Shalom! I’m Ian, a formerly Jewish, then Jew-“ish,” and now again Jewish person who only very recently opens any sort of letter with “Shalom.”
Presumably, you’re reading this because you’re curious about Honeymoon Israel, a.k.a. “Birthright, but much more progressive, and with way less sexual tension,” and you’re interested in joining for the next round. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s worth it (completely), if you’ll enjoy it (probably, though that’s largely up to your mindset & relationship), or if you’re even welcome & included (absolutely, positively, most definitely).
For my wife and I — and for seemingly everyone on our trip — the answer (in case you skip everything written in parentheses) is overwhelmingly “yes.” I can’t recommend it highly1 enough, and if you don’t believe me, you clearly haven’t heard me shout it to every Jewish couple of every form since returning who didn’t go with us.
For ease, let’s make this 5th-grade essay style: a quick past, present, and future of our HMI experience.
My wife (a secular agnostic) and I (an atheist Jew) moved to Minnesota about 8 years ago, and left pretty much every connection to Judaism behind in New York — not on purpose, but Judaism was always a family experience for us and moving to a place without family, it largely faded into the fever dream of distant memory, like permanent public transportation and the proper baking and pronunciation of “bagels.” And even then, we had such little incentive to join anything Jewish: We made some good secular friends locally, and while we were increasingly curious about just how to tap back into our (now shared) Jewish heritage, it just wasn’t a real need. Plus, the idea of blindly going to a random synagogue after ~20 years away since my bar mitzvah didn’t exactly sound like my favorite way to spend a Friday night… unless I wanted to bring back 20 years of social anxiety and Hebrew school resentment, that is (side note: I don’t).
Nevertheless, we applied to join HMI for three main reasons:
- We never had a legit honeymoon and wanted to take an international trip.
- We were intrigued by exploring our cultural heritage together in a completely immersive way, and
- We thought HMI’s mission was awesome.
Now, those first two points, obvi, we could do on our own sooner or later. But HMI, whether we got to go or not, we loved right off the bat.
The crux of their mission boils down, in my humble opinion, to two main tenets — to raising the tentpoles of Judaism to include anyone who identifies as a Jewish couple, without judgment, in whatever form that can take (YES!), and forming long-lasting Jewish community back in your collective hometown through a transformative, introspective, slightly challenging and very well-curated trip of Israel (sure, whatever. Cheap trip? No dogma? WOOOOO!!!)
Turns out, we were correct. Your orientation doesn’t matter, your skin color doesn’t matter, your “level of Judaism” [lifelong member of the Tribe, recently adopted, or wandering in a sea of anywhere-but-Shul-on-Friday-night] doesn’t matter. If you and/or your person are Jewish, in whatever that means to you, and you’re between 25-40 years old, you’re both eligible to go together. And that is freakin’ awesome.
Present (a.k.a., the trip itself)
Well, first off, it is a lot — that is one action-packed itinerary, regardless of whether you start in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. You’re getting the ultimate crash course in Israeli & Judaism [note: two separate concepts] culture, history & ideas. But, in addition to bringing you everywhere you’d expect to go (Temple Mount, Dead Sea, Yad Vashem), we also got to go to plenty we wouldn’t expect on a curated, Jewish tour of Israel — like, walking through East Jerusalem to meet a Palestinian bookstore/cafe owner whose mission was to create a safe space for dialogue and idea exchange. Or visiting a mosque and Crusade ruins in Acre. Or renting out an entire resort/hotel on the Mediterranean, including gourmet, family-style dinners and a private, HMI-only party that can go all hours of the night unless and until some weird, cranky guest allegedly threatens to call the cops.
But as the trip goes on, not only are you getting closer with your partner — or, at least, learning some very key things about your partner in a tight timeline — you’re getting closer and closer with people in your age bracket, and home location, whom you’d likely never meet otherwise. You click with people who have similar interests, and you click with and learn from people who you’d never even think to talk to. Even the cheesiness of a couple of curated discussions don’t hurt, because a) the people with you are also pretty cool, and b) there is almost always plenty of wine.
The only negative? There’s not a whole lot of downtime. Granted, you’re there on about as action-packed of a tour as you possibly could be, and you know that well going in. Get good sleep each night, because that can catch up quick. Unless you’re on the 25-year-old end of the age bracket. Then, shut up, you’re fine, you don’t even know what a hangover is yet, let alone a reasonable sleep schedule.
Future (a.k.a., Now)
Well, they wouldn’t have asked me to write this had it not been a smash. Obviously, the trip was fantastic, and my wife and I came out of it with a much keener sense of who we are for and with each other (expected) and where Judaism fits, on our terms, in our day-to-day lives (also expected, but slightly less so).
But, really, where we see the benefits months after being in the lifelong friends we now have — and with that, the deeper connection to Judaism through family we’d been missing. Turns out, there was room for it in our lives all along; we just needed to find it.
We now host monthly Shabbat dinners (never saw that coming), in part because we want to see the friends we love again, but also because giving yourself a true 24-hour break after a long week is just a damn good idea. We’ve got synagogues to visit with our friends, instead of synagogue taking time away from friends. We share each others’ successes and joys and hold each other through sorrow and pain. Don’t get me wrong — the 40 of us aren’t starting a kibbutz anytime soon — but we’ve all found at least a few other people with whom we click, with whom we’ll share lifelong friendship, and even those who aren’t close friends of ours, we still share a strong sense of community and care. Except for Yadin & Sophie. They just moved to New York, so whatever. They should probably just go again.
Get in on this. It’s a fantastically curated, heavily-subsidized trip with your person; a true one-of-a-kind experience. You may not know what you’re missing if you don’t go, but you have no idea how much fun you’ll have if you do.
The author, Ian Fishman, is an alumnus of the inaugural 2018 Honeymoon Israel Minneapolis-St. Paul trip. Honeymoon Israel is a Jewish organization that provides trips to Israel for couples with at least one Jewish partner. Each trip includes 20 diverse couples from the same city – couples with one Jewish partner, couples where both partners were born Jewish and couples where one partner is converted/Jew-by-choice. Honeymoon Israel MSP is supported by the Jewish Federations of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Applications are open from May 17-June 27 for the upcoming January 16-26, 2020 trip. Make sure to attend the Minneapolis/ St. Paul Information Night at Bad Weather Brewing on June 4, 6-8 pm for more information, to hear alumni experiences, and to enjoy a free beer! RSVP for the information session here. Please contact Emma Dunn at [email protected] with any questions.
Apply for the trip and learn more at www.honeymoonisrael.org.