Meet Ryan: Jewish Public Servant of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / March 9, 2021

Ryan Gardiner has built a career in public service and calls DC home. In his spare time, he loves volunteering, finding new places to run outside, and catching the latest baseball or soccer game. Of course, with Passover just around the corner, we had to find out Ryan’s favorite holiday tradition. Spoiler: it includes fun times with family around the seder table.

Here’s to hoping we’ll all be together again next year. Until then, read Ryan’s 1:1 interview to find out how he celebrates Passover, what’s on his bucket list, and all about his inspirational volunteer work!

Rachel: What brought you to DC and what made you stay?

Ryan: I got a job with the federal government four years ago, and after three years of living in Washington I decided to make this city my permanent home. I had not lived in one location for more than two years due to multiple deployments with the Navy, living overseas, and then pursuing a new career. Although I had visited DC many times, I never got a real feel for the city. I was also unsure how I would fall in line with the political class here. However, there is a much more vibrant culture in DC –  independent of politics – that is made up of a diverse and young population that makes it a fun and welcoming city. So much so that I decided this was where I wanted to be long-term. 

Rachel: What led you to work with the federal government and what do you do now? 

Ryan: I started my career as a Naval officer, and although I received my honorable discharge after six years I wanted to continue public service. After the Navy, I received a job at the Department of Homeland Security headquarters where I worked for three years. This past year, I moved into aviation security at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Rachel: Describe your dream day in the DMV from start to finish. 

Ryan: I would prefer to imagine the days when we were not in a pandemic environment, so I envision the dog days of summer when it is wonderfully hot and the sun stays up until late. I usually begin my Saturdays with a long run or some sort of physical activity. After beating feet, the best thing would be to attend and celebrate an in-person graduation ceremony for the latest group of adult learners earning their GEDs, at the Academy of Hope (AoH) Adult Public Charter School, where I have had the fortune and privilege of being a volunteer tutor and Leaders of Hope council member. Of course, finishing out the day by taking a trip to Nationals Park to watch the Atlanta Braves wallop the Nationals would be in order. 

Rachel: What a unique opportunity! What do you do as a volunteer with AoH?

Ryan: Being a part of the AoH team has perhaps been the highlight of my time in DC. Interacting with some of the best and most professional staff I have ever worked with, and tutoring English and grammar to undoubtedly the most inspirational group of adults. Participating in numerous fundraising efforts as a member of the AoH Leaders of Hope Council has been rewarding as it directly results in our learners receiving things such as food cards, Christmas gifts, and technology. But it is working with learners in the classroom (and virtually) that stands out the most. Getting to have an in-person, graduation ceremony for our learners would be special for both them and their families.  

Rachel: What do you do to relax or for fun at the end of a long week? 

Ryan: As the pandemic wears on, I am always try to get away from my desk and computer and also eat something that isn’t frozen or leftover. Saturdays I try to get out of the city – a hill run in the woods or just taking a drive goes a long way.   

Rachel: Do you have a Jewish role model who inspires you?

Ryan: I am lucky to not have had to look far. Although my two grandfathers, whom I admire very much, are still very much my role models, I want to mention my mother and father. My mother, who although small in stature, is so physically and mentally resilient and has overcome a lot to get to where she is today. She is the lynchpin to my entire family. She has taught me to always be inquisitive and positive. And then there is my father, who has shown me to live life the right way, working hard, maintaining your integrity, and perhaps more so than anything he has taught me accountability. In addition, in times of emergency and/or crisis there is perhaps no other person I would rather have there than him. That is one the best qualities to have, and hardest to emulate.

I also need to mention my best friend who I have known since I was five or six. He converted to Judaism when he married his wife and is nothing less than inspirational. Suffering from cystic fibrosis, he has undergone a lifetime of treatment and most recently a double-lung transplant. Despite the physical and health impediments he has kept his head up, raised a family, and manages to run half marathons which most of us with healthy lungs are unable to achieve. With the cards always stacked against him, he continues to live life to the fullest. 

Rachel: What’s at the top of your life bucket list or where are places you’d love to travel? Why?

Ryan: I like to base my travels on activities. A surfing trip to Central America would be high on the list – one because of the tropical weather and two because it is surfing. In addition, I love the American West and skiing. So, a trip to Big Sky Montana is also high on the list of things to do. 

One of the things I miss most about the pre-pandemic days was attending sporting events live. When the opportunity presents itself again, attending a World Series game and a soccer match at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland are on the list. 

Rachel: What’s your favorite Passover food?

Ryan: Matzoh balls. Not the hard ones. 

Rachel: Do you have a favorite Passover tradition?

Ryan: My extended family typically congregates at my parents’ house for Passover. That includes both sets of grandparents, and aunts and uncles, too. It was a special holiday, and up until the pandemic, my parents continued that tradition. I am pretty sure that we will be back at the Seder table next year.

Rachel: Anything else you’d like to share with the DC Jewish community?

Ryan: This is a trying time for the Jewish community across the country – from physical attacks on our synagogues by white supremacists to an insidious growth of anti-semitism on the fringes of the left and right. The Jewish community of greater Washington is highly diverse in both religious practice and culture. Unfortunately this is being exploited in our current political divide. I am hoping that with a lowering of the temperature we can come together more as a united community here in DC and across the country.

Rachel: “When Jews of DC Gather…

Ryan: …hide the sausage and peppers!


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