David Speer, 33, is eager to get to know his new neighbors. He and his wife Diana are moving to Homeland Aug. 3. Though he is originally from Mt. Washington, Speer’s mother lives in Israel, and Speer said the Jewish nation feels like his second home. As director of the Washington-Baltimore region of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, his work connects him to Israel as well.
He’s also found a passion for teaching at Bolton Street Synagogue and is on the board there.
In his free time, he loves to play guitar, bass and recently — because his wife gifted him it for Chanukah — the banjo. “Music has always been really important to me, but I’ve never taken formal string lessons. So I figure now is the time!”
What are your responsibilities at Bolton Street?
I’ve been working in Jewish education for the last 11 years, straight out of college, by accident. Both my parents and wife are educators and it’s kind of in my blood.
I grew up attending Bolton Street, so I’m back there now and I’ve been teaching there for six years. I teach eighth to ninth graders. It was previously called the teen program but I [renamed] it Shevet Achim. CJE twins us with a class in Ashkelon [Baltimore’s Israeli sister city]. I’ve gotten to travel there, and our partner teacher traveled here.
What is your interest in American Associates, Ben-Gurion University?
I’ve been with AABGU eight years. What attracted me originally was working with the Jewish community. Before, I worked at a nonprofit in New Jersey [as a case manager at Jewish Family and Children’s Service] and really enjoyed it. So that set me on the path.
What I really love with AABGU is it specifically deals with Israel. So I started as a development assistant and worked my way up to director of the region. It’s also great that we’re apolitical. We support higher education in Israel, which is an area that everyone agrees is important no matter what one’s politics are. Specifically, the university is the only one charged with developing the region. The main campus is in Beersheva and … it’s really about nurturing that region.
What is Israel to you?
It’s hard to say when I first started to understand the importance of Israel to the Jewish people and to the world. I traveled there when I was young and so I caught the bug early. I was interested in how one area can be developed so quickly. Israel definitely has it faults, but the miracle of its growth always [interested me].
It’s also like a second home to me, because my mom is there. And I think a lot of people experience that sense of home and connection to these people.
What does the sentence “I am Jewish” mean to you?
I think it’s been different things to me over the years.
I’m not a regular Shabbat attendee even though I’m an active member at Bolton. But with COVID-19 we’ve had virtual services and I’ve attended every one now. It’s been special to pause and mark the beginning of the weekend, so I’ve been talking about that with my wife and how much we enjoy that.
It’s a lifestyle and a way of thinking that I feel like enables me to strive to be better.
What has quarantine been like for you?
One thing I love about my job is meeting people, going out, having programs and committee meetings. I always joke that I’m not a JCC member but I should be because I’ll be there two to three times a week for meetings.
I always loved Jewish Baltimore because there are all different types of Jews and we all work together, which isn’t necessarily the case everywhere.
We are definitely adapting. What I’ve been really happy to see is the support for the university has not waned, the way we thought it would. I think that speaks to the strength of the university and the community.
Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
Probably my parents. I think their values have been really important to me. [They taught me] the idea of having something to live your life based upon, a moral code, the understanding that you’re part of something bigger.
What is your goal for this week?
To have everything ready to move Monday!
What are your goals for the new year?
Definitely to continue to evolve virtually, both professionally and personally. I think we all feel a little disconnected. Also, to settle in the new house and neighborhood.
I also would love to travel to Israel. I usually travel one to three times a year but haven’t for [a while].
Have a suggestion for a You Should Know profile? Nominate your interesting Jewish co-worker, cousin, camping buddy — anyone between 21-40 and previously or currently living in the Baltimore area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.