The Emanuel Synagogue to honor Suzanne Connell

Executive director retires after 21 years
By Stacey Dresner

A Cincinnati Reds pennant hangs on the wall of Suzanne Connell’s office at The Emanuel Synagogue, as does a sketch of Crosley Field, the home of the Reds. Connell, an avid Reds fan jokes that she grew up behind first base at the Cincinnati stadium.

“I’m a real sports nut,” said Connell, who also counts herself as a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, UConn basketball and even the Red Sox – as long as they aren’t playing the Reds.
So it is only fitting that the folks at Emanuel honor Connell with a sports themed party next month as she prepares to retire as executive director.
Connell, who has run the Emanuel for the past 21 years is having a hard time letting others plan her special day.
“I’m very excited. It’s a little strange because they won’t let me do any of the planning,” Connell laughed. “They are keeping everything a big secret, which is of course driving me crazy, because as my husband says, I am the ultimate director – I have to know everything.”
It is this dedication to the details that have made Connell such a resource for the congregation over the years.
In a recent Emanuel newsletter, Rabbi David Small thanked Suzanne for her dedication and years of service to the Emanuel.
“Suzanne has seen the congregation through many changes and challenges,” he said. “Through it all, Suzanne has maintained a clear perspective on the most important values and practices of The Emanuel Synagogue. In her actions, Suzanne has helped us be a true community.”

A dedicated volunteer

Born in St. Petersburg, Fla., Suzanne and her family moved to her mother’s hometown of Cincinnati when she was three years old. She attended the University of Cincinnati, majoring in speech pathology and audiology, but transferred to the University of Connecticut when she married her husband Myles, a native of Connecticut. The young couple lived in Vernon and Myles worked in the insurance field. Suzanne ended up working for Connecticut Mutual for three years until her son Jeremy was born in 1970. While home with her family, which grew to include son Matthew, she threw herself into volunteer work.
Her husband’s family were longtime members of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford and Suzanne joined the Beth Israel sisterhood, eventually sitting on the board and becoming sisterhood president in the late 1970s. She later joined the temple’s board of trustees and served as secretary of the temple.
She served as president of the New England Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and was an active member of Hadassah, serving as its financial secretary. She sat on the board of the National Council of Jewish Women and helped to originate the NCJW”s “Meals on Wheels” program. Always hands-on, she drove for Meals on Wheels for more than 20 years.
During this time, she also usually held part-time jobs. She sold Fuller Brushes and worked at the Bookworm bookstore in Bishop’s Corner for a number of years. She worked at an insurance company full time until she became associate director of the State of Israel Bonds for four years.
One day in 1989, after the position of executive director at Emanuel opened up, Suzanne was shopping at Waldbaum’s Foodmart when she ran in to Gail Weinstein, a longtime member of the Emanuel and a friend of Suzanne’s from NCJW.
“She said they are going to be looking for an executive director at the Emanuel… is that a job you think you would do?”
“The next thing I knew I got a phone call from Mark Siegel and Joan Lebowitz, [Emanuel board members],” Connell said. She was interviewed and she got the job.
“I was thrown in right away to the planning for the High Holidays and the tickets. And I guess I spent a lot of days thinking, ‘Am I going to make it or are they going to kick me out,” she laughed.
But 21 years, two senior rabbis, five ritual directors, five cantors and 10 temple presidents later … Connell became one of the longest running executive directors to head a Greater Hartford synagogue.
“I decided that after 21 years it is getting more difficult to have the inner resources to be on call 24-7, which I really am,” Connell explained. “I feel like I have done a good job – I have tried to do the best that I can, but I am not sure that I could continue to give the same level of effort that I have been giving, and I don’t want the congregation to suffer for that. So I decided that while I can still walk out of here it was a good time.”
“Obviously we are sorry to see her leave, but she has accomplished a great deal,” said Alan Parker, current president of The Emanuel. “Suzanne has the uncanny ability of essentially knowing just about every one of our members, which is unusual in this day and age. And she has dealt with so many of them through happy times and sad times. She has been the rock of our congregation. I know that my predecessors have relied on Suzanne to help us lead in a lay leadership capacity and share her experience and wisdom so that we could do the best job that we possibly could.”
When Connell leaves the Emanuel, she will have more time to spend with her family – including Myles, who has already retired but now acts as “nanny to their grandson Phineas. Suzanne won’t retire completely – she intends to work part-time for her son and daughter-in-law, Matthew and Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo – the parents of Phineas – in their healthcare office, making use of her many organizational skills. Connell’s other son Jeremy lives in Florida with his wife, Tracy, and their three children.
And Connell plans to continue to attend the Emanuel.
“I am not leaving the community,” she said. “I will still be a part of the Emanuel community – they are my friends and they are my family.”

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