We’ve all been there. Three hours of high holiday services, your neck is starting to stiffen and you’re slumped in your seat in hope it will make it easier to nod off discretely when the rabbi begins his/her sermon about ’the decline of the American Jew’ being the primary issue we need to address. You scratch your head, and maybe your balls (ladies too) and wonder how we, as a nation of strangers that share a history of being refugees for centuries are going to fix it? Well, I’m no expert, but I think Honeymoon Israel seems to be on to something.
Jonathan and I just got back from our amazing Honeymoon Israel experience, which for those of you who were sleeping this past Yom Kippur, is essentially Birthright Israel for couples, and this is the thank you note I sent the founders.
Dear Avi and Michael,
I’ve been meaning to send you this note for a week now, but adjusting to the routine of life—post Honeymoon Israel—hasn’t been easy. This is by no means a complaint, but the reality of what happens in the wake of a transformational experience like the one you both blessed us with.
Imagine crashing after a ten-day high. I believe that’s the easiest way to describe it. After that powerful whirlwind through Israel, our bodies, minds and spirits are scrambling to hold on to all the awesomeness we just experienced while trying to make sense of the ho hum routine of life stateside—with some major jet lag thrown in for good measure—and it was totally worth it.
Things back home are just different and my take on the future has been slightly altered now that I’m blessedly burdened with these powerful memories from the trip. I believe Jonathan feels the same way and we can’t thank you enough for this opportunity.
If we’d just had the chance to bond with 19 other couples from the bay area—it would have been enough.
If we’d just had the time we spent in Tel Aviv with the amazing Hillel Meyer, going to the Yitzhak Rabin Center, enjoying those amazing brunches, and celebrating Shabbat on the beach and hearing Avraham Infeld yell, “Judaism is not a religion!”—it would have been enough.
If we’d been able to spend a day at Yad Vashem crying and embracing one another…
and not been able to enjoy eating our way through (aka touring) the Old City—it would have been enough.
If we’d only done havdalah under the Montefiore windmill—it would have been enough.
I could go on and on….but you get it, dayenu!
But it didn’t stop there and you guys went above and beyond. You helped us have a Jewish wedding ceremony (something I was starting to think we’d never have the way things were going), and it was beyond anything either of us could have imagined.
I know some of the logistics were already in the works, but the excitement we got from our group leading up to the ceremony only strengthened the bond our fledgling community of wayward thirty-something Jewish couples was forming. And I don’t know about you, but that infectious excitement seemed to spread to the Chicago group too, and it was just amazing to have so many of them come and introduce themselves to Jonathan and I, and thank us for including them in our special moment. To which we replied, “Oh, thank Honeymoon Israel. We barely lifted a finger!”
Those instances, and there were many of them, continued throughout the trip as we crossed paths with our friendly rivals from the Windy City, and I think the wedding really was the cherry on top of an already delicious sundae both groups of HMI-ers were ravenously enjoying—together we checked 80+ bucket lists that night. Pretty cool if you ask me!
The food, the music, the dancing—thinking about it brings me such joy—and since I’m a bit of a crier—tears. They even lifted us in chairs! [Though I’d make sure you don’t use folding chairs the next time] and I never thought I’d get that opportunity and…well…”תודה רבה.” And thank you for signing our ketubah too.
From day one when we got on the bus and headed to Jaffa for our ridiculously long icebreaker overlooking the coastline everything was go go go, but your team didn’t miss a beat. This is a testament to the partners you have at Da’at and the staff you’ve recruited in the US and Israel.
I find myself telling everyone I know (Jewish or not) about how amazing this experience was. I have qualifying friends, and a brother, in San Diego, and many more connections in Chicago, New York, and Florida who I want to go on the trip so they too can have a taste of the magic.
High on the Honeymoon Israel experience (I’m sure some of it is the over-the-counter cocktail I’m taking to remediate a small cold I got at the end of the trip), I’ve found myself talking to co-workers about how moving and intense the trip was, and how both Jonathan and I feel a stronger connection to Judaism, and to Israel, now. You see we both grew up in Jewish homes, but as much as we celebrated the same holidays, and traditions, from our respective coasts—our Jewish lives prior to us meeting in 2007 were unique and each our own.
Honeymoon Israel helped us bridge that gap by giving us a shared Jewish experience. One that challenged us with the same questions about identity, what it means to be Jewish and a good Jew, and how important it is to have a Jewish state of Israel. Questions that we could struggle to answer together—as a unit.
The trip allowed us to marvel at the same beautiful sites: the lush green agricultural valley of the Galilee sprinkled with purple and yellow flowers (and cattle!), picturesque sunsets over the Kinneret, the beaches of Tel Aviv, the Masada vantage, and people bursting into laughter as they bobbed up and down in the Dead Sea. The guest speakers you exposed us to: a journalist from the Jerusalem Post, Keren Ba’ktana’s giving-circle founder, and Kabbalist David Friedman to name a few; helped us develop a new perspective on preconceived judgments we’ve made about “Jewish life” and life in Israel. We now have a sturdy plank, built by the two of us, to stand on today as we evaluate how best to leap into the challenging waters of tomorrow. The Honeymoon Israel experience has made our relationship stronger and it has enriched us in so many ways I’d be challenged to find all the words.
And from my observations and conversations with others in the group, it sounds like this is the same benefit many of the interfaith couples received. A powerful experience that isn’t exclusive to one or the other—but something they could create together. It’s really a beautiful thing to hear someone say, “I finally get it, and I now feel like I have a seat at the table to my husband’s/wife’s cultural heritage.”
So our group is actively hanging out and trying to keep the flame alive. In the week we’ve been back, I’ve been to dinner with 3 group members, 12 of us met for coffee earlier in the week (none of us could sleep past 5am), a bunch of us went to Shabbat services at the Kitchen together this past Friday and more of us met up again for a birthday this last Saturday afternoon. I think we’re all scared of letting the connections fade, which means we all equally cherished the opportunity and feel fortunate to have met each other.
This is all just my longwinded way of saying “thank you so much!”
The community you’ve helped us create is brand spanking new, but its heartbeat is strong and I believe it’s going to grow stronger still. Together we want to “pay it forward” and find ways to spread the joy, respect, and love we’ve developed for one another to the people beyond our babka bubble of besties and bring real change to those in need. You’ve ignited this fire in us…the fun will be watching who it brings warmth to.
Ok, enough of this gushy stuff….and be on the lookout for my constructive criticism. I’ll send that separately ; )