We Are Family: A Charleston Teen Feels Right At Home in Israel

This past summer, Academic Magnet junior Lily Bluestein was the second Charleston teen to participate in Charleston Jewish Federation's Tikkun Olam Teen Exchange program. Along with peers from across the Southeastern U.S., Lily lived with a host family in the Hadera-Eiron region and volunteered across the country with Israeli and American peers. This is Lily's essay about her experience:

At first, I was more than a little scared to sign up for this program. It sounded incredible and was far more affordable than any other Israel trip I had thought about, but I was worried that I would have trouble understanding the language and meeting new people. I could be stuck in a foreign country for ten days, feeling lost and out of place.

However, my experience was absolutely the opposite. I found the whole program and all the people with me so warm and welcoming. It truly feels like everyone in Israel treats you like a part of their family.

The activities were amazing and more organized than really any other program I’d seen before, yet it didn’t feel overwhelming. We were based in Hadera but traveled all around the country - from walking through Jerusalem, to spending the night in a Bedouin tent, to climbing Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea, to dancing with the residents of a senior home, to enjoying the views from the Golan Heights, to simply spending time in the beautiful Hadera - seeing everything and really getting to be immerse ourselves in the culture.

I think one of my favorite moments took place at the Bedouin tent. A few of my friends and I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep, so we went outside and sat under the stars, singing and simply talking about our lives, with the camels, peacocks, and dogs howling and squawking all around us.

It was incredible to meet so many new friends. The Israelis were such caring, fun-loving people and learning about them was one of my favorite parts of the experience. My host family was so kind to me and taught me so much about life there.

Another part that I found to be really special was the journals that we kept throughout the trip. Our guide Naomi gave us mini-booklets and endless stickers to decorate them with, and I love flipping through it every now and then to remind me of the amazing time I was lucky enough to have.

We were all so different from each other yet so similar at the same time, dealing with the same kinds of problems and insecurities. I learned an amazing amount from the Israelis - about Israel, about their lives, about new perspectives on the world, and much more that I still remember and value so strongly.

Ultimately, I’d encourage anyone to go on Tikkun Olam - there was never any religious pressure or anything to ever make me feel unwelcome there. The staff was amazing and our bus rides all around the country were truly iconic. All the country music we sang, all the things we got to see, all the people who became our friends are now so, so close to my heart and have made Tikkun Olam an experience I will never forget.

Open to all rising 10th and 11th graders in the Charleston area, Tikkun Olam Summer Exchange Trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience off the beaten tourism track. This incredible opportunity combines touring and community service, planned programs and free time with your Israeli family.

Participating teens will:

  • Be hosted and feel a part of the family of an Israeli teen
  • Travel through Israel with both American and Israeli friends from our ten Southeastern US Communities
  • Make friendships that will last a lifetime!

COST: $2,500* (including airfare, all meals, programming, and accommodations in Israel. To receive more information, contact Erin Boynton at erinb@jewishcharleston.org or 843-614-6491.