November 16, 2018

New Israel Fund Honors Rabbi Susan Laemmle

Last week, Rabbi Richard Levy, executive director of the Los Angeles Hillel Council, introduced to the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Pittsburgh a new Reform movement manifesto. And according to Rabbi Susan Laemmle, that’s not his only contribution to Reform. For without Rabbi Levy — her mentor and former superior — there may never have been a Rabbi Laemmle.

But it is the former English teacher who is now being recognized for her community devotion. On Sunday, June 6, New Israel Fund (NIF) will honor Laemmle during its seventh Tzedakah Dinner at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

For the past three years, Laemmle has been dean of religious life at USC, before which the Reform rabbi served four years as the university’s Hillel director. If Laemmle’s name sounds familiar, it may be because her father, the late Kurt Laemmle, and her uncle Max, founded the Laemmle Theatres chain, years after creating and selling what is now Universal Studios. While the home of her youth was always a source of cultural and Zionist pride, Laemmle did not become observant until her 20s.

Laemmle’s history with NIF goes back to 1987, when her recommendation helped lead to the hiring of the nonprofit organization’s first Los Angeles director. NIF, through its subsidiary Shatil (“seedling” in Hebrew), provides funding and training for hundreds of organizations that address Israeli social issues, including National Council for the Child; Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development; Interns for Peace; and outreach and support groups throughout Israel.

While studying at the rabbinate in New York, Laemmle became acquainted and impressed with NIF’s presentations.

“The programs were not pat…they looked at issues honestly. I don’t like hype, and they didn’t look at Israel like it was some sort of [infallible] icon,” says Laemmle.

Says David Moses, NIF’s Los Angeles Regional Director, of Laemmle: “She has been a vocal advocate [and has helped] raise the profile of NIF and the community…. She continues to believe strongly in the mission of the fund and the work that we do…building bridges between communities.”

Laemmle is very candid about her early 1990s failed attempt to make <I>aliyah<$>. Although she ultimately could not carve out a life in Israel for herself, that doesn’t mean that she will ever give up investing in the Jewish state’s future.

Says Laemmle, “I do what I can from where I am.”

For more information on New Israel Fund, contact the Los Angeles office at (310) 282-0300.