G. Michael Horwitz’s Story

Posted on Posted in Share Your Story, St. Louis

I grew up in St. Louis, MO, with my younger brother. We lived with our parents until I was three and my brother was one. Then, our parents divorced, and we moved in with our grandparents, who raised us. When I was five, my mother went into her first of eight nursing homes, where she lived from the age of 31 until her death at the age of 51 in 1997. My mother had a brain tumor at the age of 16 and became legally blind as a result of her surgery when she was in high school. She passed during my 3rd year attending the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, a five-year master’s program to become a cantor through the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).  My interest in pastoral ministry and chaplaincy began when I was a young boy due to my many hours in nursing homes with my mother throughout the St. Louis area. I had the wonderful opportunity to lead many programs for the residents including helping with Bingo and singalongs and many holiday events.  My high school show choir came with me to perform at the nursing home where I spoke to the residents.  I carry my Judaism close to my heart but have also always been interested in and passionate for all faiths and work with all area clergy and individuals from all backgrounds.   I am fortunate that throughout my life, despite not having close relationships with many of my own relatives and family,  that I have had a support system of friends to provide love and advice and support to help me become the pastoral, spiritual caregiver that I am today.

I attended college and worked for a number of years in the television news, camping, family, youth and children’s programming fields before entering cantorial school.  I believe that every person has a voice worthy of being heard and everyone has a story to tell.  I have always been drawn to working and helping those who may have learning, physical or other mental challenges or working with single parent families or children from broken homes.  My years growing up with my grandparents along with my brother were troublesome and I did not have a great childhood.  My grandfather (actually he was my step-grandfather but the only grandfather I ever knew) and I did not get along and after years of difficulty, my grandparents decided to have me live in a group home called Boys Hope Girls Hope, where I spent three years. I was the only Jewish resident, and this program changed my life.  I had attended an Orthodox Jewish Day School from Kindergarten through 7th grade and was not exposed to different faiths and ethnicities.  The Boys Hope Girls Hope program changed my life. My grandmother died the year before my mother incidentally, and this made my seminary years very difficult. My colleagues and teachers probably thought I might drop out not once but twice and in each case while I did take time off from school, I never truly gave myself proper time to grieve either the loss of my grandmother or my mother.

My years living in Boys Hope Girls Hope helped me to learn about all religions. I attended church with the other residents and also brought them with me to synagogue.  I learned that there were kids and families less fortunate than me and that I was actually very lucky.  It was 1982, the year after my Bar Mitzvah, and I began to excel in school and come out of my shell. I was always involved in sports and theatre and singing but was also very shy and reserved because of my family situation and had felt different because my parents were not around.  I was the one with the grandparents coming to my events instead of parents, and I was not seeing my father very much. I visited my mother often but began to question all the time why she was not with us for holidays or ever able to leave the nursing homes. I was never given an answer and told to keep quiet.  Deep down inside, my mother was the driving force for my interest in becoming a member of the clergy and loving visiting hospitals, nursing homes, individual homes, etc. to visit people and offer spiritual guidance.  My grandmother was the true matriarch of the family. She loved me and did what she felt was best.  But she never wanted me to question her about my mother or many other things in our family dynamics.  Today this still troubles me.

Years ago, I researched and did things on my own to get the answers that I could as a teenager and college student to learn as much as I could to form my own understanding of our situation.  My college years were wonderful, and I had close friends.  I worked hard and attended Indiana University on a full scholarship through Boys Hope Girls Hope.  Over the years, I have stayed active with Boys Hope Girls Hope as a speaker at their various gatherings around the country with fundraisers, donors, and alumni events.   After working in Houston at the Jewish Community Center as the Family, Youth and Teen Program Coordinator, I entered the Harvey L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, a 5-year graduate program alongside rabbinical and education students.  As an undergraduate at Indiana University, I had the opportunity to spend my junior year abroad studying at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  It was on this program in 1988 that I met my ex-wife Heidi.  We married in 1993 about a year before I entered the seminary.  We have two boys ages 13 and 10.  I graduated seminary in 1999 and have had several pulpits in congregations around the country.  I love my boys dearly.  My last full-time synagogue job as cantor was as Spiritual Leader of a congregation in Pennsylvania where I served from 2007-2011. Like all my previous clergy positions around the country, I offered a great deal of Pastoral Care and continued my passion for working in hospitals and nursing homes. In this position, I also worked as a chaplain with the Altoona Regional Health Care Systems which included several hospitals in the area.

My boys and their mom relocated in the summer of 2011 to her hometown of Gainesville, FL.  I decided to leave full-time synagogue jobs and pursue hospital chaplaincy and commit to CPE residency. I moved to Jacksonville after spending part of that summer in St. Louis to begin the CPE Level I unit at Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville, FL, and landed a part-time job at a nearby synagogue.  I then moved to Virginia to do my residency at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in the Norfolk area.  After completing my five units of CPE, I began work at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, AL in Sept. of 2013 as the hospitals first full-time Jewish chaplain  I love helping people and working with families when a loved one is ill or terminally ill. I often am the resource they call on to be with them in the hospital room or in their home offering words or prayers of comfort. But many times, it is simply my presence and being there for them in whatever way I can. I am fortunate to have worked with so many colleagues, including, rabbis, cantors, priests, imams, ministers and congregants of all faiths, discussing end of life issues and family dynamics. I often serve on panels to discuss a variety of topics.

As a cantor, I sing and teach the liturgy to students of all ages. I lead the congregation in prayer. But singing is such a small part of what I do. I like to describe myself as a clergy person who just happens to sing.  I have officiated at many funerals and other life cycle events of joy and sorrow since 1992. Giving comfort to families and individuals provides me with the greatest level of satisfaction.   I love my children and see them about once every 2 to 3 months. It’s an 8-hour drive from Birmingham to Gainesville.  I love being part of the UAB Dept. of Pastoral Care and have come full circle in my life giving to others working on my own self-care as well. I am blessed with peace and thankful each day. Boys Hope Girls Hope completely changed the direction of my life.

Michael Horwitz

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael Horwitz is from St. Louis, MO. and graduated from Indiana University (B.A. Telecommunications) and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City with a Master of Sacred Music and Liturgy including courses in theology and pastoral counseling.

He is endorsed and invested by the Cantors Assembly and a former member of their executive Board Council. Michael has served on various committees with the organization which is comprised of over 500 cantors across the globe.

Chaplain Horwitz did an extended unit of CPE at Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville, FL in 2011-12 followed by his CPE Residency with Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, VA, prior to joining the UAB Pastoral Care team in Sept. 2013. He is a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Michael has run 30 marathons including 5 New York City Marathons. He has 25 years of spiritual leadership experience in congregations, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, summer camps, colleges and various agencies providing services, pastoral care and ecumenical programming to families and students.

Michael has 2 sons and is assigned to cardiovascular units at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital including Coronary Care Unit (CCU), Cardiac Surgery ICU (CICU), ICVU (Interventional Cardiac Unit), HVC (Heart Vascular Center), and Cardiology.

Click here to read “UAB Hospital Has First Full-Time Jewish Chaplin” as published in Southern Jewish Life, December 2013. 

………………………………………………………………..

Whether you are a scholar, collegian, alumnus, alumna, volunteer, team member, board member, contributor, partner or advocate, we invite you to share your story as part of our 40th Anniversary celebration. Click here to learn more!

………………………………………………………………..