Honorable Menschion: Sue Weiss



Honorable Menschion: Sue Weiss

JULY 19, 2018 – Sue Weiss has always liked to volunteer and give back to her community. A former public school teacher, she was married to the late Rabbi Ken Weiss for 47 years. The couple served congregations in Los Angeles, El Paso, and San Diego before moving to Marblehead in 2007. Now a resident of Salem, Weiss volunteers at Epstein Hillel School, Temple Emanu-El, and Congregation Shirat Hayam. Her daughter Jennifer is married to Jonathan Lederman of Marblehead, and the couple has seven children: Joshua, Juliana, Jillian, Jeffrey, Jared, Joel, and Jessica. Her daughter Amy lives with her husband Scott Levingston in Needham, and they have two children, Zaccary and Olivia. Her son Daniel Weiss and his wife Michelle live in San Diego.

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Sue, tell us about your upbringing.

I was born in Oakland, Calif. My parents, Betty and Gus Levy, owned two jewelry stores. When I was 5, we moved to Alameda, an island near Oakland. I was raised in a very secular home. In Alameda, I was the only Jewish student throughout my years in public school. One of the reasons I connected to Judaism was my next-door neighbor. I called her my second mother. She invited me to Shabbat dinner every week, and she was my influence as far as Judaism. I started going to temple and Sunday school and I loved it. Who knew that I would marry a rabbi someday? And then I joined BBYO – I was always looking for connection to people, and all these years later this is still important for me to do.

Sue Weiss and her late husband Ken.

How did you meet your husband?

I met Ken at a Jewish camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains the summer before my senior year of college. He was the program director and I was the girls’ counselor. He was a rabbinical student on his way to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. After we met that summer in 1965, I finished my college degree at Cal State Northbridge in history and he went to Cincinnati. We were married in 1966. He had two more years of rabbinical school, and I went to Cincinnati, and he was ordained in 1968. While we were there, I worked as a second grade public school teacher for two years.

After ordination, Ken became a Navy chaplain. We went to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for three years. The Jewish chapel was called Aloha Chapel and he was the chaplain for the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines. I taught school there for a year, and then our daughter Jennifer was born in Honolulu.

And then Ken became a congregational rabbi?

Yes. Ken became the rabbi of Temple Sinai of Glendale in a suburb of Los Angeles. It was wonderful. We were there for eight years. I taught Sunday school, I was involved in the temple’s sisterhood, and my second child, Amy, was born at that time. Ken and I did a lot together, such as leading Jewish marriage encounter weekends. We were there from 1971 to 1979. We also were asked to visit Jewish refuseniks in Russia. We were there for three weeks. We were followed by the KGB. We brought tallisim, siddurim, and cassette music tapes and we handed them out to the Jews we visited. Many years later, in October of 2010, we returned to help the Jewish community in Minsk, Belarus.

After eight years in Glendale, we went to Israel for six months. We lived in Jerusalem in 1979 through February 1980. We went to ulpan. I didn’t have a bat mitzvah and didn’t know Hebrew. And then we came home and Ken took a job in El Paso, Texas, at Temple Mount Sinai. We stayed there for 23 years. And that’s when we had our son, Daniel.

I taught first grade religious school, and also beginner’s Hebrew. I also taught for eight years at the JCC in El Paso, in the preschool. I was very involved in temple life there, especially the sisterhood. I always used to say ‘I can’t be the president of the temple because my husband is the rabbi!’ We really had a partnership and did everything together. We led two temple tours to Israel. I was a very involved rebbetzin. To be involved in people’s lives – the highs, the lows, the joy and sorrow – it’s a blessing.

Do you like the title of rebbetzin?

Yes, I think it’s an honor, the title. I just care about people. I’m interested in different people and what interests them. I like the idea of people working together. We’re all different, and everyone has something to offer. And we can make a difference in the world – that’s my whole mantra. I also got to share everything that my husband did. I was at the temple a lot. I taught at the school, I went to services every week. I did sisterhood work there – we had congregants in our home every Friday night for Shabbat. I had an open house for the community every Rosh Hashanah for 300 people. I loved it, and I loved the connections.

Sue Weiss

You moved to the North Shore in 2007?

What brought us here was our grandchildren. In 2007, we decided to become North Shore residents. We wanted to watch our grandchildren grow up and participate in their life. We thought that it was very important to sink roots in the community. We had a connection to Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Shirat Hayam. Ken filled in at Emanu-El for Rabbi David Meyer when he was on sabbatical and we got to know the people there. We were also old family friends of Rabbi Baruch HaLevi, and his wife Ariella, at Shirat Hayam. He asked Ken if he would teach the “Nosh and Drash” at Shirat Hayam and he loved it, and people came and they loved him. He did that twice a month for seven years, until he passed away suddenly in 2014.

Ken is still a very strong influence in my life. He said life is to be lived and I know he would tell me to stay involved, stay with the community, and live your life. That’s all you can do. We were married for 47 years. He was 72. What I have learned from this is that life is finite, life is a mystery, do as many mitzvot as you can, and be filled with gratitude every day. That is what helps me balance the sadness. Life is full of sadness and joy. I have many blessings.

You spend a lot of time volunteering.

I do a lot of different things. This year I’m a “grandfriend” at Epstein Hillel. They pair a student with an adult and we become their “grandfriend.” And we go every Thursday and do a project with them for an hour.

I’m very involved with the sisterhood at Temple Emanu-El. I help with the gift shop, I mainly do cooking – I’m in the kitchen. Once a month we cook Shabbat meals for people in need – usually it’s people who are recuperating from a sickness or during a shiva. I’m also part of their Caring Community – we cook and then freeze meals so on a moment’s notice, we can bring a meal to a temple member in need. I’ve taught challah-baking classes, and every year on Rosh Hashanah eve, we make 500 honey cakes that we give to each temple family. It’s my recipe. I also sing in a musical group at the temple. Last year, at Shirat Hayam, I taught an adult Hebrew class, and we’re starting a caring community called Shir Chesed, where we will reach out to the community with meals and bereavement support.

What does Judaism mean to you?

Judaism to me is peoplehood, Israel, and doing mitzvot. There’s a saying that if you can’t find God all of the time, then just keep doing mitzvot and it will lead you to a higher plane. We have a divine spark in all of us and we have to search for it.

4 Responses

  1. Sue has always been an amazing person; our friendship has brought me so much in my life. I am honored to call her friend.

  2. Congratulations to the most wonderful woman I have ever met, since day one in El Paso Texas.
    I admire her and love her!

  3. Ken was my rabbi in the Army . He was a great inspiration to all of us enabling us to join forces with the Jewish Community of Honolulu Hawaii , He arranged great activities such as an interfaith retreat on the Island of Hawaii and frequent pot luck dinners .I still remember the massive Seder he organized bringing together service people from every part of the Pacific,He and Sue created great warmth , He introduced us to one of the worlds greatest philosophers and as a young man in our military he improved my outlook on life and enabled me to develop new friendships. I was deeply saddened by his passing. Howard J Israel

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