A Former Los Angeles Native Finds a Home in Baltimore


When Rena Stern Kates moved here from Los Angeles for her husband Max’s urology residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she really only expected to stay for six years.

But to their surprise, the couple quickly realized how much they liked Baltimore.

Today, as working parents two young children at home – Eli, 3, and Amira, 1 – they have developed a great group of friends. And, this busy mother still finds time to engage her children in making a difference for her newly adopted community.

What do you do? I’m an attorney, and I recently became a legal instructor at the Baltimore Police Academy, where I teach law classes to entry level police officer trainees. I also serve as a board member for Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC), and it’s been such a fun, enriching, and rewarding experience.

How’d you get started with JVC? My friend Jessica Goldstein and I were discussing how we wanted to do something to volunteer with our then two-year-olds. She came up with the idea to start a VolunTeam with JVC (Jewish Volunteer Connection) and to volunteer at a senior center. She asked me to be her co-chair. We met with Erica Bloom, and I was immediately impressed by Erica and by the resources JVC was able to offer us as volunteers. Erica was invaluable in helping us to establish contact with Springwell Senior Living Community and execute all the logistics of the project. All we had to do was focus on getting the word out to our friends and volunteering! Jessica has now passed the leadership torch to Michelle Holland, who is also a mom of young kids and a fantastic and dedicated VolunTeam co-chair.

What made you decide to do PlayDate Together at Springwell? I was looking for a volunteer program that would be not only be accommodating to young kids, but that would contribute to their growth and social awareness. Through this program, our kids have grown comfortable around people of all ages. The seniors love just watching the kids play together, and our kids enjoy the love and attention from the seniors. Everyone leaves with smiles on their faces.

Any specific moment that touched you? We volunteer at Springwell once a month. One week when we weren’t volunteering, my son asked, ‘are we going to go see our friends at Springwell today?’ It was really sweet how he’s come to look forward to going.

What’s it like raising kids in Jewish Baltimore compared to Los Angeles? Actually, Los Angeles has a similar Jewish community to Baltimore. Very large, yet somehow everyone knows everyone’s business!

How do you recharge? Reading! And taking our 15-year-old beagle Professor Huggins for leisurely strolls in the neighborhood. She stops to smell basically every blade of grass, so it’s more like a walking meditation than actual exercise, which is totally fine by me.

Books that you are reading? White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Even though it was written almost 20 years ago, the themes are still so relevant today. The writing is so sharp and extremely funny as well.

Favorite quote or song that motivates you? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Where do you see yourself and family 10 years from now? I hope healthy, happy, and able to sleep past 6 a.m.


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The Associated is a home for everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community. We offer several email lists to help people find a community, engage with their peers and support Jewish journeys around the world.

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