Lance Rombro admits that the term “life-changing” can seem trite at times.
Yet, when asked to explain the extraordinary opportunity he’s had these past two years participating in HaZamir Baltimore, he has trouble thinking of a better word.
The same can be said for Elihay Skital, a 17-year-old from Ashkelon, Israel. For the past four years, Skital has been a member of HaZamir Ashkelon, funded by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership.
For both these high school students, participating in this international Jewish teen choir, which jointly performs in Baltimore and in New York, has been an amazing experience.
Amazing, not only because of the opportunity to sing with other teens on a world-renowned stage in New York, but also thanks to the bonds they have formed with their peers across the ocean.
HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, now in its 25th year, is a network of 38 choral chapters in communities across the United States and Israel which perform Jewish music locally and nationally. The highlight is the annual concert in New York City in which all communities sing together.
This year, the international concert is at David Geﬀen Hall on March 18. On March 20, the Baltimore and Ashkelon HaZamir choirs will hold a joint concert at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC.
Rombro joined the choir two years ago. This December, he and a group of HaZamir Baltimore participants traveled to Ashkelon where they stayed with host families. From the minute he stepped foot in the city, he was welcomed with open arms.
“Before the trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yet the time I spent with my host family, the long meaningful conversations I had and hanging out with the Ashkelon teens made me realize that someone so far away cares about me. It changed my world outlook,” says Rombro.
Skital, who has traveled to Baltimore for the past few years, hosted some of the Baltimore teens in his home.
“It’s so fun to have the opportunity to give back to the people who gave me a comfortable feeling at their own house and city,” Skital says. “I have one strong friend from Baltimore and we talk about everything. I feel so connected to her although we live so far away.”
One of the goals of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is to foster meaningful people-to-people relationships between members of both communities through programs like HaZamir. For the Baltimore teens, these friendships strengthen their connection to Israel.
In fact, says Erika Pardes Schon, who has served as conductor of HaZamir Baltimore since its inception, those connections go well into the future. HaZamir alumni who return to Israel, she says, often include visits to their Ashkelon friends on their itineraries.
“We want our kids to love Israel and view it as the home of their extended family,” Schon says.
“The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is visionary as it is not just about building community, but is nurturing relationships we hope will last a lifetime. The Associated is investing in the future of Israel/Diaspora relations,” she adds.