Meet the Honorees: Jen Kaplan and Dr. Susie Tanchel

Special Events

On May 29th, Mayyim Hayyim’s annual benefit, Making Waves, will celebrate four dear friends and community leaders for their impact at Mayyim Hayyim and beyond. 

Jen Kaplan and Dr. Susie Tanchel know the “hows” and “whys” of Mayyim Hayyim, as few people do.

Jen grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts. After getting her degree in sociology from Brandeis University, she worked in the nonprofit world, doing marketing and fundraising for organizations ranging from the American Jewish Committee to the Girl Scouts to Connecticut Public Broadcasting. In 1999, she audited a filmmaking class and found her calling. Her first film, Mixed Blessings, explored the experience of interfaith families as they raised their children.

In 2010, Mayyim Hayyim hired Jen to produce a film about a family bringing their baby to the mikveh for conversion to Judaism. Four more films followed, including Beneath the Surface about Bat Mitzvah girls and their mothers, and Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody about making Jewish life accessible for people with disabilities. Jen says, “Making those films gave me an inside view of Mayyim Hayyim, and I think what you do is astonishing. You are always on the cutting edge of what’s new and important in making Jewish life accessible to everyone. I know how hard you work to do this, but it seems effortless.”

Susie Tanchel hails from Cape Town, South Africa. “I have had a Jewish soul and spirit for as long as I can remember,” she says. It was entirely her decision to attend a Jewish day school. Eventually, she followed an older brother to Brandeis, where she earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies. She then became the inaugural dissertation fellow at the Brandeis Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education en route to receiving her Ph.D. in NEJS. At this same time, Susie was a member of the founding faculty of Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school, and later served as its Associate Head of School.

Being Jewish is at the core of Susie’s identity, but her sexual orientation meant that many aspects of Jewish life were closed to her. This was both a source of pain and an inspiration to work to open doors for LGBTQ Jews.

In 2011, she assumed her current position as Head of School at Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, becoming the first openly LGBTQ person to hold such a position. This accomplishment was recognized by Keshet with their Hachamat Lev awared in 2017. In 2018, the Covenant Foundation honored Susie’s educational vision with the Covenant Award, one of the highest awards in the field of Jewish education.

“Bringing kids and Torah together is a true joy,” says Susie. “Introducing kids to the beauty, possibility, and responsibility of Judaism is an extraordinary blessing.”

The JCDS’s seventh grade field trip to Mayyim Hayyim has been a highlight for years, and reflects Susie’s educational philosophy and vision for the Jewish community. “Interdisciplinary learning adventures help our kids make connections between science, math, technology, and sacred texts and Jewish identity. Mayyim Hayyim mirrors our commitment to being intentionally pluralistic and to building an inclusive Jewish community.”

Jen and Susie know there’s a place for them at Mayyim Hayyim. They immersed before their wedding and for them, the fact that “no one batted an eye at welcoming a lesbian couple” made all the difference. They look forward to participating in Beneath the Surface with their daughter, Jordana, when she becomes a Bat Mitzvah. Says Susie, “There is nothing more sacred than giving someone a place to belong.”

Join us for a fun and festive evening of storytelling and live music. RSVP or donate here.


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