“If I’m passionate about something, I want it to happen. I want to contribute as much as I can to make it happen.” As Howard Bearman expressed these sentiments one sunny June afternoon, his wife, Suzanne, nodded wholeheartedly in agreement as she sat next to him. When words like this are coupled with action, there’s potential to effect real and lasting change. There’s an opportunity to make a difference. Such is the stuff that perpetuates a love of mankind, a love embodied by Suzanne and Howard Bearman, the inaugural honorees of Temple Beth-El’s Lifetime of Philanthropy Award.
The Bearmans have shown unwavering support of Temple Beth-El and the Birmingham Jewish community, often leading by example. Their combined decades of devotion have yielded leadership positions in organizations like Hadassah, the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, the Temple Beth-El Foundation and Temple Beth-El, among others. If there’s a need, they’re happy to help fill it in whatever way possible.
That kind of can-do attitude is what led both Suzanne and Howard into their initial volunteer positions at TBE. Suzanne was approached to work in the Hebrew School when there was a shortage of Hebrew teachers. She said yes, and ultimately worked with the school for 20 years. Howard was approached to become the Temple Beth-El president during a time when the congregation needed somebody to step in and fill an existing leadership gap. He was reluctant at first, he said, but eventually he accepted it. “Civic responsibility is a real thing. You’ve got to do your share and contribute,” Suzanne said.
Values like this were instilled in the minds and hearts of Suzanne and Howard’s children at a young age. Now, several generations later, they are fortunate enough to see their children and grandchildren employing the same practices they modeled decades earlier, but in their own homes, with their own families. “Shabbat has always been very important in our house,” Suzanne said. The kids were required to be home for Shabbat. They could bring a guest to the house for Shabbat dinner, but it was required that the kids be there. “We’d spend the day as a family,” Suzanne said.
The importance of family and observing Shabbat permeate the present-day pandemic situation. Rather than gather together in person, the Bearman family opts for a virtual Kabbalat Shabbat gathering, which allows them to connect more frequently with the whole family. Despite this connection, though, Suzanne definitely misses being in services. “I will be excited to come back,” she said, also noting how she finds the Shabbat melodies particularly enriching. “It just gets inside you. Sometimes I hear it all week,” she said.
The Bearmans are avid supporters of education. A few years ago, while Suzanne was president of the TBE Foundation, they opened the Suzanne and Howard Bearman Adult Education Fund at the TBE Foundation. “Education forces you to interact,” Suzanne said. Opportunities to gain new insight and understand different perspectives emerge through learning. “Education leads to all these other things. Everybody was created in God’s image, so we should all treat each other the same,” Suzanne said.