Her parents met in a kibbutz after her mom left the U.S. for Israel to volunteer during the Yom Kippur War. The young Caren Leven grew up in Haifa in a high-rise “filled with children.” She learned to speak English from her mother and Hebrew from her Israeli father and when they returned to Baltimore — her mother is from Mount Washington — it took a while for the 10-year-old Israeli-born girl to acclimate to her new Pikesville home.
“I grew up in Israel, but I spent most of my life here,” Leven said. “I came here basically bilingual. But I did not read and write this language when I came here. It was a hard transition for me, obviously coming from another country.”
But acclimate she did, attending Wellwood International School, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and Pikesville High School. She went on to graduate from Towson University with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in marketing. She worked in outside sales and at-home marketing as she raised her two children, then worked for five years as the director of congregational engagement at Temple Oheb Shalom. She still lives in Pikesville with her husband and two children.
Last week, Leven was tapped to lead the Baltimore Zionist District as its new executive director. The organization helps connect youths and adults with Israel through its teen Israel trips, Birthright journeys and making aliyah, among other local programs and events.
She said her new position at BZD is renewing her connection with Israel, where she said her “childhood was amazing. My childhood was very free. I spent most of my childhood outside, where I think today kids spend most of their childhood inside.”
“My family and I have always been ardent supporters of Israel,” she said. “My great-grandmother, for whom I am named, became the president of Pioneer Women and was a friend of Golda Meir. My aunt belonged to the Habonim movement and trained to be one of the first settlers of Kfar Blum. Instead, she became a WAVE [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service] during World War II. My entire life is centered on my Jewish identity and my love for Israel.”
Leven said that love, along with her excitement and enthusiasm, will help drive the mission of BZD.
“I’m looking forward to reconnecting myself with Israel and reconnecting the community with Israel,” she said. “I really want to bring the community back to a love for Israel and bring them closer to Israel, what’s going on in Israel and within the community and bring more awareness on how we can form a closer relationship between Baltimore and Israel.”
Upcoming programs include the Maccabi Torch Delegation, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut programs and the Friends of Israel Scouts – Tzofim summer community programs.
She encourages people to join Baltimore Zionist District, as membership helps support its many programs, such as the teen trip to Israel, and helps increase community awareness of the challenges that Israel is facing.
“It subsidizes our teens to go to Israel and really gives them the experience to connect with Israel, so that in the future as adults they have that connection that they will want to continue,” Leven said. “Once they see the country and learn the culture, they really connect with it on a deep level and have that deeper understanding.”