Strengthening Bonds, Exploring Roots on BZD’s Trip to Israel

Caren Leven
Caren Leven (Courtesy of Caren Leven)

By Caren Leven

As the executive director of the Baltimore Zionist District, I had the tremendous joy of witnessing a transformative adventure unfold as 24 Baltimore teens embarked on a life-changing trip to Israel. This unforgettable journey was designed to deepen their Jewish identity, instill cherished values and forge lasting connections with Israel and its people.

The heart of this remarkable experience was generously subsidized by the BZD, ensuring that all eligible participants could afford to join the journey. Our mission was to ensure that financial limitations would not hinder any eager young mind from experiencing this extraordinary adventure.

Throughout 27 days, our group — led by BZD’s shlicha Adi Ratzon — delved into the essence of Jewish heritage and the vibrant Israeli spirit. Our group visited vital destinations that connected these young travelers to their ancestral homeland. From the profound sanctity of the Western Wall on Shabbat to the storied lanes of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish Quarter, our teens immersed themselves in a rich history that resonated deep within their hearts.

To deepen their understanding, they visited the poignant Chain of Generations Center and Yad Vashem, honoring the legacy of those who came before us. They also paid their respects at Mount Herzl and the Herzl Center, where our young participants connected with the visionary leaders who shaped Israel’s destiny.

But this journey was not just about history. It was also about experiencing Israeli culture firsthand. The vibrant atmosphere of the Machane Yehuda Market and the breathtaking beauty of Mount Bental left the teens in awe. Rafting and kayaking in Kfar Blum injected a dose of thrill and adventure into their trip, while visits to Haifa’s Bahai Gardens and the inspiring Gadna Program fostered a deep appreciation for Israeli culture and service.

Teenagers at the Western Wall
The group of teens at the Western Wall (Courtesy of Caren Leven)

The most profound week of the trip involved Israeli teens joining their American counterparts, and what followed was nothing short of magical. Boundaries blurred as they shared experiences and observed Shabbat together. Friendships were forged that transcended borders, leaving an everlasting impact on all involved.

As our teens returned home, parents eagerly awaited their arrival and were met with overwhelming joy and gratitude. Testimonials poured in, with one parent sharing, “Even though our daughter is still in Israel, what we see and hear from her is nothing but joy. It was a great trip, well done and organized.” Another parent conveyed their child’s excitement: “Our daughter said it is the best thing she’s ever done and can’t wait to return.”

We are still going. Post-trip plans include a reunion and various events to keep the teens connected and inspired. The journey to Israel was just the beginning of a lifelong bond and commitment to their heritage.

As I reflect on this remarkable adventure, which my son was part of, my heart is full of gratitude for Ratzon’s exceptional leadership and dedication to ensuring that these young minds had the most profound and enriching experience. The BZD’s journey to Israel has left an indelible impression, empowering these teens with a profound sense of Jewish identity and a lasting bond with the state of Israel. The memories and friendships forged will continue to shape their lives, fostering a deep appreciation for their heritage and a commitment to building a stronger, united Jewish community.

Together, as a community and organization, we have planted seeds of love for Israel in the hearts of our young teens, and I am confident that they will continue to grow and flourish in the years to come.

Caren Leven is the executive director of Baltimore Zionist District.

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