You Should Know… Miriam Szubin

Photo by Jeffrey Morris
Photo by Jeffrey Morris

Born in Newton, Mass., Miriam Szubin spent two years in New York City pursuing an M.A. in Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She might have stayed in the Big Apple, but when offered a teaching position at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, she was drawn by the similarities between her hometown and Washington.

You’d never guess from her high energy level, even first thing in the morning, that Szubin turned 40 in July. That energy is useful: Szubin is mother to three young boys,. Her husband, Adam, an attorney with the Treasury Department, works long hours. She has two jobs: a part-time position at the National Portrait Gallery and a more-than-half-time position as director of the Parenting Center at the DC Jewish Community Center.

How did you first come to the JCC?

Back in 2007, the DCJCC had a preschool that started at age 2, which my oldest son attended. There were also a few classes for babies and toddlers and their caregivers.

One day a friend of mine who was teaching a weekly baby music class there got stuck out of town. She asked me to sub. I sang all the songs I’d heard her sing and found out I was actually good at it. I started teaching a toddler music class once a week; then a second class was added. I had ideas for more Parenting Centering classes.

Who does the center serve?

It’s a real mix. Some are Jewish, some are not. Some live in the city, and some live outside it. There are international families and interfaith families and gay couples. We like to be inclusive and want everyone to feel at home. Some of our programs have specifically Jewish content, and some don’t. We do have family programs for the Jewish holidays and Shabbat dinners for families with small children.

How has DC changed since you first arrived?

The demographics of the community surrounding the JCC (Dupont Circle and Logan Circle) have really changed in the past five to 10 years. Previously, people moved to the suburbs when they had families, but now they were staying downtown with babies, toddlers and young children. The JCC became filled with kids and strollers. Most people around here live in small houses or apartments and were looking for family activities to do outside the house. Everyone was looking for enrichment opportunities and ways to connect with other parents of young children.

Seeing all this potential for growth, in 2010 I pitched the idea to the JCC administration that there should be a staff person focused specifically on running and growing the Parenting Center. Basically, I created my own position. At first I started at 10 hours a week, and as I expanded our program offerings, my hours increased. I also teach a few classes. We now offer about 25 different classes for infants and toddlers [up to age 4] with their caregivers. This is especially nice in our area, where many young parents don’t live near their families.

What is your Jewish involvement?

I grew up Conservative and attended a Solomon Schechter elementary school. We were very involved in our synagogue. Our family is traditional, shomer Shabbat and kosher. Adam was one of the founders of the DC Minyan, which rents space at the JCC and is traditional but egalitarian. It’s our synagogue and community now. Our three boys — Nathan, 8, Micha, 6, and Josiah, 3 — go to the Jewish Primary Day School and have been enrolled in classes, preschool and camps at the JCC.

What kind of world would you like your children to inhabit?

I’d like to strike a natural balance between a traditional life [and one] that is also ecumenical. It’s important to me that my kids grow up in a community that supports that. We’d like a school environment that’s respectful of traditional Judaism but also pluralistic.

My family is very nontraditional. It includes a Reconstructionist rabbi and an aunt who was raised Catholic. My kids have a gay grandfather; my dad is married to a man and my mom is married to a man. I’m raising my kids so that they never think that this is weird.

What about those similarities between greater Boston and DC?

Both cities are vibrant and interesting, but not too dense. People in both cities are passionate about what they do for a living.

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