Strangers Become Friends Who Become Family

What is it that makes hosting Israeli teens and young adults so special? One might say that it is the connection that forges, and exists for a lifetime. Others may say it is the unexpected experience that is uniquely different each time they open their home. Some may say that it is both, and even more! What is for sure is that when you host an Israeli, you are doing an undeniable mitzvah.

Executive Director, Caren Leven and Liem

This summer, our executive director, Caren Leven hosted many Israeli teens and young adults. One in particular was 24 year-old, Liem from Israel. This was Liem's second year working at the Owings Mills JCC, J Camps. During her time here, Liem said that the relationships that were created immediately turned into friendships, and those relationships turned into a second family.

I had the privilege of getting to know Liem as well. As we spoke, it quickly became obvious how far her love for our community goes. As we are very close in age, we enjoyed seeing the similarities and vast differences between living in Israel and living in the United States.

One specific conversation that I will never forget was when I told her that so much of the time, when I am meeting new people, the moment they find out I am Jewish, it becomes the forefront of the conversation. Liem was stunned, she asked, "what do you mean? People are really that shocked?" I told her that one of the biggest differences, that I've noticed, between living in Israel and in the U.S. is that in Israel, Jewish people are not the minority; it is not strange to be a Jew there.

Interestingly enough, right after we had this conversation, we met two people during a night out on the town. When they asked Liem where she was from, based upon her accent, they were so intrigued and instantly asked, "wait, so are you Jewish?" and then said, "that's so interesting! What is it like to be Jewish?"

Liem looked at me, in total shock since we had just finished a conversation where I explained this unfortunate reality. Although these two people were genuinely interested and very nice, it still stung a bit to feel like an outsider.

However, this moment made us both even more thankful to have a place, as Jews, to call home. A place where people aren't shocked that we are Jewish; our homeland...Israel.

This past Tuesday, Liem left to return to Israel.There was not a dry eye included with every hug as she said her goodbyes. I could even attest to Caren's dog, Lulu, displaying signs of sadness as Liem left for the airport.

One thing is for sure, these connections that are forged between Israeli's and the community are forever lasting. With every Israeli that visits, a new family member is made.

Still, this is not goodbye, it's "see you later."

If you would be interested in hosting in the future,

please email

Special thanks to J Camps!

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The Baltimore Zionist District (BZD) exists for the sole purpose of nurturing the bonds between Baltimore and the State of Israel.  

Baltimore Zionist District (BZD) uses its direct Israeli connection as a home base for the creation of cultural and political programs and educational activities which deal with all aspects of Zionism and modern Israeli life. BZD works with and reaches out to Baltimore’s Jews across the religious and cultural spectrum and the greater Baltimore community.


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