Valarie Hurwitz ‘The Heart of BT BJ,’ Retiring from Synagogue after 48 Years

Valarie Hurwitz at Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But it’s not just the anniversary that members are honoring.

It’s the retirement of the Erdenheim synagogue’s executive director, Valarie Hurwitz. The 77-year-old has worked at the Conservative shul for 48 years. She’s been a member for almost as long.

Multiple synagogue leaders, led by President Alana Dunoff, said the March 8-9 anniversary celebration will be as much a celebration of Hurwitz as BT BJ.

“She’s the heart of BT BJ,” said Rachel Fox, a synagogue member.

Here’s how she became the synagogue’s heart.


Just a few years after Temple Beth Tikvah in Erdenheim merged with B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue of Mount Airy, Hurwitz became the congregation’s first preschool teacher.

Her oldest son was 5 and going into kindergarten, so Hurwitz wanted a part-time job. She saw an ad in the local newspaper for the position at BT BJ.

“I said, ‘Perfect timing,’” she recalled.

Shortly Thereafter

“On the day I came here, it felt like home,” Hurwitz said. “We’re family here. We take care of each other.”

She knew her family would feel the same way, so they joined as members. Hurwitz had one son at the time. Then she had a second son.

“I just wanted a place where my family would feel comfortable,” she said. “There’s something about belonging to a shul that gives your family a sense of belonging.”

Valarie Hurwitz in the sanctuary at Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Her sons, Stuart, the older brother, and Ross, the younger, both had bar mitzvahs and confirmations at BT BJ.


Hurwitz became preschool director and synagogue administrator. Since the school continued to grow, she later helped launch kindergarten and camp programs.

Hurwitz would begin each staff meeting with the same question.

“Are you taking care of the children in your classroom like you would like your child to be taken care of?”

“We treat everyone like family,” she said. “Each child is an individual. We take care of their individual needs.”

Young families lived in Erdenheim, but families also traveled from other Montgomery County towns, according to Hurwitz. The preschool’s “main base” was Lafayette Hill, Plymouth Meeting and Conshohocken.

The Rest of the ‘80s to Today

The mother, teacher, director and administrator was already pretty much running the place, so then she got the title, too. Hurwitz became executive director of BT BJ, a role that continues to this day.

“One of the office personnel left. I knew bookkeeping. They asked, ‘Could you give us a few hours in the office?’” Hurwitz recalled. “And one thing led to another.”

As executive director, Hurwitz is responsible for “synagogue-wide programming, the office and day-to-day business operations,” according to When she was first offered the role, Hurwitz embraced it.

“I just loved it,” she said. “I loved the synagogue. The people. That’s what I love about it.”

Valarie Hurwitz looks out at the preschool playgrounds built during her time at BT BJ. (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

BT BJ had around 250 households before the pandemic. While it lost members during COVID, it maintained a congregation of more than 200 households. In 2023, the current number, 210, did not go down for the first time since before COVID.

Twenty-five households joined that year. Most of them were young families, according to Hurwitz.

“It’s just a feeling,” she said. “If you’re looking for a big, beautiful building, it’s not BT BJ. What we have to offer is inside the walls.”


Hurwitz is retiring. She’s not exactly sure when, as the synagogue has only just started a search for her replacement. But she is retiring.

“I probably have a few good years left in me,” she said. “However, I have to look to the future of the shul.”

BT BJ has a new group of leaders in Rabbi Roni Handler, Cantor Benjamin Greenfield and Religious School and Kesher Teens Educational Director Rabbi Kami Knapp Schechter.

“They need a partner who will grow with them,” Hurwitz said.

But Hurwitz will remain a member.

“I’m not leaving my home,” she said.


The 77-year-old is not sure what she wants to do in retirement.

“It will be a process,” she said.

She has three granddaughters and one grandson. The grandson has Down syndrome, and Hurwitz is already active in the Trisomy 21 Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“I hope to volunteer a little bit more of my time down there,” she said.

Her hobbies are what she describes as “comfortable.”

“Gardening, taking walks,” she said.

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