Sue Neuman Hochberg
Chair, Board of Governors
I was born in Chicago but moved to Los Angeles when I was very young and that’s how I became an Angeleno. My father passed away shortly thereafter, but I was very fortunate that when my mother remarried four years later, she picked the perfect father for me and my siblings. We grew up in a very Reform Jewish household — Christmas tree and all — but we never doubted our Judaism. We belonged to the major Reform Jewish congregation and always attended for major holidays.
I went to Scripps College as an International Relations major — probably the only one at that time — and wanted to go into the Foreign Service. I was recruited by the CIA at the end of my senior year but unfortunately, the death of President John F. Kennedy put my appointment on hold. By the time it was reinstated, I had a wonderful job and social life in San Francisco so I turned down the appointment. I returned to Los Angeles after I married my husband, Steve Neuman, and over the next seven years we had our son, Bobby, and our daughter, Rabbi Laurie Neuman Rice ’01. Unfortunately, in late 1989, my wonderful husband died of colon cancer at the age of 49.
My first real connection to HUC was through my daughter, who was ordained as a rabbi at HUC/New York in 2001. In the summer between her junior and senior year at Northwestern University she had gotten a job in Tel Aviv through the JDC teaching English to Russian immigrant children. When she returned, she surprised me with her desire for a Bat Mitzvah, something that we had never discussed before. She returned to Evanston, IL for her senior year, got a list of all the Reform congregations on the North Shore, interviewed the rabbis and joined Temple Beth Emet with our beloved Rabbi Peter Knobel.
Two weeks before her college graduation in 1994, we held a Bat Mitzvah and she proceeded to inform me that she wanted to go to rabbinical school, rather than law school! Rabbi Eleanor Smith ’93, who led her B’nai Mitzvah class and was newly ordained by HUC only one year earlier, made a huge impression. Two years later, I watched with tears in my eyes as Laurie left for her Year-In-Israel — where she met her husband during the very first week she was there. They married after their third year of study, and today Laurie and her husband, Rabbi Philip Rice ’01, are the co-senior rabbis at Congregation Micah in Nashville, Tennessee.
Laurie’s journey towards a more active Jewish life and later ordination also started me on the path to becoming more connected with my Jewish heritage and HUC. Rabbi David Ellenson ’77 was a faculty member at the time of Laurie’s enrollment at HUC in Los Angeles and was on her admissions committee. He became HUC President in 2001, and in that same year called to ask if I would consider joining the Western Board of Advisors for HUC.
And so my own personal journey with HUC began. I became Chair of the Western Region in 2009 and automatically became a Governor. In 2015, when my term as Chair was completed, I was asked to stay on the Board and knew that was where I wanted to remain. In 2017, I was asked to put my hat in the ring for Chair of the Board of Governors and much to my surprise, I was elected to serve, beginning July 1, 2018.
Needless to say, this Chairmanship has been the challenge of a lifetime, with the sudden death of our late President Aaron Panken on May 5, 2018, the search for a new President, and then the onset of COVID, this is not what I had in mind! Am I glad that I had the opportunity to serve? Of course! I would never have met so many wonderful and dedicated people all over the world without this experience. Has everything been perfect? Of course not! But the journey has been worth it. As we move ahead into this 21st century, I cannot think of a better place to grow, learn, and serve as with the College-Institute. I am honored to have had this opportunity.