Finding (my) Judaism
May 4, 2018
By: Brianne Cohen, Honeymoon Israel Los Angeles January 2017 participant
Growing up, I had no religious memories. I always said “I was baptized Catholic”, but I had never been to church on Sunday, had never taken Communion, and had no funny Confession stories. To this day, I am quite sure that the only times I had ever been in a Catholic church were for weddings or funerals. Religion, and to an extent, God, was not a part of my life.
I met my husband in 2005 just after finishing college. We met and fell in love while spending time in Venice, CA. I remember telling my friends that he was the first Jew I really got to know (aside from my grandmother’s doctor!). Growing up in N. Orange County, CA, at a predominantly Hispanic high school, there weren’t many Jews floating around.
Aaron and I dated for nine years before getting engaged. As we got closer to that major life event, we talked about his Judaism and what that meant for us. Aaron grew up in the temple. He was a part of NFTY (a Jewish youth program), went to Jewish summer camp, and eventually became a counselor at that same Jewish summer camp until early adulthood. Once that era ended, so did his connection with Judaism and with a temple. He still celebrated the holidays with his family and knew all the prayers, but there was a distance.
Aaron talked about raising our kids Jewish, and that’s when it became very clear to me that I needed to get a handle on Judaism, what it meant for us, and what it meant for me. I began to explore the idea of converting to Judaism. Would I have to stop eating pork? Stay at home every Friday night? Learn Hebrew?!
Before I knew it, Aaron and I were in Introduction to Judaism classes through the Union of Reform Judaism. We completed classes and I was on my way to the sit for the Bet Din (a panel of three rabbis) and to take my first Mikveh, or ritual bath.
With a new married last name like “Cohen”, just about everyone assumes you are Jewish. While I had converted, I didn’t really “feel” like a Jew. I sort of felt like the same person I was before, but with a different last name. It wasn’t instantaneous as I expected.
The rabbi who conducted our Intro classes started a Facebook group for us all to keep in touch. A few months after I was married, the rabbi posted on the group page about this new “Honeymoon Israel (HMI)” experience for young couples looking to delve deeper into their Judaism. From the moment I read the post, I knew I had to go on this trip. I scoured the Internet and read everything I could about HMI. It sounded INCREDIBLE and just what Aaron and I needed to help us frame the conversations we were starting to have.
Fast forward and about a year later we submitted our application. Then, later that summer I was on a road trip to northern California and I remember my phone making that ding noise it makes when an email comes in. I saw that it was from HMI, and I literally pulled over onto a dirt road. We had been selected to be a participant on an HMI trip! In January of 2017 we were headed to Israel! The first trip to Israel for both of us.
I felt almost in a trance the entire trip. It was like being on that science field trip in elementary school where you woke up excited to explore and learn all kinds of new things. We learned history, politics, food, culture, etc. It was fascinating. And not in a “here, have a look at Israel through rose-colored glasses” kind of way. We had difficult conversations with each other, with locals, and with ourselves. Many participants were faced with confronting their feelings about Israel (challenging or otherwise).
I truly found MY Judaism on the Honeymoon Israel trip. I had now experienced Israel, met the people, eaten the food, and smelled the smells. I floated in the dead sea, walked the quarters in Jerusalem, looked down at Syria from an overlook in the Golan Heights, and drove through the West Bank.
Aaron and I are having serious discussions about starting a family. I can now say that raising our children with Jewish values and in a Jewish home is of utmost importance to me. I can now speak intelligently about Israel on many levels. Whereas, before this trip I was insecure to talk about Israel as I didn’t know much and had a bit of an inferiority complex. Now when I hear about an anti-Semitic act or see a documentary about the Holocaust, I ache for MY people. I feel empathy, not just sympathy. Aaron also found his Judaism reinstated and back in his life.
Once we came back from this trip, Aaron and I just ‘got’ it. We got that this trip wasn’t about just exploring Israel with your partner. This trip was about finding a community, your community. The goal is to find our own community; to find the people with which we have a common thread….and Aaron and I have found that with our Honeymoon Israel family.