Rabbi Shmuel Birnham was born in 1954, in New York, and lived on Long Island, NY for his first 18 years. He went to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he majored in Sociology. Upon graduating in 1977, he knew he had to go to Israel. He left in November 1979 and traveled through Europe en route to Israel. In January 1980, in the American Express office in Milan, Italy, he met Sara Rabinowitz who was destined to become his wife. Rabbi lived in Israel on Kibbutz Ma’abarot (near Netanya) for half a year.
Shmuel entered Rabbinical School at The Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, In 1985–6, he returned to Israel for a year of Jewish studies in Jerusalem.
In 1989, Rabbi Birnham was ordained and received his MA from JTS. He and Sara went to Asheville, North Carolina to take up his first pulpit.
Rabbi Birnham was selected from a number of North American Rabbis nationwide (among all the streams of Judaism) to participate in a two year program called the Spirituality Institute. Its focus was to bring many new levels of Jewish spirituality to innovative and future thinking Rabbis so that they could be enriched themselves, and could also bring new tools of spirituality to their congregations. The thirty Rabbis selected to be in this program studied with and were mentored by Rabbi Arthur Green, Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man, and Sylvia Boorstein, along with some very impressive “junior” faculty. They will be focused on developing Jewish spiritual tools: Jewish meditation, spiritual mentoring, deep Chassidic/Jewish Mystical literature, and more. In 2010, Rabbi Shmuel was the “Olympic Rabbi”… the rabbi in charge of arranging services and spiritual support for Jewish athletes participating in the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Rabbi Birnham, Sara, and their son David Shalom moved to West Vancouver and joined the Har El community in the summer of 2000. These years have been a time of growth and evolution for Har El, with an increase in both membership and community spirit. We all look forward to many more wonderful years with the Rabbi and his family as a part of our congregation and community.