Like many young professionals in D.C., Max Bluestein is multitalented. When he’s not doing important work at an identity-document security think tank, the 30-year-old Columbia Heights resident is schooling the entire District on the art of winning pickle-eating competitions and blogging for The Times of Israel. Raised in Atlanta, Bluestein received his undergrad degree from the University of Georgia and went on to earn a master’s degree from Ben- Gurion University. He spoke to WJW about his think-tank position, the gift of a big appetite and which former “You Should Knower” he’s dating.
You’re the director of research and state relations for Keeping IDentities Safe, a D.C. think tank. What does your position entail?
We’re a think tank focused specifically on identity-document security. The 9/11 terrorists were able to do what they did based on manipulating our identity-document issuance process. So the 9/11 Commission pointed out that they used travel documents like weapons. A lot of surviving family members and friends of 9/11 victims decided it’s time to close that loophole and they formed our organization. Since then, we’ve worked with on the congressional level and the executive level to create laws that create federal standards for identity-document issuance – and then have DHS [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] enforce those laws. My job at the state level is to have states comply with those laws.
How did you get into that type of work?
I was straight out of grad school, interning up here in D.C. at a couple think tanks, and was recommended by the president of one of my think tanks to this organization. I was hired as the coordinator of research and promoted thereafter. They kind of threw me in the deep end, and I’ve been there for five years now.
You’re well-known for being pickle-eating-competition champion, specifically at Sixth & I. Do you frequently participate in eating contests?
You know, I should participate more. I have this crazy natural gift where I can eat everything and anything around me. I practice every meal I’m at, I just eat a ton. We were in Vegas and went to the Carnegie Deli. They give you a giant sandwich and I finished it so quickly, the waitress brought the chef out to congratulate me and then gave me pie, and I ate the pie, too.
What’s the secret for an aspiring pro-pickle eater?
Pick different parents? I don’t know. It’s got to be genetic.
Is there a specific food you want to tackle next?
Yes. I want to do the burrito challenge. My friend’s been telling me about it. It’s like a four-pound burrito. I want to eat two of them.
Wow. Where are you going to do this?
It’s at Pico Taco on Florida Ave.
Good luck with that!
You guys can cover that [laughs]. We’ll make it a Jewish event. Hold the cheese.
How did you start blogging for The Times of Israel?
I was on a trip to Israel with the alumni leadership mission, which was a Jewish Federation return Birthright trip to develop our leadership skills. They took us to the [Western] Wall and my father had passed about a month before we left. I just had this inspiring moment and felt like I had to write it down. I sent it to The Times of Israel and they wanted to make a blog out of it.
Word on the street is you’re dating one of our former ‘You Should Know’ subjects, Valerie Hillman.
Power couple [laughs].
How did you two meet?
She stood me up about three years ago. I asked her out, and she canceled on me about 30 minutes before we were supposed to meet up. I was pretty mad. I’m a pretty prideful person, and I didn’t want to see her or talk to her. We didn’t for about three years. And then we were both on a committee for HaLev Israel, which is an organization that brings people to their first AIPAC Policy Conference. We rekindled there, and we were both happy then. We did waste three years based on her standing me up.
That doesn’t matter now though, right?
No, it still matters. I bring it up all the time.