Cindy Troll Segal was feeling a bit overwhelmed. While it was thrilling for Segal and her husband to greet their first child, a baby daughter, Ellee Samantha's birth also plunged this new mother into a brave new world. After a career in the corporate arena, she was at home in Gwynedd Valley with Ellee.
"It was an amazing and transforming experience," said Segal, who was 41 when Ellee was born. "As an older first-time mom, I didn't have an automatic network. I was relatively new in our community, and I needed and wanted to meet other new moms."
Enter ... Shalom Baby! It's the program designed to welcome parents and their new infants to the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community, and to help build social connections among the participants. The national program was adopted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Jewish Life and Learning, and recently celebrated its first anniversary locally. It's already been a boon to new moms like Cindy Segal.
"I heard about the program through several sources, and it turned out to be as wonderful as it sounded," said Segal, who initially received a Shalom Baby Welcome Package, filled with practical baby-friendly items, as well as Federation's Resource Guide as a road map to synagogues, preschools, and Jewish holidays and ceremonies.
Segal was then invited to a brunch in her community with other new mothers, and that's when her world really opened up. "I met a core group of Jewish moms with whom I could share concerns, ideas and just plain fun. It's been absolutely wonderful, and has made the adjustment to motherhood so much easier," she said.
And that's precisely the point, according to Roberta Matz, coordinator for Outreach for Federation's Center for Jewish Life and Learning.
"We've found that families having their first or second child, which often means a move to a new neighborhood, were going through so many transitions. We felt that this was an opportune time for the Jewish community to reach out to them and lend a hand," she said.
About half the participants outreach program are from the region, while the other half are from more distant areas. "For those who are new to the area, it's particularly important to provide information and support," said Matz. "We quickly realized that for these families, we may be the vital access to the local Jewish world.
"We sent out 250 gift packages in our first year, and expect to increase that in the next year. We're definitely growing."
One of the recipients of the Shalom Baby gift package was Dr. Elisa Bobrin of Richboro. A veterinarian who now teaches veterinary technicians-in-training part-time, Bobrin gave birth to her third child, daughter Jordan, 16 months ago.
"I found myself wanting to meet other mothers with babies because my older children were at a very different stage. And when I heard about a Sukkot event last year, I decided to try it."
Bobrin now not only feels that little Jordan has a special world of her own; she also feels "plugged in" to the local Jewish world, and has met women who share her interests and concerns. "We're synagogue shopping, and I keep learning more about the local scene through the families I've met," she said. "I think the concept is great, and after going to baby bagel brunches, I'm about to host one. I really believe in this program."
So does Beverly Weinberg of Collegeville, whose daughter, Brooke, is 16 months old. A pediatric occupational therapist, Weinberg recalls growing up in Lansdale without many Jewish friends, and being determined to change that in her new life as a mom.
"It was so important to me to meet other Jewish families," said Weinberg. "It's also such a gift to be able to ask other moms about everything from when to introduce solid foods to what to do about leaky diapers!"
Weinberg is also looking ahead.
"As the babies in the group we've established through Shalom Baby have their birthdays," said Weinberg, "I can't help thinking how nice it would be if about 12 years from now, all our little group of babies were good friends, and were at one another's Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It's never too soon to plan ahead!"
For complete information about the Shalom Baby program, with groups across the region, call 215-646-4500, Ext. 101.