Dean Steven Huberman

Steven Huberman
Ph.D. '79

Dr. Huberman grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He got his undergraduate degree from Temple University where he met Rabbi Robert Gordis, a Bible professor who became an important mentor. Through Rabbi Gordis's support, Dr. Huberman went on to Hebrew University to study Hebrew and the Talmud. While in Israel, he met Frieda Hershman, also from Philadelphia. In 1973 they returned to the United States and in 1974, both he and Frieda enrolled in the Hornstein Program. Dr. Huberman went on to complete his doctorate in social welfare at The Heller School. His first job after graduation was at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston as assistant director of planning. He worked in the Jewish Federations for nearly two decades. In 2006, he founded the Graduate School of Social Work at Touro College. 

Dr. Huberman is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including The Brandeis University Bernard Reisman Leadership Award, and most recently the “Top Leadership Award,” the highest social work honor in New York City, by the National Association of Social Workers-New York City Chapter. 

Hornstein Alumni Profile

Steven Huberman
on Spreading the
  Hornstein Legacy 
  of Caring and Competence

Dr. Steven Huberman and Frieda Hershman Huberman came to Brandeis University and the Hornstein Program in 1974 after having met in Israel. Both Dr. Huberman and Frieda are natives of Philadelphia, though they did not know each other while there, and both share a dedication to the Jewish community, Jewish life, education, and tikkun olam — pursuits that are evident in their life, and life’s work.

Frieda obtained her MA from Hornstein in 1976. Dr. Huberman continued to pursue his Ph.D. at what was then the Florence Heller School.  

“In those years, the Hornstein doctoral program was a collaboration between Hornstein, NEJS, and the Heller School and so I had to take the whole gambit of courses at Hornstein, NEJS, and the doctoral program scheme, nonprofit management, and organizational behavior, at the Heller School,” recalls Dr. Huberman. “It took about four or five years.”

He completed this “Hornstein doctoral program” and got a Brandeis Ph.D. Upon graduation, Dr. Huberman went on to take the position of assistant director of planning at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, where several of his superiors, including Dr. Bernard Olshansky who was CEO, were also Heller graduates.

Dr. Huberman spent the next two decades working in the Jewish Federations until 1997. In 2006, he became the Founding Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work at Touro College, the “crowning achievement,” he told The Times of Israel, of his four decades of work in the Jewish community.

"The Graduate School of Social Work at Touro is permeated by the legacy given to me at the Hornstein Program, by Bernie Reisman, and other Hornstein faculty, "says Dr. Huberman. “That legacy primarily consists of what I call the two C’s: caring and competence. Our graduate school is steeped in these two wonderful attributes of family and the highest academic standards, and that's the Hornstein legacy Frieda and I came away with and which we share.”

Steve and Frieda Huberman

Frieda and Steven Huberman on their wedding anniversary.

In his own words:
 An interview with Dr. Huberman

Q: How did you and Frieda happen to come to Hornstein? 

I was one of the first people to apply to the Federation executive recruitment program to try to identify future Federation C.E.O.'s. This was in the ‘70s and they had a list of approved programs. While I was admitted to all of them, the Hornstein Program was, in my view, the stellar program and it was stellar because of what I call the two C’s: these being caring environment and characterized by competence. Based on my assessment of the faculty, it looked like Hornstein would be a caring, nurturing environment that would also be characterized by competence and training. It was based on these “two C’s” that I decided to go to Hornstein, and since Frieda said she didn't want to go to a different city without her husband (she told me this last night) it made the decision pretty straightforward. (LAUGHS) 

Q: You arrived in about 1974? 

That’s sounds right to me. 

Q: And Bernie Reisman was the director? 

Yes. Our formative years at Brandeis for both Frieda and myself were with Bernie and we became very good friends. I actually won the Bernie Reisman Award one year. 

Q: Yes, I believe that was the first time the award was offered. 

I still remember because Bernie and I used to have a minhag, a tradition, that we would meet every Friday night at the Annual Meeting of the Council of Jewish Federations General Assembly and he and I would have Shabbos dinner together. We did that for twenty years, throughout North America. It was the opportunity to catch up and that was our regular meeting for two decades for Shabbat dinner at the GA. 

One year when I was an executive director of the Federation of Los Angeles and Bernie was in town, we hosted a Hornstein alumni reunion at our home in Los Angeles. Later, Bernie had early onset Alzheimer’s and we thought it was very important to honor him while he was still lucid. I chaired a “We Love Bernie” event at the Jewish Community Centers of North America and he was as lucid and as Bernie like as ever. 

Bernie started the meeting at the JCCA's of North America by blowing a whistle, getting everybody to sit, and then we did some experiential activity together. It was a Hornstein-Bernie love fest. Frieda and I wanted to celebrate Bernie while he was still able to appreciate his many generations of Hornstein protégés together. 

What’s interesting is what I found in my own subsequent research on organizational leadership, (because in addition to being a federation executive and now dean of a graduate school of social work, I've always done research and taught). I found this whole debate in the early formation of the Hornstein Program about the validity of the MA in Jewish Education and the MA in Jewish Communal Service credential, a big debate with proponents of the MSW, which had been, at that time, the only passport to Jewish organizational success. 

What I found in that research were these scholarly debates involving Bernie in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, for example, on the validity of the credential. I think time has demonstrated, however, that there are a variety of paths one can take to be an effective leader of a communal organization or a school, be it a law degree, be it an MA in Jewish education or Jewish professional organizational leadership, or an MSW. 

In the ‘70s when Frieda and I were at Hornstein, that enlightenment didn't exist. It was a big battle. 

Now the irony is that here I went to Hornstein and I ended up establishing a brand new school of social work in New York where I'm giving a social work credential. 

Q: You went on to get your Ph D. while you were here?

Right, I didn't actually get my master's through Brandeis. Frieda got her master’s in ‘76 but there was, in those years, a program which provided doctoral level work for people that wanted to become leaders of Jewish organizations that maybe two people went through. The Hornstein doctoral program was a collaboration between NEJS and the Heller School and so I had to take the whole gambit of courses in Hornstein, the whole gambit of courses in NEJS, and the whole doctoral scheme at the Heller School. 

Frieda actually got her master's from Hornstein but I got my doctorate through the Hornstein-Heller doctoral program, which I would think about reviving if you don't still have it in place, because it was a wonderful learning experience. It was the best of both worlds. 

My first position after completing the program was as the assistant director of planning for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, so it was a natural transition, and my boss there (both of my bosses, in fact) were Heller School graduates, including the CEO, Bernie Olshansky. 

Bernie Olshansky and I became close friends. There was, always has been, a very tight relationship between the graduates of the program and the faculty of the program. To this day, Jonathan Sarna and I are in touch and Sherry Israel and I are periodically in touch. Leon Jick and I were close for many years. 

So it was very much a tip of the hat to the Bernie legacy when I established a brand new graduate school of social work in New York. 

It is an interesting school. We have a student population that is forty percent black and Hispanic, about thirty percent Jewish, and the balance is the ethnography of New York. 

Hornstein permeates throughout my graduate school here at Touro because it has these two wonderful attributes of family and the highest academic standards, and that's the Hornstein legacy Frieda and I came away with and which we share. 

I’ve never actually articulated this before but what I have here at Touro is the Hornstein version of an MSW, a program that combines warm, family support and ongoing lifetime contact with high academic standards. In my case, however, I'm not serving only the Jewish people, but I'm also serving the black and Hispanic communities of the United States, which in my view, is terribly important. 

Q: How do you encourage people to get to know one another and bond? 

We have African American and Hispanic and Jewish students all taking classes together and doing their clinical field work together. We have 125 field placements now, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to N.Y.U. Brain Trauma Center, to homeless shelters of New York. It's one thing to say 'interfaith dialogue,' but I'm a big believer in you got to do things together, side by side.

The other day a Muslim student knocked on my door. She said, “Dean Huberman, can I pray in your office?” and I said sure, and she pulls out a prayer rug and prays to Mecca; and she was able to do this in a Jewish-sponsored university. 

This semester I had a new student orientation for a hundred new graduate students and this one woman introduced herself and said she's from Alexandria, that she’s an attorney, and her best friend prayed in my office. She said she thought that if she could put a prayer rug in the Dean's office and he wears a yarmulke, Touro must be a good place to go to college. 

I’ll give you another illustration if I may. There was a national competition recently for the top medical schools, health sciences, social work, and human services in the United States, and the Touro Graduate School of Social Work, which I founded from scratch twelve years ago, was one of the 50 top schools in the United States that were selected. For this award, the federal government gave An average of $400K to each of those top 50. But in the case of our school, I was privileged. They didn't give us $400K. They gave us $2.5M. I have taken all that money and used it for scholarship aid for poor African Americans, poor Hispanics, poor Jews, and others who are disadvantaged so they can study together at Touro College, so that money isn’t a roadblock to getting a graduate degree and serving humanity. 

One other word on the uniqueness of Hornstein is about the Hornstein family. I believe that every person is in this world for a reason and it's to help others in some way. Sometimes we don’t know what God's plan is for us, but there is a plan. 

For example, I grew up in total poverty I was abandoned by my father at age three. I haven't heard from him in fifty years. The last I heard he was in a federal penitentiary. I knew, certainly, that I didn't want to follow my father’s lead. At Hornstein, I had a different experience. Many of the faculty adopted me, and Frieda too. I had important, one-on-one type relationships with them. They were people like Saul Wachs, Bernie Reisman, Leon Jick. Marshall Sklare, and Nahum Sarna. Those one-on-one relationships nurtured me. I grew up in poverty with a disabled mother and a father who was in prison. But that didn’t matter to them. I think Hornstein stands for nurturing and acceptance barring none. It doesn't matter who you are: Everyone has God's capacity to change the world. 

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while setting up the school which you overcame, and what are some that you haven’t been able to (yet) overcome? 

When Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder of Touro College, approached me to establish the graduate school twelve years ago, I initially said no. There were, and are, many outstanding schools of social work in New York and Boston. How could we compete with those, and from scratch too? 

When I was at Hornstein I also taught at the Boston University School of Social Work, and I always knew, through that experience at BU, that New York could use another place like that. Like Hornstein, I found BU to be a warm, collegial place. I eventually told Dr. Lander yes. The initial obstacle, the core challenge, was how do you create another graduate school from scratch in a city that has the oldest schools of social work in the country including at Columbia, NYU, and Hunter, and how do you find the turf. 

The way I found the turf was through this notion of the two C's that I articulated earlier of Hornstein care and competence. I think for that reason we've established a niche in New York and in fact, from the award we got from the federal government, it's been now nationally recognized and I owe it to Hornstein. 

Hornstein wasn't just an academic experience. It was a community-building experience, and the reason my graduate school has been successful at Touro is that I don't just teach classes. There’s more. We have about forty full- and part-time faculty and field instructors, and we're always asking ourselves: How do we go the extra mile for the student? If a student loses his or her food stamps, for example, or if a student has an injury, what can we do to make that student’s life a little easier? 

We have one student, Louis, who jumped on a roadside bomb to save his platoon while serving in the Middle East. Louis was seriously wounded. When he won the Purple Heart and became my student, the V.A. wasn't paying his tuition on a timely basis. I said to him, forget the tuition, we’ll work it out. You're a hero to America. The least I can do is deal with your tuition. 

Again, that was part of the legacy of Bernie and all the wonderful Hornstein faculty. It's not enough to provide academic quality. You have to have a sense of family and community as well. 

As for challenges I’ve not yet overcome, I still have two, and I’m working on them. The first is a program in Israel. I think there's room for this type of education in Israel but I've encountered a lot of roadblocks from various institutions there. I am still committed to establishing a program for African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, and others to go study in Israel for a quality period of time at a very inexpensive rate. That's an unfinished challenge of mine, and I still intend to get there. I believe that at a time when Israel is being ridiculed and demeaned by the world, I want our multi-ethnic students to see first-hand the complexity of Israel. I'd like them to be able to make their own informed decisions about Israel and not be biased by what this reporter or that reporter has said, or this U.N. panel or that panel has said. That's a challenge that Touro’s current president, Dr. Allan Kadish, and I have talked about. We haven't met that challenge yet, but I still intend to do so. 

The other challenge I haven't quite met yet is to establish an undergraduate program in social work. Particularly because of the kind of student that I attract, students who come from underprivileged backgrounds, be they African American, Jewish, or Hispanic, we can't wait until graduate school to work with these students. We have to start with them as undergraduates or in high school. 

So I am still working at that and I haven't quite got there. But with the president of the university, we are actively seeking a way to establish a new type of undergraduate education for students who are at risk and will not fit into your average, undergraduate institution, students who are smart and motivated but who need a little extra support and help. That's yet an unmet challenge but I'm convinced we'll get there. 

Can I tell you a word about my wife, Frieda? She is a Jewish educator par excellence. Frieda was honored a few years ago as the top Jewish educator in Bergen County, New Jersey, which is a huge Jewish population of a couple hundred thousand Jews. She’s now a Jewish educator at Union for Reform Judaism and briefly met current Hornstein students who were at URJ as part of their tour of Jewish nonprofits in NYC. 

Frieda also had a sensational experience in the Jewish education track in Hornstein under Saul Wachs and Danny Margolis and continues to embody that legacy of caring and competence. We're both still at it, you know, with no plans to retire. 

Each of our three kids, we think, are also committed to serving the Jewish people. Our oldest son, Daniel, is a physician and very active in his congregation in New Jersey. Our middle daughter, Shira, teaches at Ramaz School, so she's followed in Frieda's footsteps as a Jewish educator at Ramaz, which is a vibrant Jewish Day School in New York. Our youngest, Jonathan, just finished law school. He was president of the Jewish Students Association at University of Michigan Law School. I'm very proud of him because last year he started a study program for Muslims, Christians, and Jews… Sound familiar? (LAUGHS) They get together at the Law School and study sacred texts on refugees. I think all three of them, in their life and work, combine that Hornstein legacy of care and compassion and academic rigor.


This interview with Dr. Huberman was published in the Hornstein Program's Impact Newsletter, March 2018. If you would like to quote any part of this conversation, please attribute content to the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and link to this page. All rights reserved.