Baltimore’s Jewish Community Shares Personal Stories and Meaningful Experiences of Israel Ahead of Yom Ha’Atzmaut

April 26 is the 75th Yom Ha’Atzmaut, or Israel’s Independence Day. Our Jewish homeland is full of innovation, deep history and rich culture. Over the years, Jewish Baltimore has forged a powerful connection to Israel, resulting in life-changing programming, experiences and relationships that bring our global Jewish communities closer together.

Our community’s connection and understanding of Israel is deepened through the opportunities provided each year to travel to Israel or learn more about our Jewish state right here in Baltimore.

Hear from local community members about their personal and meaningful experiences around Israel.

Sue Glick Liebman

Sue Glick Liebman

Life-long champion of Israel

Liebman lives her passion through her dedication to strengthening Jewish peoplehood, especially relationships among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. Her first trip to Israel was in 1966, prior to the 1967 war.

Her parents worked tirelessly to bring their extended family, all Holocaust survivors, to Israel and the States. Liebman recalls her mother writing letters, sending packages and working with local agencies to help raise funds for our Jewish homeland.

“From an early age, my parents taught me that the Jewish American obligation is to support Israel.”

Liebman’s desire to help people learn to love Israel and advocate for partnership programs and Jewish education initiatives led her to spearhead the Sue Glick Liebman Israel Scholar program, a community-wide series designed to educate and deepen our community’s relationship with the people and land of Israel.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liebman would travel to Israel at least once a year.

“My children live in Jerusalem, and when I walk into their house, they say, ‘Welcome Home,’ and that’s exactly how I feel.”

Liebman’s birthday wish for Israel: “There’s only one. There should be peace and they should live a good, wholesome life. I’m so proud of Israel.”

Michael Elman rappelled his way down a large cliff during his trip to Israel

Michael Elman

Past Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership leader

Twenty years ago, due to his strong involvement with Israel, Elman was asked to be part of The Associated cohort that went to Israel in search of a new partner city.

“We had a relationship with Karmiel/Misgav in the north of Israel, along with Pittsburgh, but we wanted our own sister city. Ashkelon just blew us away.”

“Prior to the partnership, we were like tourists – we’d shake hands with Israelis, but we didn’t really have anything to do with them. Now we are in touch with real people and are able to build real relationships, both on a professional level because of where our dollars are going and also on a personal level. During a number of the wars, when Ashkelon was attacked, we unfortunately, felt that personally, too.  And, that interpersonal relationship is at a different level than anything any other charitable organization can do with Israel.”

Elman remembers fondly being in Ashkelon to help build Baltimore Park and stand shoulder to shoulder with community members, all of whom have become family.

“When you have personal relationships, it takes it to a different level and that has paid tremendous dividends.”

Elman’s birthday wish for Israel: They should continue to grow and be a light onto the nations and inspire people across all humanity to live up to their potential as one brotherhood and it starts with us. That’s our purpose on Earth.”

Evan Willner

Evan Willner

2017 Baltimore Onward Israel participant

Willner first learned about Baltimore Onward Israel through a friend who had participated in the program the previous year. He was a junior at Elon University at the time.

Onward Israel provides internship opportunities for an authentic taste of modern-day Israel while providing participants with valuable work experience and knowledge.

“I didn’t want to have a traditional internship in my hometown. I wanted to get out and explore. I was interested in returning to Israel and living there as an adult and excited to learn transferable skills and things that I would use in the future.”

“What I loved about living there is just being one with your community and feeling safe and feeling like everybody around you understands you for who you are.”

While in Tel Aviv, Willner worked for Vicomi, a startup that implemented emotional intelligence widgets onto online publication sites. They have since sold the technology to Google.

“This is typical of Israeli startups. Interestingly enough, I am currently working on trying to implement this same technology with the company I work for now through our content and online websites.” 

Willner’s birthday wish for Israel: “I always wish for peace in Israel and another 75 years of growth and development and to continue bringing greatness to the world.”

Chloe Levine and Lexi Singer took in the sights in the Old City of Jerusalem during her visit to Israel through the Diller program

Chloe Levine

Diller Teen Fellow/4Front Baltimore

Last year, as a junior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Levine participated in the Diller Teen Fellows program, a year-long immersive global leadership program culminating in a trip to Israel.

“In the summer, we went to Israel where we continued doing leadership activities, connected with teens in Ashkelon and learned about their lifestyle. Just being there with them and hearing their jokes and hearing what is funny to them or what’s sad to them or impactful to them — that really made a difference.”

Levine says she also feels a deep connection to the Jewish state.

“As soon as I got off the plane, I just felt like I’d stepped into home. I know that may sound cliché to say, but I really feel it.”

The program also prepared Levine for potentially challenging conversations around Israel when she heads to college in the fall.

“It’s really important for me to be educated about our homeland so that I can effectively defend
my stance.”

Levine’s birthday wish for Israel: “My birthday wish for Israel is that it stays strong and remains a safe place for all Jews. I really hope we’ll still be able to travel there in the near future.”

Left to right: Eran Attedgui, John Buergenthal, Randi Buergenthal, Ronit Pinky (Shinshin)

Randi Buergenthal

Shinshinim Host Family

In 2010, Buergenthal remembers receiving a call from The Associated looking for host families for the shinshinim (Israeli young emissaries) that year. She thought it would be an incredible connection for her two young daughters and provide an opportunity for them to learn about Israel through a young person’s eyes. The Buergenthals enjoyed their experience so much that they hosted a shinshinim again in 2013.

“Both of my girls, now 26 and 23, have been to Israel. We’ve maintained contact with our shinshinim. They refer to them as their Israeli sisters, and we naturally refer to them as our Israeli daughters. We’ve seen their parents and visited their homes each time we have been to Israel.”

The shinshinim contribute in innumerable ways to our community. They facilitate many programs that nurture a real personal connection between young Israelis and Jews in Baltimore. Through the shinshinim our students, families and community members can develop an authentic relationship with Israel and a more complete understanding of Israeli culture and society.

“I would absolutely recommend being a host family. It’s a win-win. It’s a wonderful experience to have someone in your home that truly becomes a part of your family. You only host for a couple of months, but you end up with a lifelong relationship with someone, which is very special.”

Buergenthal’s birthday wish for Israel: “That’s an easy one – peace, tolerance and hope.”

Check out the great events happening across our community to celebrate Israel’s 75th!  

April 25: Film Festival – Exodus 91 and AVEVA

June 4: JCC event – Foodscapes: Sights, Sounds and Scents of Israel

Learn more at

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