After six years abroad in Barcelona and London, Malorie (Willow) Schecter and her husband, Jonathan, were looking to move.
Malorie’s family lived outside of Erie, Pennsylvania. Jonathan’s family was in Westchester, New York. The Schecters wanted to be closer to family. But after having spent so many seasons living and traveling across Europe, the couple had a few other requirements for their new locale: They wanted to be near an international airport, and they wanted somewhere with access to cultural amenities, including a vibrant Jewish community, for their two young children.
During a 2019 visit to Pittsburgh, the family found their new home.
Pittsburgh was one of several stops on a list of potential places to relocate, Malorie Schecter said.
The city had so much of what the family was searching for, but it was a Purim celebration with South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh that sealed the deal.
During the event, which included crafts, games and activities, “our 5-year-old turned to me and said, ‘This feels like home,’” Schecter recounted. That comment, and conversations shared with other program participants, became “a formative moment” for Schechter’s family.
Months after the Purim carnival, the Schecters moved to Upper St. Clair and began experiencing Jewish life in the region. Schechter volunteered at Temple Emanuel of South Hills’ early childhood center and helped Beth El Congregation of the South Hills with programming for young families. The family enjoyed its new haunts for six months.
Then COVID hit.
Even through the pandemic, Schecter wanted to remain connected to the community. She became the South Hills ambassador for PJ Library and credited Danielle West, PJ Library coordinator for Pittsburgh, with organizing “some great virtual events” during that period.
PJ Library’s programs and “our connection with the Jewish community helped us get through,” Schecter said.
Not only did the virtual programs provide ways for young children to learn about different Jewish holidays and themes, but PJ Library was a critical social connector for adults, Schecter said.
Last summer, as her youngest son prepared for kindergarten, Schecter recognized that she soon would have more time on her hands — and a friendship that began before moving to Pittsburgh helped her find a new role within the community.
During that 2019 Purim Carnival, Schecter met Stacie Stamm and Erin Herman, both of Amazing Journeys, a Pittsburgh-based company specializing in travel for Jewish singles. The three stayed in touch.
When the company was looking to expand, Schecter’s name came up as a potential hire, said Malori Asman, Amazing Journey's founder and “chief amazement
Approximately one month ago, Schecter joined Amazing Journeys.
Given her communal involvement, various talents and appreciation of travel, Schecter is a boon to the company, Asman said.
Whether it’s aiding logistics or leading a trip, Asman is confident Schecter will contribute to the company’s ability to provide enjoyable and meaningful Jewish group experiences.
Schecter is excited about her future with Amazing Journeys.
“I teach religious school at Beth El. I coach an Odyssey of the Mind team. I lead Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. When people ask me what I do I tell them, ‘I am a full-time community member with a bunch of different organizations and it all just fits together.’ It’s nice to have adults in the mix now,” she said.
Joining Amazing Journeys allows Schecter to share her love of exploring the world with other Jewish adults, but international travel wasn’t always at the top of her mind.
After growing up in McKean, a borough in Erie County, Schecter received a scholarship to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Part of that scholarship allowed her to visit New York City along with other cities, and to see Broadway shows. In addition to providing funding for the 75-mile bus ride between Easton and Manhattan, the scholarship enabled Schecter to spend three weeks studying internationally.
As the first person in her family to have a passport, she wanted to go somewhere exotic, she said.
Schecter decided on Thailand, but the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami caused her to change course. She ended up heading to Istanbul and spent three weeks between the fall and spring semesters of her junior year completely mesmerized by the experience.
“I was from this small town in Pennsylvania,” she said. “Going to Turkey was my first time on a plane.”
The experience was “truly life-changing,” she said.
After realizing “how much history and culture was out there,” Schecter returned to Lafayette College, changed her major, withdrew her applications from law school and spent the next semester studying abroad in Europe.
“I had already taken the LSATs and was applying, and I thought, ‘maybe one day’ — but I was more interested in seeing how the world fits together,” she said.
It was an exciting time to be in Eastern Europe, Schecter said.
Between 2004 and 2007, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union.
Since her college days and subsequent years spent living abroad, Schecter has continued traveling. She’s boarded numerous planes, trains and buses worldwide, and every time a similar feeling returns.
“It’s this eye-opening experience of how connected everything is, and how much there still is to know,” she said. “It’s just this continued experience of awe and wonder.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.