“I’ve been looking for a way to have a Jewish community in our lives for a long time, and this was such an easy way to build that community.”
Last November 20 young couples got on an airplane at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport as strangers, embarking on a 10-day luxury trip to Israel as part of the Honeymoon Israel program.
As participant Abby Douglass said, she was looking to build a community, and thanks to this program, those 20 strangers are now close friends.
“It really worked! We’ve gotten together multiple times with everyone since we’ve been back, and I think we built some real friendships,” Abby said while sitting next to her husband, Craig.
“It was the first time I felt like I was saying ‘we’ when talking about the Jewish community,” said Craig, “and to come back with that experience was worthwhile for me.”
Honeymoon Israel is a completely inclusive program – welcoming couples of diverse backgrounds, including interfaith, Jewish and LGBTQ+ couples. The application is now open through July 15.
“If you’re thinking about going on the next trip, I would say don’t overthink the application process,” advised Craig.
Abby added, “Definitely apply and be sure to go to the information session. There were so many questions we had that wouldn’t have been answered if we didn’t go to that session, and maybe we wouldn’t have applied if we didn’t know those answers.”
Trip planners will be looking for 20 committed couples, with at least one partner being Jewish.
“One of the greatest things about the trip is the diverse participant group. Everyone’s experience is different, and everyone is able to bring their own perspective to the conversations,” said Josh Handel. Josh and his wife Ari have been to Israel before, but this is their first trip together. “It really doesn’t matter if this is someone’s first introduction to Judaism, or like Ari and myself who both grew up in Jewish households; everyone’s experiences are valid, everyone’s experiences are judged the same, and we all want to share everyone’s collective experiences through this trip.”
Participants said the experience strengthened their relationships. Whether it was experiencing the Western Wall together, growing in their commitment to Judaism, learning about their partner’s faith, or simply enjoying a 10-day luxury vacation together, they came away feeling like they were stronger as a couple.
“One of my big takeaways from this trip was, we have our differences, and that’s OK,” said Jennifer Manago about her non-Jewish husband David, “By the end of the trip, I felt so much more confident that we could take pieces of you and pieces of me and instill that in our kids [ages 3 and 4], and everything was going to be fine.”
“She was the first Jewish person I ever met,” said David Manago, “So I was aware of things like Chanukah and Shabbat, but didn’t have anyone to explain it to me. Honeymoon Israel gave me the context to understand just how important it was to her, and to make sure my kids grew up in that culture, and not just dismiss it.”
“There’s never a perfect time to do something like this, but it’s a time you won’t regret,” Josh Handel saidz. “You have this incredible opportunity to connect with your partner, and connect with the community in an incredible place like Israel. All of our lives are busy and crazy, but it’s an opportunity you should really look in to and invest if you’re given that chance.”
“My advice to anyone looking to go on this trip is to go with no expectations,” said Jennifer, “to keep a completely open mind, try not to over think it. You’re going to come back with so much more spiritually, mentally than you can ever imagine,” she looked at David Manago, and he smiled, adding, “I’d say just do it.”