood (Silver Spring, MD).  Amoz most recently chanted the Torah reading on Thursday, March 16, at a special service for the family in their apartment (two days before his 100th birthday). 

Amoz was an undergraduate at Yale University and attended Yale Medical School (M.D. 1947). Dr. Chernoff was Professor of Research and Medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville beginning in 1958 and became Director of the UT Memorial Research Center in Knoxville in 1964.  In 1976, he took a sabbatical year away from UT and served as medical director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  In 1977, he became Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, but NIH quickly recruited him to head the Blood Division of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  While at NIH, Dr. Chernoff was one of the first scientists to notice hemophiliacs becoming infected with AIDS.  He directed the research into determining the role of blood donations in transmitting AIDS, and then into developing ways to make donated blood safe again.  He retired from NHLBI in 1989 and was almost immediately recruited by the American Association of Blood Banks, where he served for two years as Associate Executive Director for Scientific Affairs.  He then served as a fact witness in transfusion related AIDS trials until the mid 1990’s.  Several of Dr. Chernoff’s nearly one hundred scientific medical research papers are still considered among the most significant in the field of blood chemistry and diseases.

One cannot speak of Amoz Chernoff without mentioning his wife Renate, his partner in every aspect of life during their 70 years of marriage.  Renate Fischer came from a brilliant family in Germany.  Her father was a psychiatrist, and her mother was a vocal musician. They escaped from Germany in 1938 and were able to enter Canada through Montreal.   Renate is a highly acclaimed artist who has worked in many media, although she is best known for her woven wire art.  Her works have a prominent place in numerous museums, synagogues, and private collections around the world.  Perhaps her best known work is a series of woven wire tallitot (prayer shawls) representing various phases of the Holocaust.  This stunning work is now in the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Survivors in addition to Renate include their children: Professor David Chernoff (Professor Julie Galambush); Susan (Bruce) Huvard; Dr. Judith Chernoff (Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein); and grandchildren Dr. Michael Huvard (Dr. Christine Wang) and Rachel Huvard; and Daniel Bernstein (Dr. Rebecca Jacobowitz) and Matthew Bernstein.

Renate approached me around the time that Amoz was retiring, concerned that he would need a new hobby (passion) during his retirement years.  Renate suggested that we interest him in growing dahlias.  Amoz joined the National Capital Dahlia Society, quickly became an officer, and served as President of NCDS in 1997-98, when our society was preparing to host the National Show of the American Dahlia Society (in 2000).  Amoz loved the open centered types of dahlias, and the prize for the best open centered dahlia in show at the ADS National Show in 2022 (which NCDS again hosted) was awarded in honor of Amoz and Renate.  Even after selling their home in Potomac and retiring to Riderwood in Silver Spring, Amoz acquired a garden plot and continued to grow his beloved dahlias until last year.   One summer, when he was well into his 90s, he had a three bloom (fully double) entry on the Court of Honor at our August show (Hapet Blue Eyes) — an amazing accomplishment for anyone growing only around a dozen plants.  Hannah and I had wonderful times attending ADS National Shows with Amoz and Renate, especially twice in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She and her family were members of a synagogue in Halifax, and it was very moving to visit the immigration museum with Amoz and Renate in Halifax, where Renate pointed out exhibits that reflected her family’s experiences.

We have been blessed to have Amoz and Renate Chernoff as our adopted cousins and very close friends.  Dahlias have been an important part of their lives for approximately 30 years — and their accomplishments in their professions will be part of their legacy for many years to come.  Renate especially loves orange dahlias, and Amoz generally preferred the open centered dahlia types, especially orchid and orchette dahlias.   


Submitted by Alan Fisher