A Former Los Angelina finds Community and Jewish Connection in the South by Naomi McRary

I lived in L.A. for 12 years and I loved it. I met my husband there, in a bar of course. He was from North Carolina of all places, and he was Southern Baptist, although non-practicing. We got married in New York (yes, a Brooklyn Jewish girl and a Southern Baptist from the South). We got pregnant almost immediately – I was shocked, I was 40 already, “advanced maternal age” they call it. With twins. We were blown away.

Having the twins changed everything for me. Even though I was not “religious,” it was extremely important to me that my kids be raised in the Jewish faith. It was interesting how powerfully this feeling was ingrained in me, given that I had not practiced Judaism in years and even somewhat resented it as a child when I had to attend religious school four afternoons a week.

My husband and I were trying to figure out what to do. We were living in L.A with one-year-old twins, no family to help us, and we were both working crazy jobs with long hours, Robert at Universal Music and myself at 20th Century Fox. The kids were with a nanny all day. Housing in L.A. was, to put it lightly, extremely expensive. N.Y. would have been the same type of situation: expensive, both of us needing to work crazy jobs just to keep up, never getting to see the kids. I had wanted kids my whole life, finally had them and they were essentially being raised by a nanny. It was killing me.

Robert is originally from Lenoir, here in North Carolina. We thought maybe we should move to Charlotte. We’d have his family nearby to help with the kids. The cost of living was cheap enough that I could stay home with the kids, at least while they were little.

If you had ever told my NY/LA self that I would end up moving to the South, the “Bible Belt” if you will, I would have laughed hysterically. Never. I had never even visited the South! What was “down there”? Nothing that I wanted to see in my East Coast / West Coast, big city brain.

Well, we came down to visit and my mother-in-law told me about a place called Shalom Park. I went to check it out. Pretty much the only thing I knew was that my kids were going to need to go to a preschool and I wanted it to be a Jewish one.

I was blown away. Two temples, a Jewish camp, a Jewish Day School, and a JCC that had activities for every age group and every interest under the sun. And tennis courts. And a pool. And a gym. I was sold. It was like one stop Jewish shopping. Everything you could possibly need to live a Jewish life all under one roof. How easy was this?

I bought a house that weekend. I loved the idea of everything being right there. In LA, everything was so spread out that your temple could be on one end of the city and your preschool on the other. It seemed much simpler to be able to focus on one area.

So we moved to Charlotte. We registered the twins in Camp Katan. We started getting settled in, and people from the JCC and both temples actually called to welcome us to Charlotte. We instantly felt a sense of community, like we belonged.

My kids are now 13 and will become B’nei Mitzvah at Temple Beth El in September. They did 5 years at CJP, 7 years at TBE religious school, and 10 years at Camp Katan/Mindy. Countless trips to the J to work out, play tennis or swim at the pool.

And throughout it all, we moved through the experience with the same families. Our kids grew up with their kids. Friends turned into family. We are now going to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs for kids that we’ve known since they were 2 at CJP and I honestly believe it is because of the tight knit Jewish community here, and everything you could possibly need for your family under one roof at Shalom Park.

The South Charlotte Jewish community is there for you for wherever you’re at in your life. Senior, single, young family, empty nesters…there is a place for everyone. In Brooklyn, I felt they catered to the seniors. It was very difficult for me to feel comfortable there. In Los Angeles, I felt they catered to young families and I was 35 and single. So in both cities, I never felt “at home”. I didn’t get involved with the Jewish community in either city because I didn’t feel there was a place for me. Thankfully, I found a place for myself and my family in Charlotte at Shalom Park, and I feel quite confident in saying it will easily serve all of our needs forever.



Naomi, her husband Robert, and their twins Sarah and Samuel moved here from L.A. about 12 years ago and live in Southpark. She is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.  She has been working in the advertising/marketing industry her whole life, most recently at 20th Century FOX.