Meet Margarita: Jewish Criminal Justice Reformer of the Week

by GatherDC Staff / August 2, 2021

Margarita Bronshteyn has had a busy year. She planned three weddings, got married, finished grad school, and joined DC Minyan’s Steering Committee. Oh, and she also continued her work to reform DC’s justice system. We sat down to get to know her better and see what’s at the top of her bucket list! Spoiler alert: it’s eating a lot of gelato. 

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Allie: How did you end up in DC?

Margarita: I was actually born in Russia where my parents were living at the time for college. Originally, my family is from Ukraine. We immigrated to New Jersey in 1999 and then I moved to DC for college (George Washington University) in 2013. I have been here since and absolutely love it! It’s a great city with great job opportunities, great friends, and offers a Jewish community that I love. 

Allie: Describe your dream day in DC.

Margarita: From being a scrappy college student to now being a scrappy young professional, I’m lucky to have had a lot of amazing days in DC. I wouldn’t start it off any earlier than 10am since I am not a morning person. It would be a beautiful spring or fall day, not like the weather we’re having now. We’d first go to Ted’s Bulletin for brunch and then to the Zoo since it brings me so much joy. It’s a bit cheesy, but I love the monuments, so we’d then walk down to see the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorial. Then maybe hit up an outdoor concert or movie and finish the night with friends on a rooftop or in a park talking well into the night. 

Allie: You work in Criminal Justice. Can you talk a bit about that and why you chose that career direction?

Margarita: I double majored at GWU in Criminal Justice and Psychology, with a focus on Neuroscience. I wanted to see if I could find a career at the intersection of these two interests. Before I started my career, I volunteered and interned in the criminal justice field. I’ve volunteered as a tutor in DC Jail and the Youth ServicesCenter, and as a data scientist for the Texas Justice Initiative. I have learned how our criminal justice system is broken in a remarkable number of ways. There are so many people that are suffering because our systems are exceptionally punitive and disregard the person’s well-being both when they’re in prison and when they are eventually released. I currently work in Criminal Code Reform which is looking at the code that governs the sentences we associate with laws. I’m the only social scientist on a team of lawyers, which I love because it makes me think in a way I don’t usually, and vice versa for them. 

Allie: What direction do you hope your career takes? 

Margarita: I’ve given this a lot of thought and it’s changed over the years. But now I think it’s continuing to look at criminal codes. The sentences that we associate with laws really matter. How long do we really want to incarcerate people for specific crimes? If we look at it from that ground level, we can limit the number of people joining the system. We need to rethink accountability in this country. 

Allie: You mentioned Jewish community is one of the things you love about DC. Talk about what your Jewish community looks like.

Margarita: I am a member of DC Minyan and just joined their Steering Committee. I love the group so much and first fell in love with it in college when we went to a Simchat Torah service. I loved how people of all ages were enthralled in the celebration and was inspired by how everyone was so happy to be Jewish and there together celebrating. I’ve been a member ever since!

Allie: For those unfamiliar with DC Minyan, can you tell us about it?

Margarita: DC Minyan is a traditional, egalitarian, lay lead community. But, more specifically it’s a group that formed about 20 years ago because the various defined ways of practice didn’t fit what the founders wanted. The way I like to describe it is a blend of Modern Orthodox and Conservative practice. It’s basically Orthodox-like services with davening all in Hebrew, observing holidays, etc. But, it’s more egalitarian like Conservative practice—so anyone can participate in any part of the service no matter their gender. It’s a multi-generational group, so we have everyone from children to retirees, and it’s entirely lay-led—no paid employees! The people that lead the service are members.

Allie: How are you all celebrating the High Holidays?

Margarita: We are working on the planning now but it looks like we will have an indoor service for those that are vaccinated and their children, and then an outdoor service for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Oh, and quick plug, we’re now also offering regular Friday night and Saturday morning services. Anyone is welcome to register and attend! 

Allie: What’s your favorite tradition of the High Holidays?

Margarita: I am a foodie. Not in the sense that I go to fancy restaurants, but in the sense that if you hand me food, I will eat it. I love honey in everything, so Rosh Hashanah is wonderful. Also, brisket—we make it one time a year so I enjoy that a lot. Not related to food, I love the melodies of the High Holidays. They’re so moving and so good at capturing the mood. 

Allie: What would you say is at the top of your life’s bucket list?

Margarita: Well, my husband and I were supposed to get married in July of last year and in December we were going to take our honeymoon. We had planned to go to Italy because we wanted to try every flavor of gelato that the Italians make. We are officially going this November and that is still number one on my bucket list—preparing myself mentally and physically to power through as much gelato as we can. 

Allie: Sorry to hear about the wedding. But you said “husband,” so you did get married?

Margarita: Yes, we did! Not where we originally had planned though. The Qatari government actually purchased the venue we were going to use for our wedding and so 8 weeks before the wedding, the venue called to tell us we couldn’t use it anymore. Luckily, we found a rooftop that isn’t even advertised, that overlooks The Capitol. It was beautiful and we could spread out. We got married over Memorial Day Weekend and it was wonderful!

Allie: Mazel tov! And for our final question, please finish this sentence. “When Jews gather…”

Margarita: a lot of food and laughs are exchanged. 

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