The Honeymoon Israel Story
Like the way many people meet nowadays, Honeymoon Israel Co-CEO’s Mike Wise and Avi Rubel met online….
In 2013, Pew Research Center released A Portrait of Jewish Americans. The report indicated that intermarriage has become normative: 58% of Jews who have married since 2000 have a non-Jewish spouse, compared to 41% in the 1980s and 17% before 1970. Increasing numbers of young Jews – many of whom are themselves the product of intermarried families – are dissociating from religion: 32% of those born after 1980 describe themselves as “Jews of no religion,” (meaning they identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity, or culture), an increase from 26% of Gen Xers and 19% of Baby Boomers.
After reading the report in his hometown of Buffalo, NY, Mike drafted a whitepaper that ultimately led to the creation of Honeymoon Israel. The idea was focused on how do we better welcome young couples with diverse backgrounds to Jewish life so that we meet them where they are, rather than where the community might want them to be. Mike knew the next step was to share this big idea, so he packed his bags, flew to Jerusalem and presented to the presidents and executives of all Jewish Federations in North America at the General Assembly.
The idea was so well received that when he returned home, he published the whitepaper in an online forum that prompted people to respond to the question “What’s the next great Jewish idea?” Mike was convinced this idea had staying power and went ahead and secured all social media handles for Honeymoon Israel (good thinking!).
And so it began…
It was January 2014 and Avi was on the other side of the screen, reading submissions to this online forum on behalf of The Jewish Agency for Israel. He read Mike’s idea and fell in love. It was clear both of them had devoted their entire professional life to Jewish communal service at a variety of organizations - Avi was the founding North American Director for Masa Israel and Mike as the CEO of various JCCs and Federations across the country. They were each always thinking in the back of their minds: What would be a game-changer in the growth of Jewish life?
The day before Mike and Avi officially met in person in March 2014, Mike was having lunch in NYC with his extended family. After mentioning who he was about to meet, Mike comes to find out that his wife's cousins are Avi’s Aunt and Uncle. The creation of Honeymoon Israel was truly based on family - it was a great sign that led to an even greater relationship.
In October 2014, Mike and Avi were fortunate to attract the attention of a family foundation who saw the vision and fully invested in them to make Honeymoon Israel a reality. They both resigned from their positions and jumped feet first into Honeymoon Israel, knowing that this organization could make a difference in the lives of so many young couples. They wondered: What if every committed couple with at least one Jewish partner could possess the basic knowledge, inspiration, support system and sense of belonging to build a family with meaningful connections to Jewish life and the Jewish people?
The Honeymoon Israel experience has three basic pillars:
- 20 couples from the same city participate on each Honeymoon Israel trip
- The trip includes fun, adventure, historical context for Jewish and Christian religions, Jewish ritual, volunteerism and time for romance. The trip is built around a framework that welcomes everyone, regardless of background, and provides an open-ended forum for exploration and conversation about the role of “Jewish” in the couples’ lives.
- Emphasizing that Honeymoon Israel is about much more than the trip. Couples return home with a newfound community of friends and a deeper connection to Jewish values that will help them sustain their connection to Jewish life long after the trip to Israel. Honeymoon Israel partners with local organizations in each of the focus cities to support couples in the long-term.
Honeymoon Israel kicked off its first two trips in May 2015. As of today, Honeymoon Israel has brought 34 groups (more than 700 couples) from 10 cities to Israel. An additional 28 trips are planned for the next year, and a variety of new funders and supporters have joined the initiative. With a waiting list of a few thousand couples and more than four couples applying for every spot on a Honeymoon Israel trip, the initiative has taken flight.
Honeymoon Israel is now comprised of a team based across the country who are committed to supporting couples in their own exploration and to foster the organic development of community. Mike, Avi and the entire Honeymoon Israel team look forward to building Honeymoon Israel for many years to come.