A Honeymoon Israel Reflection

By Justin Kieffer

Thank you to Federation’s United Jewish Endowment Fund for making an extremely memorable experience possible with Honeymoon Israel. I was not initially on board with my wife’s decision to take advantage of this opportunity, but I wanted to make her happy and so I agreed to go through the application process. My trepidation was mostly due to my ignorance of the situation in Israel, having seen only the negative aspects in the news.

Honeymoon Israel opened my eyes to learn about Israel for myself and I would still be in the dark about it now without this trip. I no longer just skim articles about Israel or pass over stories about the war in Syria or other international issues – I find myself seeking them out in the paper.

This trip also changed the way I want to be involved with Judaism. As someone who was raised Catholic, I agreed to raise our children Jewish, even though I believed I was more religious as a Catholic than my wife was as a Jew. I didn’t understand why our kids would have to go to Hebrew school and have bat mitzvahs just to not practice Judaism later in life, as I thought was the case with my wife. Again, I love her and this is what she wanted, so I went on with the thought that I would be a casual observer of the Jewish elements in my wife and daughters’ lives. We had baby namings for the girls, but I didn’t feel any connection to the ceremony and thought – “good, now we don’t have anything until they are 13 years old.” I basically thought Judaism would be their “thing” and I would stay out of the way.

This trip, starting with Avraham Infeld’s amazing talk on how Judaism is not a religion, our amazingly led tour by Yishay, and culminating with the friendships made with the other couples selected to go on this trip had a profound impact on how I want to be involved with Judaism with my wife and children. I found that during the trip I was eager to talk to my wife about how we could incorporate Judaism more into our lives. I also didn’t feel like I needed to give up any aspect of being Catholic to enjoy bringing elements of Judaism into my life, and without this trip, I don’t think I could have ever understood or appreciated that fact. I now look forward to opportunities where we can be more Jewish than we have for the first years of our marriage and am excited to have a new group of friends to share these experiences with over and over again.

I speak candidly in the effort to give you any anecdotal language that can help you and your organization reach out to more people like me, who before going on a trip like this might have chosen to marry a Jewish person, but didn’t know how they could learn to understand Judaism as more than just a religion. The trip is the perfect balance of learning, sightseeing, personal discussion and fun, and as the non-Jewish member of the marriage, I cannot begin to articulate how wrong I was about my initial reaction to an opportunity like Honeymoon Israel. It is a gift that anyone would be extremely lucky to share with the person they love.

Please feel free to use this in any way that is helpful to you and if you ever need someone to speak or vouch for Honeymoon Israel from the perspective I experienced, please do not hesitate to ask – I would be honored to help this organization.

Thank you again for an amazing experience, including the run through Jerusalem and all the great food recommendations, especially sofrito at Azura!

Justin Kieffer