In October of 2018, leadership and community members traveled to Israel with the Charleston Jewish Federation. The following article was written by trip participant, Evelyn Needle. Evelyn’s story is a moving example of how Israel can inform and inspire us to find our Jewish identity. But the trip was even more enriching. We also learned how we, as American Jews, can influence Israelis’ Jewish identity, especially those who have not had contact with Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
On the last day of our trip, we visited a high school in Hadera. The students were amazed to talk with Jews who live outside of Israel. And when we all attended a ceremony held by the students to honor Rabin's memory on the date of his assassination, ending with all of us singing "Hatikva" together, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. These young Israelis looked at us and realized that we are all one big family.
Tikkun Olam Program with Hadera
by Evelyn Needle
The Charleston Jewish Federation has joined with nine other Federations in the Southeast to partner with the community of Hadera-Eiron in central Israel. This is the “Partnership 2Gether” program of the Jewish Agency. The purpose of the partnership is to create personal bonds and greater understanding between North American Jews and Israelis.
One of the programs conducted by the Partnership is the Tikkun Olam Program. This program brings together 10th and 11th graders for an Israel experience shared by American and Israeli teens. It is a very reasonably priced trip.
I did not initially sign up for the Federation trip to Israel, but after my granddaughter, Katie Krawcheck, came back from her Tikkun Olam trip, excited to discuss her amazing trip and eager to show me her wonderful video that she made with all of her new friends, I was anxious to return to Israel and share this experience with my daughter, Lynn (Katie’s aunt), who had never been.
Katie knew from the moment that she heard about the trip that it would be an experience unlike anything she’d ever done before, but what she didn’t know was that she would find a piece of herself that she never knew existed. It was a rediscovery, a resurfacing of her Jewish identity, an awakening. Katie has few Jewish kids in her high school. Being surrounded in Israel by all Jewish teens who were more like her than different, she felt very comfortable in her surroundings, so much so that very early in her trip, she texted her parents and said “I love this country.” For two weeks, Israel became her lifestyle, her home.
Included in the itinerary of our Federation trip was going to Hadera – our Federation partner – and having a picnic lunch with the teens who participated in this program with Katie. This was certainly a highlight of our trip. Lynn and I were impressed with the interest the teens paid to us, asking us excellent questions and, of course, asking us all about Katie. While we were with them, we were able to call her, get her out of a dead sleep, and have the teens talk to her – something they were quite excited to do. All of these teens are constantly in touch, and I believe that there is a bond there that will never be broken. In speaking to that, one of the teens from Richmond, who had never been Bat Mitzvah, returned home and, because of the connection she felt to her Judaism and Israel, decided to accomplish that goal, and will become Bat Mitzvah this coming summer. Katie will go to Richmond along with some of the other teens from the trip for this celebration.
In talking about this experience with Katie, she was saddened that more teens in the area did not participate in this Tikkun Olam experience. In fact, she was the only one, from our consortium of Southeastern Federations, from South Carolina. Katie said that this experience changed her forever, and felt that this connection is so strong that she can’t wait to go back.
The educators from the Hadera region, who came to Charleston in December for the Partnership2Gether Educators’ Mission, were also leaders of the Tikkun Olam program. I had the opportunity to talk to them at the Mills’ home about the work that they were doing in Charleston – interacting with the high school students about Israel – and the wonderful response they felt they were getting from the students. They knew Katie very well from the trip, and as a proud grandmother I loved hearing that in Israel she was the “rock star.” I join Katie in hoping that more kids will seize this opportunity and participate in this amazing and well organized Israeli experience. To quote my daughter Peggy – Katie’s Mom – “this was the best investment we ever made for Katie’s future.”
The Tikkun Olam Summer Exchange Trip (for teens in rising 10th and 11th grades) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be hosted and feel a part of the family of an Israeli teen. Teens will travel through Israel with both Americans and Israeli friends from our ten Southeastern US communities. This incredible opportunity combines touring and community service, planned programs and free time with their Israeli family. The friendships made on this trip will last a lifetime and make all participants a part of the Partnership2Gether family forever. For more information contact Shai Bibas at ShaiB@jewishcharleston.org .