A Honeymoon with a Higher Purpose

It was 2013, the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans had just been released, and many in the Jewish world were left with serious, even grave concerns. Avi Rubel and Mike Wise, however, saw a huge opportunity.

Avi Rubel

“We realized that there was gap,” said Rubel, from Honeymoon Israel’s New York office. “We could see that there was a ton of investment in high school and college students, and a whole lot in young families with kids, but for younger couples, especially couples that are getting married and having kids later… for them, there was really nothing.”

And thus, with Wise and Rubel serving as co-chief executive officers, Honeymoon Israel was born. Honeymoon Israel provides highly subsidized, immersive trips to Israel for young, committed couples with at least one Jewish partner. The trips are educational, romantic, inspirational, and fun; but as Rubel is quick to point out, Honeymoon Israel is not about the trip. “The trip itself is powerful and impactful but… it’s just a trigger. We expect couples to come home asking more questions than they came in with, not having more answers. And that speaks to our core value which is that we don’t want to give anyone a prescription of what it means to have a Jewish family. They have to figure that out for themselves. And our goal is to help them figure it out in whatever way works for them.”

It is a philosophy that is both idealistic and pragmatic. And it’s working, baby! I mean that literally: Since the last Bay Area to Israel trip, with a contingency of 20 couples, Rubel estimates that there have been at least five babies born, and many more expected. Which, of course presents a whole new set of challenges for young couples. “Actually, a lot of Honeymoon Israel trips are about having their first kid. We even have a Honeymoon Israel Made in Israel onesie that every couple gets! So the question often becomes: what are we going to do with this new human being we are bringing into the world? How do we really build a family?”

It’s a good question. Similarly, he asks, how do we integrate these budding Jewish families into the larger Jewish community? The answer, it seems, is the same one every real estate broker tells you: location, location, location. “There is no substitute for in-person community,” said Rubel. “It’s just critical. It’s great to follow all your friends on Facebook and Instagram and know what they’re up to, but there is a serious qualitative difference between that and people with whom you’re going to have Shabbat dinner… There is no virtual brisket… And that’s why these trips are organized locally…we want these couples to live close to each other, so that when they start having babies, they can do stuff together. And really experience what it is like to be a part of a Jewish community.”

In accordance with Honeymoon Israel’s mission to use their Israel trips as a tool to create thriving Jewish communities around the country, the Federation has awarded them a $90,000 two-year grant intended to serve as seed funding for their local recruitment and programming. One of the key local partners supporting these trips and their post-trip community engagement is another extraordinary Federation grantee, The Kitchen – a “spiritual cooperative” – led by its dynamic rabbi, Noa Kushner. The funding will help The Kitchen and other Bay Area cohorts provide concierge services, retreats, study groups, holiday celebrations, and programming, all geared toward fostering the Jewish journey these couples have undertaken.

Though less than two years old, Honeymoon Israel already appears to be a resounding success, having taken 14 groups to Israel from eight different cities around the country, and two groups from the Bay Area. Indeed, one of the frustrating elements of their success has been that there’s not enough space for every Jewish couple that wants to go, as they are now averaging four applicants for every available opening. Nevertheless, it’s a good problem to have and it’s one that they are working on diligently, organizing as many trips as they can. Additionally, Rubel reports that a significant piece of the Federation’s grant is reserved for programming for couples that didn’t get in. “I think one of the great things about the Federation is that they really understand how important it is that these other people don’t get lost.”

Ultimately, these trips are about opening the door to more Jewish families and assuring a vital Jewish future in Israel and around the world. At the rate they are going, that future looks bright.

Honeymoon Israel is just one of the grantees funded by more than $1.1M in new Endowment Fund grants, dispersed over five years, to outstanding community partners actively engaged in building and deepening Jewish community.

For more information on the program and how to apply, visit www.honeymoonisrael.org.


August 22, 2016


Jon Moskin