Sam Dubin recently attended the Jewish Federations of North America’s Annual General Assembly (aka the GA). The theme of this year’s three-day conference in Washington DC was “Jewish Journeys.” So fitting, because the road Sam is paving on his journey, for himself and for others, isn’t just impressive, it’s necessary.
As the Chair of NEXTGen Detroit Pride, a new initiative launched by the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit’s young adult division, Sam has become an advocate for inclusivity. The goal of NEXTGen Detroit Pride is to serve as a welcoming gateway into the Jewish community for LGBTQ young adults, and thus far the response has been outstanding.
It’s clear now that the LGBTQ community within the greater Detroit Jewish community has been underserved. But hindsight is 20/20. It took someone to step back, see something was missing and have the ambition to fill the void. That someone was Sam Dubin.
On creating NEXTGen Detroit Pride
“Hardly any of my gay friends live in Detroit. And I think one of the reasons why we don’t have a larger Jewish gay population here is because LGBTQ people don’t necessarily feel welcome.
When I came out in May of 2015, I thought ‘ok, I’m gay, but I will go on living my life like I was before.’ I was, and still am, of the mindset that being gay doesn’t define me. It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t define me. Once I came out, I saw a void in the Jewish community and I knew I wanted to do something. But what that something was, I had no idea.
I met my fellow NEXTGen Detroit Board member Jonathan Schwartz a couple months after I came out. We were talking at a Federation event and he was very passionate about the inclusion of interfaith couples in the Jewish community. We shared this vision of inclusivity for both the LGBTQ community and the interfaith couples community. It was directly in line with what I already was thinking. I thought, ‘wow, this is beshert, the timing is perfect.’
Jonathan and I set up a meeting and decided to pitch an idea to NEXTGen Detroit. I don’t want to say that I’m surprised at how supportive the Federation has been, but they really wanted this to happen and worked with us to take our vision and make it something real and applicable for this community.
I started by consulting with Federation folks from Chicago who had created a young adult LGBTQ chapter a few years ago. Their biggest advice to me was to start making connections. So I set up a ton of meetings with local leaders, rabbis and anyone who I thought would be interested in this project, both in and out of the LGBTQ community. The next step was getting a focus group together, to hear what the Jewish LGBTQ community wanted. We took all the information we got from the focus group and from there we started to develop a NEXTGen Detroit Pride committee of people who could share and contribute ideas and help us get the word out.
We had our official launch event in May of 2016; it was a happy hour at Pronto in Royal Oak. And a month later, we had a game night at M-Brew in Ferndale. Shortly after, we went to Painting with a Twist, and most recently hosted a potluck Shabbat dinner. Every event brings in new faces, and, slowly but surely, we are growing a real community.
After the past presidential election, there were a lot of nervous people — nervous Jews and nervous LGBTQ people. We didn’t want to wait for the next planned event to get this community together, so we ‘mobilized’ as they say. On November 18th, we held a forum for people to express their thoughts, reflect, share and just be together and be a family. Rabbi Alana Alpert from Congregation Techiya, Jay Kaplan from the ACLU and Jeremy Moss, State Representative from the 35th District spoke, and we engaged in a larger group discussion. It was a really supportive atmosphere, and also a spiritual atmosphere. People were moved, a lot of teary eyes. And I think the night was really in line with our vision of creating something more than just events on a calendar. We were a group of people who wanted to talk, needed to talk about this, not on Facebook, but with real face-to-face dialogue. And we did.
The goal of NEXTGen Detroit Pride is really two-fold. The first goal is to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable coming out. I think about it from the standpoint of people who may be in the closet — they now have a place in the community to turn to.
The second part is to create an inclusive environment for people who already are out. This is a way into the Jewish community for LGBTQ Jews who may be hesitant to get involved. I think NEXTGen Detroit Pride has the potential to do a lot of good. Let’s say there is a senior at U of M who is gay and debating between coming back home or going to Chicago. Knowing that NEXTGen Detroit Pride exists might play a part in the decision. And maybe the growth of NEXTGen Pride could be a deciding factor for a young person thinking about moving back to Michigan.”
On the family business
“I went to Central Michigan University and double majored in broadcasting and political science. I was planning to go into broadcast journalism, but after finishing my degree and two internships at FOX 2 Detroit and WWJ 950, I decided it wasn’t for me. The industry changed in ways I don’t agree with, particularly the cost-cutting concept of multimedia journalism where reporters are expected to shoot all their own footage, edit and report.
I knew I had a great family business waiting for me after college if I wanted. My parents, Andy and Sandy, never pressured me to go into the business. It was something I really never thought I was going to go into, but it’s nice because there’s a lot of overlap from my studies and internships to what I actually do Dubin Cleaners & Laundry — the marketing, PR, philanthropic activities.
My great grandfather, who was a tailor by trade, opened the original Dubin Cleaners in the Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit in 1946. His son, my grandfather, joined him in the business, and eventually so did my father. My dad says he started out as a kid picking pins up from the floor for 25 cents an hour.
The dry cleaning industry has changed a lot since then. It’s moved toward a model of quantity, a lower price point and quickly moving the clothes in and out. Throughout the years, Dubin Cleaners & Laundry has maintained a commitment to quality, and now more than ever it really makes us stand out in the industry. All of our production people have at least 30 years experience in the industry.
My parents sold the store in Detroit in 1991, but retained the pick-up and delivery service and built upon it. In 2006, we opened across the street from where we are now. When we grew out of that space in 2010, we moved to our current location on Orchard Lake Road, south of 14 Mile, doubling our square footage and adding some new services such as on-site flatwork (bed sheets, table linens, etc.)
As Director of Sales and Marketing, my main focus is growing the business and maintaining and strengthening our community relations. I believe businesses have an obligation to give back to the community that they are serving.”
On giving back
“Philanthropy is a big part of both my personal and business philosophy.
Giving back is something that is very important to us at Dubin Cleaners & Laundry. We host a clothing drive called the Winter Warmth Campaign with the National Council of Jewish Women and Project Healthy Community as the beneficiaries.
Last year during the high holidays, Temple Israel put out boxes and collected thousands of pieces of clothing for our Winter Warmth Campaign. What separates this clothing drive from many other drives is that we clean every piece of clothing before we give them out. So not only are people staying warm in the cold months, but they’re given clean clothes. It’s something we are proud to do.
We also work with the Michigan Animal Rescue League. We’re dog people, we have two dogs. We’ve held pet adoptions in the past where the dogs and cats are actually adoptable here at the store. It’s a fun and rewarding thing to do. And I personally believe life is more than making money. It’s about making a difference in the community.”
On His Jewish Journey
“My first experience of really being involved in the community was with my mom volunteering at Fleischman Residence when I was 10. She would take our dog, Jake, to visit the residents, and I would go with her. Then I started a weekly bowling activity where I set up chairs in the front atrium. The residents would roll the ball down a ramp and hit the pins, and I was a nimble little kid, so I would run around returning the balls and setting up the pins. I also called BINGO. But my “full-time” volunteer job was “Word Games with Sammy.” Every Sunday, for 4 or 5 years, I’d set up in the activities room, and we would try out a bunch of different word games to stimulate the residents’ minds. I had a lot of regulars, and people really looked forward to it. People came to “Word Games with Sammy” that never went to any other program or activity. I volunteered at Fleischman until I went to college.
BBYO was another growing experience for me. With 11 of my friends, we established Fisher AZA when we were in 8th grade. It was awesome witnessing Fisher grow and flourish throughout the years and currently see it doing so well.
In college, I got involved with Hillel at the urging of my now fellow NEXTGen Detroit Board member Abi Leipshutz, who was then the Hillel President. I became the Freshman Representative, and the following two years I was President. Taking on a leadership role and being able to help grow Hillel was a very cool thing, and it really inspired me to continue leadership opportunities when I graduated.
At the time I finished college, I knew of NEXTGen Detroit, and knew I wanted to continue my Jewish journey back home. The first NEXTGen Detroit event I attended was a bar night. Shortly after, Abi asked me to be on the Latke Vodka committee. I really enjoyed the firsthand experience of contributing to the event, and after I wanted more of a leadership role. I applied to the NEXTGen Detroit Board, was accepted, and became the chair of the Good Shabbos Detroit program for a year.”
The rest is history in the making.
Place to eat out: for an occasion, Coach Insignia; everyday Public House
Place to meet for coffee: Great Lakes Coffee in Bloomfield Hills
Never leave the house without: a notebook
Spirit animal: sea lion
Words to live by: “Anything can happen if you let it.”- Mary Poppins
Favorite Jewish Holiday: Rosh Hashanah
Current TV show addiction: Transparent
Vacation destination: St. Maarten
Favorite movie quote: “The past can hurt, but you can either run from it, or learn from it.” – The Lion King