Honeymoon Israel: Birthright For Young Marrieds


It’s now summer and judging from the “For Sale” signs that have popped up like dandelions on suburban lawns, the real estate market seems to be in full swing. As anyone who has purchased a home can tell you, an essential part of the home purchasing experience is the dreaded inspection report.

The report is “dreaded,” because the home inspector will inevitably find problems in your dream house. Often, these are problems that neither you nor the seller knew even existed — like, for example, cracks in the foundation. Those discoveries will always present you with a choice: You can buy the house as is; you can endeavor to repair it; or you can walk away from the potential purchase.

This past year’s Pew Research Center report made it abundantly clear: When it comes to the American Jewish “house,” there are major cracks in the foundation. But we, the current owners, knew about them. The truth is, we neglected the repairs. Or, we invested in the wrong kind of repairs. Or, we put a little spackle here and there, thinking that we had done the best we could.

The part of the American Jewish household that has the most potential for repair is our young marrieds now entering “true” American adulthood. Young marrieds are at a crucial moment in their Jewish development. As they make the journey from single to married, from “I” to “we,” couples begin to think about the meaning of family, how they will raise their children and the kind of Jewish life they want to live. For the first time, whether both partners are Jewish or if it is an interfaith couple, they are now confronting the deep questions about their futures, and about their families’ Jewish futures.

Therefore, we are proposing the creation of Honeymoon Israel (HMI) — an immersive group experience in Israel for newlywed couples, ages 25-40, at a minimal cost to participants.

Sounds like Taglit Birthright, right? Not exactly, though it will play on and augment the massive successes that Birthright has already achieved.

As we envision it, with the support of major funders, Jewish communities will sponsor Israel trips for newlywed couples (inmarried, intermarried, LGBT) to Israel. Participants will travel to Israel with their own communities so that they can create a sense of community that will be ready for them when they return. Honeymoon Israel trips will be filled with inspiration, recreation, and informal Jewish learning and spirituality. Each group will have an Israeli tour guide and a specially trained American Jewish educator from the home community who will craft the experiences that will touch and change lives. The trip will include visits to significant Israeli sites, Shabbat experiences, cultural events and meaningful encounters with Israeli leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians and thought leaders.

Among the advantages of this trip, it would provide a total environment, so that the Jewish presence is not peripheral; it would form a bond among the participants; and it would offer substantive and attractive Jewish content/learning that people can take home and live by. As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg notes, reaching young marrieds in this way “is a highly promising approach that can generate a major enrichment of American Jewish life and identity.”

Honeymoon Israel would build follow-up experiences right into the program: vouchers that participants can use for early childhood education, synagogue membership, JCC membership and mini incubation grants that will encourage participants to envision and create the kind of Jewish experiences that they and their peers will want. It may be especially appealing to intermarrieds, giving them a structure that is ready for them and can help them build a Jewish life.

According to a national survey we conducted of young marrieds and soon-to-be-marrieds, members of those cohorts indicated that they are very enthusiastic about the possibility of Honeymoon Israel. They see Israel as we do: as a place to experience Judaism, in all of its permutations; a place to sample the richness of Jewish culture; and a place to grow Jewishly. They are willing to contribute to the costs of their trips. They know that being Jewish means having “skin in the game.” Even better: our survey shows that our young people are ready and eager to create meaningful community when they return.

Yes, there are “cracks” in the foundational structure of American Judaism. But as singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen reminds us: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

If we provide newlywed couples with the experiences and tools to create a meaningful Jewish life, and most importantly if we empower them to create a meaningful Jewish life that is built by them for their own needs, then we can profoundly affect, and even change the American Jewish future.

Honeymoon Israel can be a “game changer” for the most important demographic in our community’s immediate future. Light will shine in through the cracks. And we will not only have plastered those cracks. We will have rebuilt the entire house of American Judaism.

Avi Rubel was North American director of Masa Israel Journey from 2006 to 2014; Jeffrey Salkin is rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Bayonne, N.J.; and Mike Wise is CEO and executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo.