PEABODY – Having an ear for music, arriving early to Hebrew school, and a desire to take his Judaism to the next level led Rabbi Bernie Horowitz to become the associate rabbi for the Conservative Temple Ner Tamid of the North Shore.
Many in Peabody also know Horowitz, now 67 and a resident of the city, as the former health inspector, former health director, and until last year, chairman of the Board of Health.
Horowitz has had a varied career, from running his father’s kosher meat business after his dad died from cancer at age 51, to partnering with his wife, Anita, as a real estate broker in Peabody.
Ner Tamid’s board recently announced they have agreed on a three-year contract so that Horowitz can continue on as the temple’s associate rabbi, performing duties alongside Spiritual Leader Rabbi Richard Perlman, who was appointed in September 2016. Horowitz also served as the temple’s interim rabbi from 2015 to 2016.
“Rabbi Bernie is not only a dear friend to me, but I admire his professionalism, his knowledge, and all that he brings to our Temple community,” Perlman said in an email.
Horowitz grew up in an Orthodox household in Everett until age 12. He attended Everett Hebrew School, which was located across the street from his home.
He recalls an influential teacher named Solomon Zam who taught him four out of the six years he attended. Since Horowitz lived so close to the school, he would arrive early, and listen as Mr. Zam taught the older kids their bar mitzvah lessons.
By the time he was ready to become a bar mitzvah, “I could do every haftarah there was,” Horowitz said.
He was asked to lead children’s services and, because he could sing, some adult prayers as well. The family moved to Malden when he was 12, and he was bar mitzvahed at Young Israel of Malden, a couple of blocks from his home.
Through eighth grade and high school, Horowitz attended the then Hebrew Teachers College Prozdor Program when the college was located in a mansion in Brookline. It required a subway ride to get to the program.
After high school, he graduated Northeastern University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
After college, he went to work for his father’s kosher meat business in Malden. He first met his wife, Anita, around 1977 while making a delivery for his father.
When his father died in 1979, Horowitz wound up running the business at age 26.
He also continued to be active in Judaism, teaching bar mitzvah lessons in Revere while getting involved with local synagogues.
The couple would go on to have two daughters, Cara Kepnes of Danvers and Cassie Bruner, who is moving to Swampscott, Horowitz said.
“Both my daughters can do any service,” Horowitz said.
When Horowitz moved to Peabody in the late 1970s, he got involved with Ner Tamid. In 2000, he also got involved with Congregation Sons of Israel on Park Street. About five years later, he became both the latter congregation’s spiritual leader and ritual director.
“I started to become a rabbi without becoming a rabbi,” he said.
In 2014, he felt he needed something more, so he enrolled in the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, an online rabbinical and cantorial school in New York City. In 2015, amid Ner Tamid’s transition in rabbis, Horowitz was ordained and became the temple’s interim rabbi.
About the time Perlman was approached to become Ner Tamid’s spiritual leader, the temple was moving to a system of having two rabbis that could share cantorial and other duties. Perlman was one of Horowitz’s teachers and mentors in his rabbinical program, and Horowitz thought Temple Ner Tamid would be a good fit, as Perlman was also a trained cantor.
“I love working with Rabbi Perlman,” Horowitz said. “He’s a special man.”
Horowitz also credits Debbie Coltin, executive director of the Lappin Foundation, who got him into teaching Hebrew school and bar and bat mitzvah students at Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester and later at the former Temple Beth Shalom, now Temple Tiferet Shalom, in Peabody. He also teaches one of the high school classes at Ner Tamid.