Through her work as the executive director of the Baltimore Zionist District, Caren Leven forges bonds between Baltimore and Israel’s respective Jewish communities.
She is the latest director to helm the organization, which has been advocating and educating about Israel for more than a century. BZD is one of the oldest Zionist organizations in the United States.
Leven, 45, lives in Baltimore with her husband, Jon, and their two children. The family attends Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville.
A self-identified sabra — the Hebrew word for “prickly pear cactus” that is used in Israel to mean a Jew born in Israel — Leven was born and raised in Haifa, Israel, but came to the U.S. at the age of 10 with her family. She always missed Israel, though, which led her to seek work that would help her stay connected to her home country.
“Growing up in Israel was a remarkable experience that profoundly shaped my perspective on community, identity and the importance of unity,” Leven said. “It instilled a deep sense of belonging to the Jewish people and a commitment to preserving our heritage. Although I live here, a piece of my identity was always left behind [in Israel].”
Leven used her background in marketing and communication, both of which she majored in at Towson University, to enter the world of nonprofit organizations. It was specifically her background and interest in Jewish culture that brought her there, and eventually to BZD.
BZD’s staff consists of three people, so Leven often has a lot on her plate. As the organization’s executive director, she oversees its fundraising efforts, community engagement work and strategic direction, as well as the creation of its educational programs. She also works closely with BZD’s board of directors.
Leven feels that the organization has grown significantly since she first started working there.
“Witnessing the positive change we’ve made in people’s lives and fostering a sense of Jewish belonging is a source of great pride,” she noted.
Collaboration is a key part of Leven’s work. Because BZD is fairly small, she and its other staff often work with other community organizations, both local and Israeli, as well as with synagogues and educational institutions. Through these partnerships, BZD is able to send adults and teenagers on trips to Israel, host symposiums and provide educational resources for those who wish to learn more about the country.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned at BZD is the power of community and collaboration,” Leven said. “Together, we can achieve so much more than we can individually. Building bridges, fostering inclusivity and engaging with various segments of the Jewish community is essential for our collective growth and vitality.”
The work Leven does for BZD often overlaps with her personal and family life. She wants her children, currently 15 and 10 years old, to develop a strong Jewish identity. The family actively engages with Jewish community events and resources even when Leven is off the clock, and she feels that practicing Jewish traditions with her children is a valuable experience.
“My commitment to Jewish community work is deeply intertwined with my family and religious life,” she said. “Our home is where Jewish culture and heritage are cherished and celebrated.”
In addition to spending time with her family, Leven often enjoys traveling and exploring Baltimore’s cultural scene.
Looking toward the future, Leven wants to continue working to expand BZD even further, launching more programs and securing more partners. She noted that she wants BZD to be an inclusive space for Baltimore’s pro-Israel population.
“Our plans include … ensuring that BZD remains a welcoming and thriving center for Jewish life in Baltimore,” Leven said. “I look forward to the exciting journey and positive change we can create together.”