Shalom, Baltimore!

Shana Medel

What would make a native Floridian leave her home just minutes from Disney World, schelp up north and begin anew?

A job, of course.

Fresh out of college, I was more than ready to escape the choking humidity and tourist-clogged streets of my beloved Sunshine State.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ll always be a proud Floridian — no matter the “Flori-duh” jokes or bizarre “Florida man” headlines. But it was time for a change of scene.

Just shy of a month ago, I packed my Hyundai Sonata and drove to Maryland to begin my career as a reporter at the Baltimore Jewish Times. Moving to a new city is thrilling yet daunting, especially when your loved ones are hundreds of miles away.

Thankfully, Shalom Baltimore helped me transition with ease.

The 15-year-old program, spearheaded by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, welcomes newbies to the area with a personal touch.

Participants meet one on one with a Shalom Baltimore representative to get the scoop on everything Jewish, ranging from kosher restaurants to thriving synagogues. In addition, newcomers receive a goodie bag with a one-month trial membership to the JCC, a coupon for free challah and more.

The volunteer-based organization has roughly 30 individuals trained to welcome new Baltimoreans “from all walks of life, denominations and age ranges,” said its director, Lara Nicolson. In 2016, Shalom Baltimore recorded at least 50 sit-down meetings with newcomers, including Randi Simon.

The Lutherville-Timonium resident, who moved from Rhode Island with her husband and two children, celebrated her first year living in Maryland last week.

Newcomers who participate in the
volunteer-based program Shalom
Baltimore receive welcome bags, which include custom-made jar openers. (Photo by Shana Medel)

“Moving is hard,” she said. “You don’t know who’s who or where to go. Shalom Baltimore gave me that connection.”

While Simon moved a few hundred miles to settle in her new home, others have uprooted their lives from around the world.

“But a move is a move,” said Australia native Mandy Diamond. “If you’re leaving your comfort zone and leaving every thing you’ve ever known, it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 miles or 1,000 miles.”

The mother of two said her one-on-one meeting with Nicolson in fall 2015 gave her the confidence to put herself out there. Once settled in Pikesville with her family, the 37-year-old wasted no time becoming involved in the Jewish community.

And that’s the beauty of this city.

This is a vibrant and welcoming hub for Jewish life. That’s something you don’t see every day, especially in sunny Central Florida.

I’m proud to call myself a Baltimorean — if you can even consider me one yet.

No, I’ve never had to shovel my car out of snow. No, I can’t parallel park. And no I’m pretty sure my football-crazed family would disown me for rooting for the Ravens.

 I have a lot to learn, but I’m glad to be doing so in a city that has already given me so much.

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