04 January 2018
By Kendra Rubinfeld
On January 11, twenty couples from the Washington, DC area will embark on a trip to Israel. My husband, Travis Hare, and I will be one of them. This special opportunity comes by way of a national organization called Honeymoon Israel, which is supported locally by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in partnership with Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. DC-area couples, like ourselves, are selected from a pool of applicants for a highly subsidized journey designed to create an enriching, provocative and fun experience for young professional couples (25-40) who have been married five years or less, for whom at least one partner is Jewish.
Although we’ve both traveled extensively throughout our relationship, Travis has never been to Israel. I’ve been once on a Birthright Israel trip and I’m thrilled to see it again, particularly this time through his eyes. We are also both especially excited about the “journey” that will begin upon our return, where we hope to continue cultivating the friendships we have made with other interfaith couples, and grow our newfound community – something we have both been seeking since getting married in 2011.
Honeymoon Israel does a fantastic job preparing couples for the trip with a few meet-and-greet opportunities including a happy hour, a hosted dinner and an orientation session. We both are very excited to take the trip but, being the planners that we are, Travis and I still had a lot of questions! The Jewish Federation kindly connected us with another couple, Elan Strait and his wife Janeace Slifka, who recently returned home from their Honeymoon Israel trip. Similar to us, they have been married for about five years and together for 11. Similar to me, Elan was raised Jewish and identifies as such, whereas Janeace was raised Catholic but stopped practicing before meeting Elan. And, like Travis, Janeace balks at the term “interfaith,” as she doesn’t identify with having a particular faith. Elan always thought he’d marry a Jewish girl, but then he met Janeace and they fell in love.
Here are excerpts from our lively and frank discussion with Elan and Janeace.
About Love & Politics:
Travis – So, how did you all meet?
Janeace – We went to University of Pittsburgh together. We were running against each other for a political position at the school and started dating shortly after…
Elan – …shortly after Janeace beat me, that is. My ego had to recover before we made it official.
About Letting Go:
Kendra – Was this your first trip to Israel and have you traveled a lot in the past?
Janeace – Elan had been twice before. It was my first time to Israel but we have both traveled significantly, both as a couple and individually. Elan was at the State Department so was traveling a ton for work.
Elan – A group trip was new to us though and we were both a bit concerned about it because we knew our travel style and were afraid it wouldn’t align.
Travis – Yes! Tell us a bit more about that since we’re in the same boat.
Elan – HMI was great about explaining how this works by saying, ‘Just let go…This is a different kind of trip, it’s about the group experience.’ And, it totally worked! It ended up being wonderful.
Kendra – So, what’s the schedule like?
Janeace – After the day-time set schedule, they give you a lot of time to do what you want in the evenings. Before the trip, we both figured we’d go out on our own a lot. But, that’s not what happened at all! We ended up texting everyone to see if we could meet up with them while we were out.
Elan – And, it’s funny. I’m an introverted person so I was worried that I would need more alone time.
Travis – Yes, me too. How did that work out?
Elan – There’s a lot of time on the bus and so I was able to collect my thoughts then.
Kendra – ‘Collect your thoughts’; introverts are fascinating!
Travis – Kendra’s clearly an extrovert.
About Meeting Americans:
Kendra – What were some of your favorite aspects of the trip?
Janeace – I loved the bar hopping tour in Jerusalem in the shouk (market). I also loved going to an Arab family’s home where we were served tons of food. But for me, the most special experience was slowly getting to know the other couples. People keep asking me now, ‘How was Israel!?’ I say, ‘It was amazing! I met all of these wonderful Americans!’
Kendra – Tell us more about getting to know people.
Elan – It helps that there are “HMI Conversations” in the evening where you nibble and drink wine, sit in a circle and talk about what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling. This accelerates the intimacy with the couples because people may reference a familiar feeling that you had and this is a great conversation starter.
Janeace – It’s because we’ve shared this incredible experience with these couples who we already had a lot of common with by the nature of our relationships. Even now, months after, we have hundreds of text messages from the group, going back and forth.
About Managing Friend Jealousy:
Travis – What’s it been like now that you’re home? Have the relationships continued with the other couples?
Elan – The first Saturday we got back, one of the leaders had us all over to his home for a Havdalah service and dinner. A bunch of people had already gotten together the night before that and went to a live taping of a podcast we all love.
Janeace – There was a Shabbat dinner with food and candle lighting, HMI organized a day of service, and we hosted a Chanukah party. We’re all starting a book club too!
Elan – We’ve become so close to these people that it’s hard to manage our previous friends’ jealousy over all of this.
About Creating Community:
Travis – How has this experience changed your connection to Judaism?
Janeace – For me, it created more of a sense that there is a place for me in the Jewish community because it provided permission to create Jewish community in a way that’s different than I thought it could be before. It’s not a synagogue or an organization; it can be what you make it. We are making our own community.
About Selfies and Life Changers:
Kendra – We’re leaving so soon. Any advice for us?
Janeace – Take advantage of the fact that you have plenty of other people there to take your photo as a couple! And take your name tag off when you take the photo!
Elan – Enjoy it all, soak it all in, but also know yourself, so if you need a nap, take one! Don’t worry about missing out too much. I was worried about not getting time to hang out with people, but now that I’m back, I realize there are still so many opportunities.
Janeace – Oh, and don’t miss the hummus place in Jerusalem.
Elan – Or the Yemenese savory crepe place in Tsfat.
Kendra – Yum! That sounds life changing.
Elan – It really is.