Wurzweiler’s Susan Bendor to Retire in January After Five Decades Dedicated to Social Work
Over half a century after she began her career as a social worker, Dr. Susan Bendor will retire in January, capping off 26 years at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work and a remarkable 52 years in the field.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Bendor survived the Holocaust as a young child by hiding in a cellar for nine months. By the time she was 21, she had lived in six countries—Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, Israel and Germany—and by 25, she had earned her master’s degree. Her interest in social work can be traced back to her family’s early years in Canada.
“Thanks to a wonderful hospital social worker who helped our immigrant family through a very rough crisis and lightened the burden on our young shoulders, giving all of us a sense of hope, I realized how important and satisfying it must be to make such a difference in the lives of families coping with a variety of challenges beyond their control,” said Bendor. “I decided to follow in his footsteps. It was a privilege to enter a profession that is committed to social justice and to treating everyone with dignity, as were the individuals who saved our lives during World War II and continue to inspire me even today.”
Bendor has served in numerous professional capacities in her career. From being a foster care worker at the Jewish Child Care Association, a consultant to the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity, a Head Start consultant, a psychiatric social worker in various hospitals and health settings, director of social work at Molloy College and associate director of the Department of Social Services at Montefiore Medical Center, she has held a wide range of responsibilities and experienced multiple facets of the social work field before joining YU in the 1980s.
Looking back, what she treasures most is the work she has done with underserved populations, including the establishment of an emergency housing service for runaway youth, founding a group home for homeless young men and helping to develop supportive housing units for mentally ill adults.
“I have always been interested in helping patients and clients whom other professionals have given up on,” said Bendor.
A highlight of Bendor’s professional career was when she received the Nassau Division Social Worker of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers in 1975, after being nominated by the staff that she supervised.
“The staff’s choice of words in their nomination captured a key part of my philosophy of social work and still makes me proud all these years later,” she said. “They said that I was instrumental in the development of a staff that incorporated concepts of social work as a creative profession which is capable not only of treating pathology, but also of developing new resources and a more effective delivery of services.”
That philosophy was a crucial motivating factor in Bendor’s subsequent decision to join Wurzweiler.
“I had begun to see too many social workers who were only interested in doing psychotherapy and I thought it was time for me to stimulate another generation of young students to appreciate the leadership positions social workers can take on if they have a broader vision of the profession,” she said. “I chose YU because it was one of the few schools that taught all of the major methods in social work, casework, group work and community work which I thought all students should become familiar with.”
Bendor held several positions at Wurzweiler, starting out as the director of field instruction, where she enjoyed the challenge of helping students expand their areas of interest and go beyond their comfort zones by working with different populations. In 1995, at the urging of then Dean Sheldon Gelman and Dr. Norman Linzer, Bendor assumed a full-time teaching position, where she continued for the next 19 years, enlightening hundreds of students who attended her classes.
“My philosophy of teaching is best conveyed in a quotation frequently attributed to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats who wrote: ‘Education on is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,’” she said. “In whatever course I teach, I love to light the fire for the quest for good practice, compassion, a passion for justice and for putting on a new lens to examine the myths and stereotypes both students and faculty acquire over a lifetime.”
That fiery passion has made a lasting impression on her students and colleagues alike at Wurzweiler.
“I have known Susan Bendor for almost my entire professional career,” said Dr. Carmen Ortiz Hendricks, Dorothy and David Schachne Dean of Wurzweiler. “I admired her from afar as a director of field work, a teacher, a leader in the social work profession and as a passionate advocate for all people especially the most vulnerable members of our society. Dr. Bendor is the conscience of Wurzweiler, frequently reminding us to attend rallies, write letters to our elected officials and to vote each year. Her classes are always full and countless numbers of students have been inspired by her dedication, determination and active involvement in many causes to follow in her footsteps.”
Bendor found that teaching the Coping With Loss course at Wurzweiler for several years was particularly rewarding. “I truly relished the opportunity to meet and work with diverse, enthusiastic and perceptive students who exhibited much creativity and commitment to their chosen profession,” she said.
She also enjoyed the challenge of developing and teaching a new class called Leadership in Social Work Practice with the collaboration of a colleague from another discipline. The course has since become a popular elective whose enrollment has risen steadily over the years. In addition, she felt privileged to be able to help several doctoral students successfully complete their proposals and dissertations, and enjoyed collaborating with Wurzweiler colleagues in her role as the chair or member of several faculty committees.
Upon her retirement, Bendor looks forward to keeping to a more relaxed schedule at her home on Long Island and not having to endure a lengthy daily commute to work, which took a toll on her in recent years.
“As much as I love teaching, I feel that it’s a good time to close this chapter of my life,” she said.
Although she is already fluent in several languages, Bendor aspires to learn Spanish as well. Other post-retirement plans include writing a book with two former students, volunteering at the New Immigrant Center in Manhattan and spending more time with her family, especially her grandchildren.