Soon after her son Eric was born and her daughter Hallie (a CJN columnist) was in kindergarten, Susan R. Hurwitz decided to try helping other parents.
Her first volunteer post was answering the Tot Line, a phone service for parents struggling with their children’s behaviors run by the Center for Families and Children under the auspices of National Council of Jewish Women.
The most important skill she learned was listening.
“I learned from that experience about myself that I loved helping other people,” she said, and when Eric went to kindergarten in 1980, Hurwitz went to graduate school at John Carroll University in University Heights, attaining a master’s degree in counseling and human services.
She worked at Jewish Vocational Services for more than eight years, becoming director of counseling.
“After that I made a commitment to make volunteering my career,” she said. While once described as an activist, “I think of myself as more of a nonprofit entrepreneur because I’ve always loved beginning something – starting something at the beginning and seeing how it can develop.”
Hurwitz, 75, helped develop the blueprint and chaired a task force for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Community Options, which aimed to help people age in place.
First, she and a professional identified “naturally occurring retirement comm-unities,” apartment buildings where “a majority of people had moved when they were in their 50s and all of a sudden (were) in their 70s and 80s.”
To address their changing needs, Community Options placed community organizers at each building. The results were tangible. Calls to 911 went down as people’s needs were being met, she said, and the program became a model across the country.
Hurwitz also served as the chair of both the Montefiore board of trustees and recently the Montefiore Foundation, where she participated in the due diligence prior to the 2020 affiliation between Montefiore and Menorah Park, which share a Beachwood campus.
In 2019, Hurwitz was named an emeritus board member of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland based on her more than 20 years of service on its board.
In addition to her work on boards in the Jewish and broader community, she has done direct service as a volunteer.
“Up until COVID, I was volunteering at Seeds of Literacy,” she said, where she helped adults prepare for the GED.
Born in Cleveland, Hurwitz’s first major influence was her grandfather, Aaron Bergson, who cared for her and whom she watched daven daily. His death, when she was 10, left her distraught.
What helped her most in grappling with that loss was a commitment she made “to study and learn about Judaism and make him proud.”
Hurwitz became bat mitzvah at Bellefaire in Shaker Heights, where her family’s congregation, Beth Shalom, was meeting at the time.
After graduating from Cleveland Heights High School in Cleveland Heights, she attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, graduating with a double major in business and clothing and textiles.
She then headed to New York City as a trainee at a department store. Through a mutual friend, she met New York native Robert Hurwitz. The two married and raised their family in Pepper Pike.
Now a grandmother, Hurwitz is thinking about the future.
“I hope that what I’ve done in my life and hopefully what I’m able to continue to do,” she said, “will leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren that will make them proud.”