Jaynie Levinson — Connecting Jewish Young Adults
A Honeymoon in the Holy Land
A honeymoon with twenty couples and a community Rabbi—How romantic!
On November 29, 42 of us departed Cincinnati as friendly strangers, but we returned home from Israel as a family. Over the course of ten days, we hit the best tourist spots—the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Old City, the beaches of Tel Aviv—and visited sites important to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim history. Along the way, we tasted the best Israeli food and wine. It’s hard to find the right words to describe this journey, but to share just a few, they would be: open-minded, loving, and incredible.
But let me start at the beginning. Honeymoon Israel is a national organization that provides immersive trips to Israel for local couples that have at least one Jewish partner and who are early in their marriage or in a committed relationship. Their goal is for the couples to share fun, meaningful experiences with each other and build friendships and community with peers. Honeymoon Israel partnered with The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and the Mayerson JCC to heavily subsidize the trip for participating couples.
As the Young Adult Director of the Jewish Federation, I organized the trip and will continue to engage the couples in our community. Rabbi Shena Potter Jaffee, Community Rabbi and Director of Jewish Life at the JCC, was the educator on our trip and will serve as a local community Rabbi for these couples.
Cincinnati began the Honeymoon Israel journey nearly a year ago, inviting interested couples to come to an open house last March. Through an application process and a series of interviews, 20 couples were selected, and we were ready to begin our adventure.
What made the most impact on the trip?
- We experienced Israel Together—Sixteen of the 20 couples had one member who had been to the Holy Land before, but none of them had traveled to Israel together. It was so moving to see the bonds created between partners and between groups of couples by being in Israel.
- We explored our History—Throughout the trip, the couples grew closer, sharing experiences both large and small: roaming through the Old City, comforting each other during a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Museum, planting a tree together in honor of our Pittsburgh family, and dancing and singing during the Chanukah celebration in the Western Galilee.
- We celebrated our Diversity—Each of the twenty couples is different in terms of their backgrounds, their careers, and the ways they have created a life or family together. They’re also different in the way they incorporate Judaism into their homes. We spent time encouraging each other to celebrate that diversity.
- We celebrated Shabbat and Chanukah—We had two Shabbats together, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We also lit the Chanukah candles together each night, ate jelly doughnuts, and felt the spirit of the festival of lights!
- We had Meaningful Conversations—As a group, we connected on subjects that let our minds to wander. Four times during the busy trip, we set aside part of our day for intentional and meaningful conversations. We discussed everything from the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and the importance of the existence of Israel to the excitement of having a family in a Jewish home. We mulled over the possibility of having a home full of beautifully blended traditions, holidays, and cultures, discussing all the ways that Judaism is a part of our lives. I met leaders who didn’t realize they fit into the Jewish community in Cincinnati. We learned from each other, listened with intent, and became like family.
We arrived home safely on December 9, exhausted but still smiling as we headed to our separate homes all over the Cincinnati area. Everyone in our group is getting back into their normal routines—going to work, taking their kids to school, or starting to plan their weddings! (One of the couples actually got engaged on the trip!)I am thankful that I got to lead this adventure with 40 energizing, knowledgeable, wonderful people, but the Honeymoon Israel trip was just the beginning for this cohort. There are already plans in the works for Shabbat celebrations in each other’s homes and a book club of Jewish readings. I know that this group will feel no hesitation being there for each other’s simchas (life cycle events). What a beautiful feeling. There is a lot of energy around sustaining this group and supporting each other through the stages of our lives, personally and professionally. As I reflect on this trip, I feel nothing but blessed to have been part of it.
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