Beloved Hebrew tutor Susan Loether dies at 67
News obituary'Strength, courage and determination'

Beloved Hebrew tutor Susan Loether dies at 67

“It was clear to everyone that Susan brought goodness and kindness and no small measure of fun into this life." — Rabbi Sharyn Henry

Susan Loether with her husband Richard Loether (Photo courtesy of Joe Loether)
Susan Loether with her husband Richard Loether (Photo courtesy of Joe Loether)

Susan Andrea Loether, a Hebrew teacher who tutored hundreds of Pittsburgh-area teens for their b’nei mitzvah during a 40-year career, passed away March 21 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
She was 67.

“What we all saw, what everyone saw, what was impossible not to see, was how much Susan Loether loved life,” said Rodef Shalom Rabbi Sharyn Henry, who met Loether after moving to Pittsburgh in 1991. “That love was all out there — freely expressed and out in the open — how much she adored her family, how she loved and supported her friends, that she cherished Judaism and was deeply committed to Jewish education, her students and the women of Reform Judaism.”

“It was clear to everyone that Susan brought goodness and kindness and no small measure of fun into this life,” Henry added. “She was amazing.”

Loether was born on Feb. 13, 1957, and grew up in Philadelphia before moving west to attend the University of Pittsburgh, her family said. On Aug. 30, 1981, Susan married Richard Loether, who served in the Navy in Vietnam and later worked with computers at Pitt. Three children followed: Joe in 1983, Zack in 1985 and Aaron in 1989.

Loether, who raised her family in West Deer Township and later in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, worked for years as a paralegal or estates and trusts administrator. She recently worked for Tener Van Kirk Wolf & Moore, and Eckert Seamans.

What scores of Pittsburghers remember, though, was Loether’s motherly levels of care in her Judaica work, which included tenures as a Sunday school teacher, a director of education and a youth adviser at both Temple Ohav Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation, her family said.

Loether prepared Tracey Brien for her bat mitzvah — and also Brien’s son, Cooper.

Brien moved from Bridgeville to the North Hills when she was in the third grade. The Pine-Richland High School alumna became a bat mitzvah at Ohav Shalom — with Loether’s guidance — in October 1995.

“She was kind of my home base at temple … and I wanted to raise my children in the temple that raised me,” said Brien, a LaRoche University alumna who lives in Cranberry Township and has run a photography business since 2007.

“I used to joke, when I had babies, ‘You’re going to tutor my kids someday!’ And she did!”

Cooper Brien, the oldest of Brien’s three children, became a bar mitzvah at Ohav Shalom on March 18, 2023, his mother said.

“I think that she was stern when she needed to be but also comforting when it was necessary,” Brien said of Loether. “She just made everyone feel comfortable.”

Loether prepared each of Cathy Lewis Long’s three children — Mathew, Evie and Chloe — for their b’nei mitzvah at Rodef Shalom.

“She really made them focus, but also made it very special by holding them to task in a way only Mrs. Loether could do,” said Lewis Long, a Squirrel Hill resident who also became a bat mitzvah at Rodef Shalom. “She had a huge impact on them … She was stern and loving. And she met people where they were.”

“For me, what was really important was that they take it seriously,” she added. “I wanted it to be a moment of pride and joy, but also accomplishment. And she got it.”

Joe Loether, Susan’s oldest son, remembered his parents finding their home in Allison Park. They loved it, he said, because the living room, dining room and family room all lined up —perfect for lots of tables placed end to end.

The Loethers made the most of the space. At least 25 guests were expected to attend their family feasts each Thanksgiving. Joe Loether said he loved his mother’s brisket and her matzo ball soup.

In the 1990s, the Loethers had guests start signing a Thanksgiving tablecloth, making it a kind of living document of those who dined with them.

“The thing that everyone spoke of was how she made everyone into family,” Joe Loether said.

Susan Loether battled cancer — which doctors first predicted would take her life in less than a year — courageously for nearly 20 years.

“I would say one of her hobbies the last 18 years was kicking cancer’s (expletive),” Joe Loether said.

Early in her cancer journey, a doctor told Loether she’d have to move to avoid climbing steps. In a few years, she climbed both the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu. (She loved to travel, her oldest son said, and was proud of shots of Alaskan wildlife she caught on one trip.)

“She really wanted to live,” Rabbi Henry said.

“She rode a motorcycle, traveled all over the world — she was always doing something,” Henry added. “She lived fiercely and she fought to live.”

The Loethers also understood tragedy.

During the last night of a family trip to Costa Rica in 2017, brothers Zack and Aaron Loether went into rough tides for a swim. A riptide pulled both men out to sea.

People nearby rescued Zack from the water. Aaron was found dead a few days later. He was 28.

The family processed their grief and established a memorial fund for University of Delaware students, like Aaron, who were pursuing degrees in physics. People looking to honor Loether’s memory are asked to donate to the fund.

“Aaron was her baby,” Joe Loether said. “They were close. And it devastating.”

Aaron’s widow, Annie, later moved to North Carolina and remarried.

“She was my mom’s daughter,” Joe Loether said. “And she’s still my sister.”

During Susan Loether’s funeral service, several people spoke about the importance of family and faith.

There was a reading of the Alden Solovy poem “An Amazing Life,” which includes the lines, “This is an amazing life/ A gift of moments/ Glorious and holy / Rich in laughter, rich with tears.”

“What I like about the poem is that it acknowledges that life, all of it — the glorious and the devastating and everything in between — is worth fighting for, that there is beauty and holiness in everything,” Henry said in her eulogy.

“Susan lived this truth,” she said.

Henry also said she was touched by the hundreds of comments on Loether’s CaringBridge journal.

CaringBridge Inc., a nonprofit started in 1997, runs a website that allows people facing various medical conditions to communicate with their family and friends.

“Everyone’s message (on CaringBridge) included a proclamation of love,” Henry said. “In addition to strength, courage and determination, dozens of you said she was an inspiration. A few offered ‘hero.’ One used ‘warrior.’ I lost track of how many of you spoke of her positive approach to life, and her kindness, warmth and caring nature.

“It has been said that it is not how long or how far we journey in this world that ultimately determines our happiness — it is with whom we travel,” she concluded. “How blessed we are to have traveled this life alongside Susan Loether.”

A sheloshim gathering for Loether will be held Sunday, April 21 from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Levy Hall at Rodef Shalom Congregation. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

read more: