You Should Know…Susan Becker

Susan Becker is a white woman with long, dark hair wearing a red blouse and jeans standing in front of a stone wall.
Susan Becker | Courtesy of Susan Becker

While Susan Becker was in college at Penn State, she worked as a Hebrew school teacher and b’nai mitzvah tutor, teaching the next generation of Jewish youth. Years after graduating, she worked with Jewish college students at Hillel at Temple University, first as an engagement associate before becoming the Hillel’s associate director. 

For as long as Becker has been engaged in Jewish life, as she has come of age, so, too, have the Hebrew school kids, teenagers and college students she’s served.

“I totally feel like I’ve grown up with the people that I’ve been working with, which has been really special,” she said.

Becker is the director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s NextGen, an affinity group for Philadelphia Jews ages 22-45 interested in philanthropy and the development of leadership skills. As a 32-year-old Jewish professional living near Washington Square, Becker once again mirrors the demographic she stewards through their Jewish life.

“I was excited to work with the next generation of leaders in Philadelphia. … This role allowed me to have the Jewish community aspect that I love, but also learn a new skill and challenge myself in a new way,” she said.

Since taking up the mantle of NextGen in August, Becker has worked to expand NextGen’s programming to attract young Jewish leaders to the group. NextGen hosts social gatherings and service opportunities for millennial Jews. 

On April 23, NextGen will partner with Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, Makom Community, Tribe 12 and Center City Kehillah for a clean-up of Albert M. Greenfield School as part of the Jewish Federation’s Israel 75 Community Mitzvah Day. In the past, the affinity group has organized trips with Honeymoon Israel, participated in cemetery clean-ups and held wine and whiskey nights for members of the Ben Gurion Society, young donors to the Jewish Federation.

Becker realized she wanted to work with young Jews when she went on Birthright with Penn State Hillel, a confirmation of her love of her religion and community.

“I got the idea for the first time that I was passionate enough about Judaism and Jewish life that I wanted to pass it on to others,” she said.

A self-proclaimed Hebrew school nerd, Becker has always gotten fulfillment from Jewish education.

“Traditional Hebrew schools didn’t work on, like, I don’t know, 75% of Jews,” Becker said. “I think I’m one of the people it totally worked on. I loved it.”

Becker recalls her classmates’ distaste for Hebrew school. While she lied about her love of it to fit in, she secretly looked forward to it weekly. She credits her personal statement on her love of religious school as one of the reasons she was accepted into her master’s program in Jewish education at Gratz College in 2015.

On the other side of the desk as a b’nai mitzvah tutor, Becker felt similar gratifications: Over a year, she would see students who struggled to learn prayers and their parsha master reading Hebrew and leyning Torah.

“I had one particular moment where a student said to his mom, ‘I want to invite Susan to my bar mitzvah because if it wasn’t for Susan, I wouldn’t be having a bar mitzvah,’” Becker recalled. 

During her six years at Temple’s Hillel, Becker saw students similarly transform from “scared freshman” to graduates with good job prospects and developed interests.

Though Becker found her career and passion in conventional means of Jewish community-building, such as religious school and Hillel, she recognizes that it’s not for everyone. That’s one of the purposes of NextGen: Young Jews may not be going to synagogue, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be Jewish.

In NextGen, Jewish leaders have diverse interests, projects and charities in which they’re interested.

“They want to get involved; they want to volunteer; they want to take on a leadership role, a board position. … So there’s kind of something for everyone.”

Becker knows that connecting with a Jewish identity can look different for everyone. It can be going to a yoga class with Jewish friends or volunteering with NextGen.

“Whatever you connect to is what you should be aiming for,” she said. “And you should find something that works for you.”

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