Irwin Huberman has come a long way to reach the rabbinate.
He was born in Montreal, received his university education in Ottawa, launched a newspaper in Fort McMurray and served as a political advisor in Edmonton and Toronto, before moving to New York to attend AJR.
‘The theme of Judaism has always run through my life,’ he says. ‘Whether I was running to it, or from it.’
Irwin was raised in Montreal, and attended an Orthodox suburban synagogue. When the synagogue became unable to support a rabbi, his father Leon stepped in to lead religious services.
In 1966, when his father began to travel extensively, Irwin, at age 13 was called upon as a primary lay leader.
He attended Carleton University School of Journalism in Ottawa where he graduated with honors in 1976. It was following his graduation that Irwin decided to leave the security of eastern Canada, and seek his own personal and Jewish identity.
After working for the Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Sunday Express, Irwin accepted a reporter position with a daily newspaper in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada; a small city located about six hundred miles north of the Montana border. The community of 70,000 and its surrounding area contain oil deposits more extensive than those of Saudi Arabia.
Irwin and wife Patte were married in 1991 in what was regarded as the most northerly Jewish wedding ever celebrated in Canada.
‘A chuppah and ark were built, kosher food for 300 was flown in from 275 miles, the local Sheraton hotel kitchen was koshered, and a Torah was borrowed,’ Irwin recalls.
Irwin was honored in 1985 as business leader of the year in Fort McMurray, and later as one of Alberta’s top ten business executives. His newspaper, the Fort McMurray Express was recognized by the Suburban Newspapers of America for excellence in marketing. His history book about Fort McMurray, ‘The Place We Call Home’ was published in 2001.
In 1995, the Hubermans moved ‘south’ to Edmonton. There he became a synagogue president, lay leader and bar/bat mitzvah teacher.
In Edmonton, he launched a consulting company, offering advice on marketing, public participation and communications to the governments of Canada and Alberta, along with a series of health care authorities and native agencies.
Irwin also served as communications director for the environment ministries of both the governments of Alberta and Ontario.
In 2004, after viewing a video on ‘second-career rabbis’ at a Conservative women’s conference, wife Patte returned home and declared: ‘You are going to look at this video, and it’s going to change our lives. We are going to leave Edmonton, move to New York where you will attend rabbinical school and become a rabbi somewhere.’
Patte’s prediction was correct. Irwin began commuting weekly from Edmonton, located 3,000 miles away, to attend AJR in 2005, and then regularly from Toronto in 2006. The Hubermans moved to New York, and in mid-2006, began serving Congregation Tifereth Israel (CTI), a Conservative-affiliated congregation located in Glen Cove, Long Island.
In early 2007, Irwin became CTI’s full-time spiritual leader and has overseen the congregation’s growth from 150 to 210 families.
‘Being a rabbi for me has always been about serving people and honoring their stories,’ says Irwin. ‘I continue to be inspired by those I serve, and together we continue to build a community of care, compassion and lovingkindness.’
His Senior Project for AJR was titled: ‘Lashon Harah: Gossip and Libel in Text Messaging and the Internet.’ It focuses on the largely uncharted media of text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and email, and how clergy, educators, parents and others can play a role in influencing their use.
Irwin’s wife Patte is a Registered Nurse with a specialty in psychiatry. Daughter Jessica, a specialist in holistic health, and grandson Mason live in Toronto. Daughter Sarah is completing her doctorate in English Jewish History at Cambridge University in London. Son John, a person with autism, will celebrate his bar mitzvah on May 15.