Goodbyes are never easy. Change is one of the most difficult aspects of life. Today, we are saying farewell, to one of Beit T’Shuvah’s longest-standing employees—David Baer. Although this may feel like a sad moment, let’s treat it as a celebration of his years of service and a reminder of everything he has done for our organization. To many of us, Baer has always been the glue that holds Beit T’Shuvah together—doing so many jobs that no one even knew the full extent of, answering more frantic phone calls than anyone one person ever should…but that wasn’t always the case.
David Baer was born right here in Los Angeles in what many would describe to be a less-than-ideal home life. From a very early age, he and his identical twin brother were mentally and physically abused by their father. “If we breathed wrong, it was a reason for him to put his hands on us.” When he was nine, his parents got divorced. So, he turned to the streets to raise him. Around that time, he first started committing crimes. It started with him stealing cigarettes and then moved on to stealing his mom’s car…at the age of nine.
This was only the start of Baer’s life of crime. Within a few years, he was kicked out of every junior high school in the valley. His mom had heard of a place called Vista Del Mar, a Jewish home for kids, and promptly sent both her sons there. Baer was there for three years, only allowed to go home on the weekends. In retrospect, he says, “Vista Del Mar was the only reason I was able to graduate. It kept me out of juvenile hall…well it was pretty much like juvenile hall.” Once he graduated, he returned home and picked up right where he left off. Within six months, his mom kicked him out. From that point on, his life was a penitentiary tennis match with Baer and the ball—in jail, out of jail, in jail out of jail. Through all of this, he got heavily addicted to drugs. He also made a good living selling drugs—in jail, out of… “I was a criminal and a bad person for a while. The world was my pantry. Take what you want.” The first time he went to prison he remembers thinking with pride, “I made it.” This wasn’t a life he was upset he was living, at first.
Eventually, like it always does, this life of chaos and crime Baer had built for himself became too much. More than anything, he was tired. He couldn’t live the way he was anymore. So, he reached out for help. A few of his family members had gone through Beit T’Shuvah before, so he knew this was the first place he had to call. From a squatter’s den, he made his first call. They told him that if he really wanted to be a resident, he would have to attend groups while living at another sober living. Baer walked from that sober living to BTS every day to make it to the groups on time. After a week, he had a bed in the building. That was in 2010. Immediately, he became an incredibly dedicated resident who was clearly ready for a massive change. “I hit Beit T’Shuvah running—feet first. When I was done I was done. I put the same level of energy into getting sober as I did into getting high.” That work paid off. Over time, Baer changed and grew and became the man that we know today.
Eventually, Baer got a job in the for-profit world and it became clear to him that anything where he wasn’t of service was going to make him miserable. Helping people was his calling. His whole life he had bottled this love and care he felt for others under a mask of criminal bravado. Once back on track, he accepted a job working for Beit T’Shuvah. Back in those days, there was no real separation between PF and counselors. So, he jumped into doing both jobs at once (which if you know Baer is no surprise). Once the roles separated, he was tasked with overseeing all the PFs.
Of everyone at Beit T’Shuvah, no one has a deeper understanding of how everything works as much as Baer does. In some capacity, he has worked with every department in the building. Sometimes, I even see him answering the phone at the front desk fielding more frantic phone calls! Truly, the Swiss Army Knife of Beit T’Shuvah. “I just want to be a team player. I want to make sure the clients are getting what they need, the staff is getting what they need, and the work is getting done.” Through all of this pressure and stress, he has kept an open mind, a smile on his face, and love for each and every person in this building. In return, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone as adored as Baer. “From Monday’s house meeting to Wednesday’s party, to whatever is going to happen at Shabbat, I am feeling things I have never felt before…because I have never allowed myself to feel them before. If I died tomorrow, I would know how loved I am. Most people don’t get that.”
Beit T’Shuvah will never be the same without David Baer. David Baer will never be the same without Beit T’Shuvah…but that is okay. The tenants that this organization was built on are change and growth. So, yes, we may be saying Baerwell to him today but we will never lose him. No matter where he goes, David Baer will always be a structural building block that will forever be a part of the foundation of Beit T’Shuvah. Through the years he has affected thousands of people’s lives and has made lasting ripples throughout our community. We could not forget such a man even if we tried. It may be the case that he won’t be in the office every day before the sun comes up. It may be true that residents can no longer pester him about switching rooms. It may even be factually accurate to say that Beit T’Shuvah’s Dodgers cheerleading squad just lost its team captain, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he is gone. Baer’s presence as an employee will forever be missed but remember…he is always a frantic phone call away.