Remembering Dr. Zvi Szubin

Rabbi Dr. Zvi Henri Szubin of Englewood, who died on March 20, was an extraordinary man.

Dr. Szubin was professor emeritus of classical languages and comparative legal studies at CCNY of the City University of New York.

That’s a mouthful, and although it is accurate it is just part of who and what he was.

Dr. Szubin, a courtly, charming, socially adept man who was gifted both at talking and at listening, was born in Poland in 1933. That was not a good time or place for a Jewish boy. His childhood and adolescence were spent on the run; he spent some time in Palestine and eventually made it over to this country.

As a scholar, Dr. Szubin was academically rigorous. As an Orthodox Jew, he was somewhat un-Orthodox; he spent many summer working at the Conservative Movement’s Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and he taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

He was a friend of the Jewish Standard.

Years ago — unfortunately, before we started posting the paper online — I wrote a profile of Dr. Szubin, who then lived in Teaneck. I was awed by his accomplishments, including the aplomb with which he discussed his surely traumatic childhood, his passionate attention to every nuance of the ancient texts he studied, and his own lack of awe toward himself. He talked about his decision to keep a relatively low profile, which awarded him greater freedom to research, think, and act as he chose.

I was also moved by his kindness, his warmth, and his extraordinary intellect.

Dr. Szubin adored his family. Last year, I wrote a story about his son, Adam Szubin, a Harvard-trained lawyer who is now the acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes at the U. S. Treasury Department. (President Obama has nominated Mr. Szubin to that position, so he could drop the “acting” from his job title; although he continues to carry out all the job’s responsibilities, the Congressional stalemate, grown even worse than ever during this election season, has kept his nomination from a vote.)

As he talked to me about his son, Dr. Szubin had two main worries about the story. Although I wanted to include him in it, he worried that he would deflect some attention from his son. (He didn’t.) He also worried that because the story was about his son, his daughter, Lisa, who lives in Englewood, would be ignored, her accomplishments remaining unmentioned. (They didn’t. Lisa and her husband both are doctors, as our readers learned in that story.)

The story also included Dr. Szubin’s wife, Laurie Goldstein Szubin, who went to law school when her son, the younger of her two children, was in high school; she became an administrative court judge before she decided to manage her daughter and son-in-law’s medical practice.

We’ve gotten to hear a bit more about Dr. Szubin over the years because his nephew, Jerry Szubin, whose father was Dr. Szubin’s older brother, is our art director — our immensely talented art director, I feel compelled by basic justice to add. We would have admired Dr. Szubin as much as we do now had that not been the case, and we still would have noticed his warmth as well as his wisdom. But knowing that the two Szubins, Dr. Zvi and our Jerry, each so gifted in a radically different field, leading entirely different lives, sharing the same unusual name (to pronounce it, just remember that the S is silent) were so closely and clearly related taught us all a great deal about family bonds.

Dr. Szubin’s survivors include his wife, their son and daughter, their daughter-in-law, Miriam Weiner, their son-in-law, Jay Katzman, and their six grandchildren, Leora, Jonathan, William, Nathan, Micah, and Josiah.

We at the Standard will miss him very much.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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