David and I meet at the Blue Bottle Coffee in Georgetown. It’s so busy that, even on this chilly Friday afternoon, the black metal chairs overlooking the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath are dotted with couples in puffy coats, men pacing on speakerphone, and cold-fingered laptop users struggling with the wifi (myself, briefly, among them). David drinks an Acqua Panna, a choice that, at least to me, seems almost antithetical to his personality. David’s anything but still, his list of passions seeming to grow by the minute. 3D printing. Simulation games. Israeli dance. Parody business cards. Mezuzah design. Super Smash Bros. The list goes on. Read the full conversation for David’s thoughts on Jewish art, getting out of your comfort zone, education, and more.
Samuel: Nice to meet you, David! You told me you grew up in Rockville – what’s kept you around in the DMV?
David: I work at Freddie Mac. The pay is good, I’m familiar with the area. I’ve always felt like a very independent person, but I’ve never had the resources to feel like I could branch out into the world. My support network is here; so, if things collapse, I know how to maneuver. DC also has a pretty unique culture, and I think that if I was to go to most other places in the country I wouldn’t find the same level of intelligence. Most other places, I think I would be sort of bored.
Samuel: What keeps you engaged in DC?
David: It’s the DC Jewish community. It’s DC people talking about DC things. I haven’t been to Israel yet, so I’m considering Tel Aviv, but I’m heading on Birthright next week, so we’ll see how that goes [A note from David: My trip went phenomenally — I’m thinking of heading to Technion or Weizmann and getting a doctorate in Math. I fell in love with the beaches and food of Tel Aviv].
Samuel: Is that something you’ve been interested in for a while? Something new?
David: I was raised secular, but my engagement with Judaism and Israel really magnified during college. I started taking Jewish Studies courses, Israeli history courses, and I was fascinated by the whole mosaic of the culture. And my skillset [Editor’s Note: David studied Mathematics and Computer Science, which he described as letting him “see the skeleton of the entire universe”] is something that’s very much in demand in Tel Aviv – some people call the area “Silicon Wadi.”
Samuel: I feel like college, or moving away from home for the first time, is often a time when a lot of people’s relationships with religion or spirituality shifts. How would you describe the change in your relationship with Judaism?
David: I found myself. I found where my values stem from and where the people who I want to interact with are. I found that, as I progressed through college, I started associating more and more with the Jewish section of University of Maryland and less and less with other people.
Samuel: What role did shared Jewish identity play in the formation of that community that you found yourself focusing on?
David: A lot of it is shared values. Education. How we understand the world. A lot of [my friends] also play video games. And not just play video games, but pick apart aspects of game design: Why are these games made the way they are? Why are they good? I like being able to see the “why” behind developers’ design choices and the way they guide you through the maze of the world.
Samuel: Is there a connection between that lens of examining things and Judaism? Something almost Talmudic about it?
David: Yes. You’re examining the whole thing. You’re trying to debate it, discuss it, pick apart the universe and then put it back in the box.
One of David’s 3D-printed mezuzahs!
Samuel: You mentioned change over time – what are some Jewish practices or values that hold particular meaning to you right now?
David: I’ve been 3D-printing mezuzahs!
Samuel: How’d that start?
David: I got a 3D printer and was utterly stumped as to what to do with it. I asked myself: What’s a piece of Jewish art that I can make? But a lot of Jewish art is fabric – you can’t exactly 3D print a kippah. So I decided on making mezuzahs because they’re relatively simple and geometrical.
Samuel: There are a variety of interpretations as to what message hanging a mezuzah sends, and to what audience. What does it mean to you?
David: We place the mezuzah on the barriers between our homes and the outside world. It says to our neighbors and so on that this is a Jewish home.
Samuel: Do you view the hanging of mezuzah as purely an outward-facing message, or does it have personal significance to you as well?
David: It’s about delineating who we are and using little things to differentiate ourselves from others.
Samuel: The work GatherDC does has us thinking a lot about presence – in a moment, in a community, and so on. In your own life, how do you maintain that presence?
David: Good friends are important. So is my Israeli dance group, Rikudei Yachad. During that December wave of the pandemic [in 2021], I saw a Facebook post saying: We’re starting a dance group! I got involved. It was a good way to meet people and get outside of my normal comfort zone. I try to do things that are perpendicular to whatever else it is that I’m currently doing. Get some different perspectives.
Samuel: That’s really cool! A couple quick questions to finish up. What’s the most enjoyable piece of art you’ve encountered recently?
David: This is a tough one. I thought about this for a really long time…probably Everything Everywhere All At Once. I related to the movie very strongly because one of the directors, in an interview I saw, explained that the process of researching and writing and directing this movie actually led to him realizing that he had ADHD. Suddenly, with his diagnosis, the interests that he had made a lot more sense. Seeing Michelle Yeoh’s character struggle with everything seeming to happen, and all these threads of possibilities, felt very much like my own ADHD experience.
Samuel: You can bring three people to your Shabbat dinner – who are they?
David: We’re inviting Kamala Harris, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Garry Kasparov.
Samuel: Finish the sentence for me: When Jews of the DMV gather…
David: They exchange business cards.
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