Impact Stories:

Honeymoon Israel: Creating Lasting Impact and Memories

Fact: The future of Jewish Pittsburgh will need somehow to involve non-Jews in Jewish life. 

As of 2018, Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Study showed that a majority of married or partnered Pittsburgh households with at least one Jewish person—a total of 54%—had either interfaith relationships or one person who converted to Judaism. And among children with intermarried parents, 57% are being raised either non-Jewish, with no religion or with no decision made yet about religious upbringing. 

At the Jewish Federation, we believe that everyone deserves to feel included, supported and inspired. That’s why we’re finding ways to reach out to interfaith households through programs like PJ Library (kids’ books and music teaching Jewish values), OneTable (introductions for young adults to enduring Shabbat practice) and many other such programs, including Honeymoon Israel. 

Federation support for Honeymoon Israel recently sent dozens of people in early relationship stages on a journey to discover their connections to Jewish life and how to incorporate Judaism into their homes. 

That journey, a program called Honeymoon Israel, sent nineteen couples from Pittsburgh to Israel in January 2023 along with a Federation staff person and Rabbi Sharyn Henry from Rodef Shalom. This trip included a true cross-section of Pittsburgh’s diverse Jewish community—interfaith, multi-faith, multicultural, multi-ethnic, LGBTQ+ and more. The program returned them to Pittsburgh transformed by this experience and able to talk about what aspects of Judaism they wanted to incorporate into their own homes.  

One participant shared his experience of converting to Judaism (or, as Honeymoon Israel prefers to call it, “adoption into the Jewish family”) and how this trip helped bring to life everything he learned about during his conversion process. The trip informed how he and his husband intend to keep a Jewish home for their children. 

Another 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. 

Some Honeymoon Israel travelers found a renewed connection to their own Judaism. One participant broke down in tears as the group said the Mourner’s Kaddish at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem). He had never really confronted the Holocaust’s impact on his family, and Yad Vashem touched his soul in a way he did not anticipate. 

Not all of the epiphanies were religious. A Jewish man travelling 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 he had finally found a North Star; the trip had given him the space to reflect and figure out how to reconcile his career and personal aspirations. He has since written up a new business plan and has already used new connections made on the trip to help coach him through the next steps. 

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. The couples shared 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 intentional approach facilitated tough and meaningful conversations, but also made sure the trip is only the beginning of connection to Jewish life. Since returning January 15, the participants have already begun planning a reunion, monthly Shabbat dinners, happy hours, group classes, a book club, dog park dates and more. 

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