At the virtual gala of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers on October 20, Dr. Steven Huberman of Teaneck was praised for his “amazing leadership and dedication” as the founding dean of Touro College Graduate School of Social Work and the school received the chapter’s inaugural “Social Work School of the Year” award.
Dr. Claire Green-Forde, NASW-New York City’s executive director, praised Dr. Huberman and his administration for “elevating the profession through the innovative ways that students are educated.”
Caryn Loffman of Teaneck can attest to that.
She entered GSSW when she was 45, rather suddenly, following a conversation with Dr. Huberman over kiddush at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck in August 2009.
“I wouldn’t have gone to social work school if I hadn’t been standing at kiddush talking to him about the interesting work I was doing in an addiction-prevention program with families in high-conflict divorce situations,” Ms. Loffman said.
“He said, ‘So you’re a social worker,’ and I said, ‘No, my roots are in nonprofit.’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re going to be a social worker.’ And that’s when I learned he was the dean at Touro,” she recalled.
“He said, ‘Come and see me Monday morning so you can enroll and start in September.’ That pivotal exchange was the foundation of a trajectory in my life that has brought me to where I am today,” Ms. Loffman said.
As part of her first-year studies, she interned at Hackensack University Medical Center. She created an award-winning program, Take A Break, which trained volunteers to provide respite to caregivers in the hospital’s emergency trauma department. She has been at the medical center ever since — she graduated from Touro in 2012 — and her role there has evolved.
She now provides coaching on leadership and humanistic skills to physicians and to students in Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, for which she served on committees determining policies and procedures before its 2018 opening.
“I am so grateful to do work that centers on my value system that, as it turns out, is in full alignment with social work principles, ethics and commitment,” Ms. Loffman said. “It is because of the leadership of Dean Huberman, who invited me to come into the space and understand it, explore it, apply it to the work I do every day.”
In part to fill an acute need for trained clinical social workers, Touro founder Dr. Bernard Lander established GSSW in 2006. Dr. Lander, an educational innovator who helped develop Yeshiva University’s graduate schools of social work, education, and psychology, founded Touro College in 1970 with the goal of promoting Jewish heritage and serving the broader community.
Today, some 34 schools comprise the Touro College and University System. About 18,500 students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs on campuses in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, greater Las Vegas, greater San Francisco, Berlin, Moscow, and Jerusalem.
GSSW, with campuses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, enrolls about 300 students every year. Although the school functions according to the Jewish calendar, only a third of its students are Jewish. Roughly half are Black or Hispanic and the rest are “from the multiplicity of ethnicities that make up New York and New Jersey,” Dr. Huberman said. “We even have students from Arab-speaking countries.”
Touro College and University System’s President Dr. Alan Kadish, who also lives in Teaneck, came aboard after Dr. Lander’s death in 2010. “We try to instill in our students a sense of service to ideals and to humanity,” Dr. Kadish said. “Within that broad context, the school of social work makes sense because it cultivates Jewish values of chesed, and it is a highly diverse school which promotes and promulgates those values to a large audience.
“I’m extraordinary proud of what Dean Huberman and the school have accomplished,” he continued. “Many of our students have found personal satisfaction in social work that wasn’t there in their previous careers.”
Indeed, Dr. Huberman said, “We’ve become a destination for people who want to start a second career. One student was a former cameraman for ‘Regis and Kelly’ and he’s now doing video social work. We have grandparents and we have freshly minted college graduates.”
Because he grew up in “utter poverty” in Philadelphia, abandoned by his father when he was 2 years old, Dr. Huberman insisted from the start that “money should not be an impediment for anyone to get a graduate-school education.” The federal government supported that initiative in 2016 with a $2.5 million grant to fund scholarships for disadvantaged full-time master’s degree students at GSSW.
“This year, they contacted me again and said, ‘You’re one of the only schools in the United States that has been able to take the most poverty-stricken students and graduate them,’ and they wanted us to do more,” Dr. Huberman said.
Accordingly, in July the Health Resources and Services Administration awarded a five-year $3.24 million grant to fund scholarships for disadvantaged students seeking a career in social work.
GSSW also has received federal and private grants to train students, faculty, and staff in fighting the opioid crisis. “This is a passion of mine,” Dr. Huberman said. He is on academic sabbatical this year, pursuing research into opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.
“I went to the federal government and said, ‘Let’s do something unique — train clinical social workers to go into homes and schools and do something about this catastrophe,’” Dr. Huberman said. “And they gave us $1.36 million” in November 2019.
“When I come back as dean next July, I will work with entities in Bergen County and New York, and hopefully overseas, to form a collaboration to deal with this scourge,” he pledged.
Remarking on the National Association of Social Workers award, Dr. Huberman says GSSW has had a unique partnership with the association since the school’s establishment. “We pay for all our graduates to become members,” he said. “We’re the only social work school in the U.S. that does that, to my knowledge.” The school has about 1,000 alumni.
GSSW also cosponsors professional development programs with NASW-New York City, the association’s largest chapter. In 2017, the chapter gave its top leadership award to Dr. Huberman.
Caryn Loffman was not the only Teaneck resident Dr. Huberman personally inspired to enter social work.
Another Beth Sholom member, Carol Weinstein, the head of the congregation’s Chesed Committee, is another GSSW graduate who applied after a conversation with Dr. Huberman on the way to shul one Shabbat. A single mother of two, she graduated last June and began mobilizing fellow congregants to shop for groceries, pick up prescriptions, run errands, and check in on vulnerable people in the community during the pandemic.
And then there was Sara Wiener, daughter of Congregation Rinat Yisrael’s assistant rabbi, Ezra Wiener, who decided to attend GSSW in 2015 after Dr. Huberman lectured at the Orthodox shul on growing old in America.
Dr. Huberman has said that he seeks “to create ‘troublemakers’ for social justice, change agents working to empower others to improve lives.”