Baltimore Homecoming Hopes to Spark Renewed Interest in City

After two years of preparation, Baltimore Homecoming, co-founded by Nate Loewentheil, left, and JM Schapiro, holds its inaugural event from Oct. 3-5. (Provided)

Innovators, entrepreneurs, artists and activists who can trace their success back to their hometown of Baltimore will return to the city Oct. 3-5 to network and build new relationships at the inaugural Baltimore Homecoming event.

A handful of attendees, including Baltimore Homecoming’s  co-founders Nate Loewentheil, 33, and JM Schapiro,  49, have roots in Baltimore’s Jewish community.

“We see ourselves as facilitating the formation of new relationships between the alumni and people of Baltimore before letting that run its own course,” said Loewentheil, who serves as Baltimore Homecoming, Inc.’s CEO and president of the board.

There are many ways city alumni can make a difference after the Homecoming event, Loewentheil said, including funding a startup company, donating to existing nonprofits or using one’s platform as a public persona to draw  attention to causes throughout  Baltimore.

“Different alumni will have different things to offer to the city,” he said.

Ann Arbor, Michigan resident Rachel Bendit, 43, grew up in Roland Park,  attended the Park School of Baltimore and was a member of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill. Now she serves as the co-chair of the board of  directors of the Jewish Women’s  Archive, an organization headquartered in Boston that  collects and presents the stories of extraordinary Jewish women throughout history.

As an Ann Arbor resident, Bendit was aware of Detroit Homecoming, the event that inspired Loewentheil and Schapiro’s founding of Baltimore Homecoming. Detroit Homecoming, which held its fifth event a few weeks ago, has generated more than $212 million in investment since its start in 2014.

When Bendit was asked to attend Baltimore Homecoming, she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I had this awareness of  Detroit Homecoming, of how it’s been impactful and exciting in Detroit,” she said. “It’s created a lot of energy and enthusiasm and goodwill there.”

While Bendit has not  resided in Baltimore in close to two decades, she is  excited to visit the city outside of the social circumstances that normally bring her back. She hopes a refreshed look at Baltimore and connections to people and organizations not yet in her Rolodex will have an impact.

“I’m interested to connect and get current about  Baltimore from an adult perspective,” she said.  “I’m  almost 20 years older than I was when I last lived there, so to get back to Baltimore and understand it in a contemporary fashion, with the  current issues, strengths, assets,  concerns and projects, I think I’ll see it in a new way.”

Over the course of three days,  guests will attend numerous curated events, including a fireside chat with Orioles legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., a panel discussion regarding ways to reduce violence in the city and field trips to various communities.

Schapiro, who serves as Baltimore Homecoming, Inc.’s treasurer of the board, believes the city is saturated with brilliant ideas and  potential — so many that they couldn’t pack them all in.

“The hardest part of this has been putting together a program,” he said. “There are so many great things happening in Baltimore City that we want to highlight, but we just don’t have enough time.”

Despite not including every one of Baltimore’s philanthropic, innovative or  enterprising efforts, Schapiro is confident that Baltimore Homecoming will serve its purpose.

“I think we should be able to tell by the energy in the room by the people when they arrive,” he said.  “I think we’ll be able to see the connections immediately.”

Loewentheil is optimistic  too. He thinks Baltimore Homecoming, like Detroit Homecoming, is likely to run several years.

“There’s a very large untapped  community of alumni out there,” said Loewentheil. “We made very good progress this year, but our database could grow for years.”

Rachel Fishman Feddersen, the CEO and publisher of The Forward, is part of a family with Baltimore history that goes back 100 years.

Feddersen, 47, now lives in New York, but regularly returns to Baltimore to visit her parents. Like Bendit, she is excited by the prospect of using this trip home not to socialize, but to create new  relationships.

“There is something about connecting with your roots that’s very resonant for me as someone who runs The Forward,  which is all about the Jewish community connecting with its roots and with each other,” she said. “It’s all connected to seeing the richness and depth to  various communities.”

Feddersen still has a lot of affection for the city. If there were more jobs in media, she said, she’d be living here.

“Baltimore is like a crucible for interesting people. You’re sort of blissfully disconnected from the ego and high rents you can find in other coastal urban centers,” she said. “It’s a place that welcomes creativity and invention and trying new stuff.”

“Smalltimore” is a colloquial  term of endearment Baltimoreans use to describe the city’s interconnectedness, and it applies to all four of these Baltimore alums too: They are all either current or former members of Beth Am  Synagogue.

“Love Beth Am,” said Feddersen. “Love how connected it is. Love that it’s still in downtown Baltimore where it was established. JM and his family sit in front of mine at synagogue.”

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