As the program manager at the Baltimore Zionist District, my world revolves around Israel. Between facilitating teen trips, organizing cultural programs and developing educational activities and discussions, Israel is at the center of my professional life, but it engulfs my personal life as well.
Israel is my blood, my roots, my past. In the 1950s, my family moved into a village full of small, cramped huts in the Negev desert, fulfilling their dream of finally returning to Zion after too many years in Babylonian exile. Those early decades weren’t easy, but Israel was worth it, and always will be worth it because it is our home, history and heritage. Decades later and those small, cramped huts are now houses and blossoming fields that serve as a wonderful example for how life can thrive in the desert.
Israel is my truth. I believe in Israel because I believe in humanity. I’ve seen Israel deal with some difficult times and situations, but she has always tried to handle things with morality, compassion and good judgement. Israel gives me hope and inspiration because like every one of us, Israel is not perfect. That being said, we all strive to do better and to be better. I believe in Israel. I support her and love her no matter what because she does make every effort to right her wrongs, to learn from her mistakes and to grow from them. In a region where so many things seem so bad, Israel attempts to do good. That humanity, that compassion and that drive to constantly improve herself and the world around her makes me believe in a better today and a better tomorrow.
Israel is tears, laughter and awe. I’ve spent countless nights and days throughout my life crying over Israel. Over my family, our soldiers, the wars and the criticism, but also over the humanity, the resilience, the achievements, the technologies, the songs and the brilliance of our people and land. It is astonishing and inspiring how a petite piece of land and a relatively small population of people can create, develop and accomplish so much.
Israel is my direction, my compass and my core. When I’m not trying to get back to Israel myself, I’m working to help send teens there so that they can experience Israel and fall in love with her like I did at a young age. We are blessed, because there is plenty to fall in love with and connect to: the people, the arts, the diversity, the music, the cultures, the sports and of course, the food. Everyone can find their own way to connect to Israel, and it is our dream at the Baltimore Zionist District that every teen in Baltimore gets the chance to experience Israel and develop a relationship with their homeland.
Israel means not having to worry about being yourself. You can follow whatever faith you please. You can love whomever you love. You can identify with so many different groups and ideologies. Sure, there are disagreements and controversies from time to time. But Israel is a democratic country in which the law is respected and upheld so everyone can find a place where they belong within the country.
Very few things can calm me down more than seeing Israel from a small plane window as we prepare for landing. I am a terrible passenger for many reasons, but mostly because as soon as the pilot announces the descent, I cry a messy, loud and overwhelming cry because I can finally breathe. After time spent away, nothing feels better than coming home.
Seventy years is an incredible milestone that deserves to be celebrated, and yet Israel is still so young with so much ahead of her. I cannot wait to see her grow stronger and even more beautiful and I pray for her peace, strength, and continued prosperity today and always.
Sivan Chaban is the program manager at the Baltimore Zionist District.