Thank you to Daniel Heinrich, our Director of Community Engagement and Collaboration, for reflecting on his experience with our Honeymoon Israel cohort upon returning last week.
I don’t think it’s possible to sum up my experience on Honeymoon Israel (HMI) in a blog post. Yes, pictures are worth a thousand words but neither words nor pictures can account for the indescribable experience of this cohort.
Nineteen couples from Pittsburgh (along with myself and Rabbi Sharyn Henry from Rodef Shalom) boarded a plane in Pittsburgh ultimately bound for Tel Aviv on January 5th. This trip included people from all over the city, interfaith, multifaith, multicultural, multiethnic, LGBTQ, parents, non-parents, dog people, cat people, and more – it was a true cross section of Pittsburgh’s diverse Jewish community. Each member of this diverse cohort brought with them a curious and open spirit with incredible capacity to learn from their experiences and learn from one another. Each one of those couples (plus myself and Rabbi Henry) returned on January 15th entirely transformed by this experience.
As I recover from jet lag and a (non-Covid) cold that was shared by many of the participants, I’m reflecting on the trip – going through pictures and my notes trying to figure out what to share with all of you that can incapsulate the trip. So here are a few photos, reflections and quotes from participants that stick out to me now:
- One participant shared his experience of converting to Judaism (or as HMI prefers to call it: adoption into the Jewish family) and how this trip has helped bring to life everything he learned about during his conversion/adoption process and has informed how he and his husband intend to keep a Jewish home for their children.
- One participant, a Jewish man who came on the trip with his Greek Orthodox wife, came on the program at a crossroads of his career. The pandemic made his line of work particularly difficult and he admitted to struggling to figure out his next steps. At the end of the trip, he said to the group that he’s finally found a north star to aim for–that the trip had given him the space to reflect and figure out how to reconcile his career and personal aspirations in a holistic way. He has since written up a new business plan and has already used new connections with other participants made on the trip to help coach him through the next steps
- One participant shared that, growing up the queer child of a Presbyterian minister, she finally found time to reflect on how her Christian upbringing continues to impact her life and how she and her wife would incorporate the lessons of their trip into their interfaith family and lead to a better and deeper relationship between her Jewish spouse and her Christian family.
- One participant broke down in tears as we said the Mourner’s Kaddish at the conclusion of our time at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem), saying that he had never really confronted the Holocaust’s impact on his family. He knew the stories and had been to holocaust museums in the States, but Yad Vashem hit his soul in a way he did not anticipate.
- For most of the participants, many of whom moved to (or back to) Pittsburgh in the last few years, the pandemic had made it so difficult to make friends. I have countless examples of people sharing their struggles with isolation and a lack of meaningful community over the last few years. This trip offered them the opportunity to build new relationships to take home.
Honeymoon Israel’s approach is very intentional in the way they facilitate tough and meaningful conversations but most of all, they’re intentional in making sure the trip is only the beginning. In the last few days, the participants have already began planning their one-month reunion, planning monthly Shabbat dinners, happy hours, group classes, a book club, dog park dates and more. Keep an eye out in the future for more updates from this cohort, I have a feeling this isn’t the last you’ve heard about them.
So, on behalf of 38 Honeymooners, I want to express my deep gratitude to the donors to the Federation for making this possible and for each and every one of you whose work contributes to our mission and made this trip a life-changing experience.