About Sam Hopkins

Tell us about yourself:

I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City. I am a 6th-generation Kansan. The Jewish side of my family started arriving to Kansas in the 1890s from Hungary and later from what is now Lithuania and Belarus. All of my grandparents were born in Kansas City and both sides have lived back and forth between Kansas and Missouri over the generations.

I was raised Reform at Temple B’nai Jehudah, a large congregation in KC. My dad never converted to Judaism, but we only observed Jewish holidays and he did not attend church. The Christian side of my family had experienced at least two generations of Catholic-Protestant intermarriage before the Jewish-Catholic intermarriage of my parents.

I attended JCC preschool and then the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy from kindergarten through 4th grade before transferring to public school. I continued religious school at the Temple through confirmation and was very active in BBYO and I participated to a lesser extent in NFTY. I first traveled to Israel with BBYO in 2000 and have been there 4 times. I am fluent in Hebrew and can manage conversations in Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish.

I majored in Linguistics and International Studies at the University of Kansas and was very active on campus: radio DJ and World Music Director for KJHK, the student-run radio station; satire and opinion columnist for the University Daily Kansan, and active Hillel program participant and leader. I primarily studied endangered languages and worked in the Anthropology department, conducting field work in German-speaking communities in Kansas and among ethnic minorities in western China. I co-founded the KU Israel Alliance and served as AIPAC Campus Liaison. In 2004, I interned in the House of Representatives and set up a volunteer position in Kansas City’s sister city of Ramle, Israel, where I tutored English in schools and community centers.

Today, I primarily attend Chabad of Johns Hopkins which is very near my house, and my family has been involved with several programs at the Pearlstone Center which we love for its nature-based approach to Jewish practice and tradition.

I got my MBA at Johns Hopkins after several years working as an investment and music journalist. I have spent most of the past decade working in healthcare companies, primarily at the entrepreneurial and early commercial stages. I now serve as CEO of the CSZ Network, which covers the full range of high school sports schedules and scores across Maryland and is expanding nationally.

 

As a father of two living in Baltimore, how do you balance your professional life in technology with your family responsibilities?

I am fortunate to have my parents living here and very close to Hampden Elementary/Middle School where my sons go to school. Since working from home during Covid, I have enjoyed the time I get to spend with my kids, my wife, and my parents during the day, and I do my best to consolidate work with colleagues during shared business hours so we can maintain flexibility and productivity. Whether in my business or creative endeavors (I product electronic music and hip-hop and play drums in a punk rock band), I find that working with others feeds creativity and accountability.

 

Being originally from Kansas and now living in Baltimore, how have these different locations shaped your perspective and influenced your work, especially in community initiatives?

I grew up in a large and deeply rooted Jewish community in Greater Kansas City, but there is a far larger number of Orthodox Jews and generally a larger visible community presence in Baltimore. After moving to Baltimore, there was a deadly antisemitic attack in KC on the JCC and Jewish home for the elderly, which shook me deeply and showed that hatred for Jews can exist everywhere. Those who lost their lives that day were all non-Jews who worked or went to activities at Jewish institutions, which also points to the misunderstanding of many that the Jewish community is insular.

I was always aware of opportunities made through organization and funding provided by Jewish community initiatives, which helped me travel to Israel among other things. I have also been impressed by the leadership of Baltimore Jewish institutions and individuals among national Jewish communities, and I have participated in the Baltimore Jewish Council’s leadership development program, which gave me greater insight into the Associated and the Baltimore Jewish community’s interactions with other local communities and leaders.

 

What inspired you to become involved in Jewish Connection Network’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Learning and Service, and how does the event align with your personal values and experiences?

Within my own family and in my family’s businesses and friendships, I’ve always understood Jewish people and Jewish culture in context with communities around us. Especially this year, it is important to provide opportunities for sharing and mutual education, with safe spaces for uncertainty and questions. I have appreciated my two decades of living in Baltimore City for helping me to dive into diversity in an everyday way, building relationships with all types of people in all walks of life.

 

In your role as the chair of Jewish Connection Network’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, what impact do you hope to achieve, both within the community and on a broader scale?

I hope that the event will provide participants with a sense that they can define their own individual interactions with people around them in their own communities and beyond. It is important for people of all ages to realize where understanding of history and civic dynamics is important at a group level, and at the same time it’s true that all of us are both allowed and required to decide and talk about what kind of world we want to live in and create.

 

Can you share your journey from working in Israel initiatives at the Center for Jewish Education (CJE) to your current role in the high school sports and video gaming space? How did this transition come about?

As the parent of now 10 and 12-year olds, I realized during my time as an Israel Program Associate coordinating activities and connections between Baltimore and Ashkelon that these are part of what is a crowded market of things to do with families’ available time. I also learned that families want meaningful and accessible opportunities to engage in a way that makes sense, feels good, and is feasible for them.

During that period, I was also working part-time as a consultant for healthcare companies–it was a time where I craved reconnection to my community and to be part of forming the landscape of activities that help young people develop.

In 2023 I was brought in to lead County Sports Zone (CSZ) because of my entrepreneurial mind, my local connections, and my passion for youth sports as a lifelong athlete and current coach of soccer and baseball. At our company, we are closing the information gap about when and where all types of high school sports games are happening, and what the results were. This can ensure family involvement and help to create community excitement at a time, where we are more and more divided. Whatever I am doing, professionally or otherwise, I need to know that I am helping people to connect with one another in a meaningful way. I think of my work now as a technology-enabled way to catalyze tikkun olam.

 

Here’s a couple of rapid fire questions for you:

  • What’s your favorite video game? Wolfenstein. IYKYK.

  • Who is your favorite sports team? the Kansas City Royals

  • What’s your favorite Baltimore restaurant? Attman’s Deli

  • If you were stranded on an island, what’s the one thing you’d bring? a drum.

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