Sometimes, when Debbie Schwartzman, 65, is out at the store, community members recognize her as “the JCC lady.”
Schwartzman worked as part of the JCC of Greater Baltimore’s member and guest services team for 20 years. She retired on Jan. 1.
“I’m the front line,” she said of her job. “As soon as people walk in who are not members, who are guests or looking to become members, they go straight to membership.”
Schwartzman lives in the Greenspring Valley area with her husband, Robert, and is a member of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore. They have two adult children, Andrew and Jesse, as well as grandchildren.
Judaism “is a huge part of who I am,” Schwartzman said. “It’s a connection. I’m not religious, I’m not observant, but I’m really connected.”
Schwartzman grew up in Albany, N.Y., where she was raised in a traditional, Conservative home. Jewish communal life was important to her parents, with her father holding a variety of positions in the Jewish federation and her mother involved in the sisterhood.
She first moved to Maryland for college. She studied therapeutic recreation at the University of Maryland and met her husband, Robert. After graduation, she moved back to Albany, worked in nursing homes and got married. She eventually moved to Baltimore, where her husband was from.
At first, she found it difficult to find her place in the community. “I found it was really difficult to meet friends,” Schwartzman recalled, “because my husband’s friends, a lot of them married girls they had gone to elementary school with or high school with. It was tough to break in.”
She wound up making friends at the JCC, where she took her kids for mommy and me classes, preschool and kindergarten.
“If it wasn’t for the JCC, I wouldn’t have met my dearest friends now,” she said.
Schwartzman stopped working at nursing homes when she had her kids. When they got older, the family took a hiatus from the JCC, and Schwartzman started working in retail. When her kids were in high school, they wanted to join the JCC again. Schwartzman decided to get a job there. She started as a part-time employee and eventually became full time. Her day-to-day responsibilities included giving tours to prospective members, handling members’ issues and providing customer service, she said.
“Being a Jewish communal professional, you’re there to make the world, make Baltimore, make the Baltimore community a better place,” Schwartzman said.
She and her colleagues were close, and they became a family, she said. They were there for each other through changes in their lives, deaths of parents and births of grandchildren.
Outside of the JCC and her synagogue, Schwartzman has also been on a group trip to Israel with The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore during Israel’s 70th anniversary a few years ago. She had been to Israel before, but going with a group, this one comprised only of women, was particularly meaningful for her.
Now retired, Schwartzman has been finding different past-times. The pandemic is not the easiest time to retire, Schwartzman noted, but she recently joined Beth El’s sisterhood and adopted a dog. She takes lots of walks. She has been subbing at the JCC a few times a week and spending more time with her grandchildren. When the pandemic ends, she hopes she can travel and visit her out-of-town family more.
“I love being a part of the whole Jewish community, I really do,” Schwartzman said. “I love being the JCC lady.”