As Jews, when our children intermarry, there are two questions we are repeatedly asked. Subtly or not so subtly. To our face or behind our backs.
Will they be raising their future children Jewish?
How does the non-Jewish partner feel about Israel?
How many of us hope the answer to the first question is a resounding "YES"? And the answer to the second question is a resounding "GOOD"?
Hoping, as we all know, isn't a plan. But alas, some very bright people came up with an initiative that may prove to be an effective way to instill in interfaith couples a love and appreciation for Judaism and Israel: Honeymoon Israel.
As a parent, I shuttered when my son told me that this Rosh Hashanah he and his bride were going alone to try a new synagogue for the high holidays -- a synagogue close to where they are now living. Would they be welcomed as an interfaith couple? Would she feel out of place? Would there be others to bond with? Or would she be turned off by the whole experience and bulk at returning?
So, with a heavy heart, I recently attended a Jewish Federation Lion of Judah conference. And I literally sprinted to a break-out session whose description promised to provide an easier way into Jewish life for interfaith couples. The title: Honeymoon Israel.
The session was packed with eager and curious mothers. Just like me.
In a nutshell, and quoted from a Honeymoon Israel hand-out, this is the basic information:
Why was Honeymoon Israel created? It is an innovative solution to address indications of a steady 100-year decline of Jewish Americans' commitment to Jewish faith and culture. Today in the U.S., more than half of all Jews will not marry other Jews and only 20 percent say they will raise their children as exclusively Jewish.
The initiators asked themselves, as we all do, how to better engage interfaith couples in the critical years when they are in permanent relationships and deciding how they want to shape their lives and raise their children?
My husband and I bought our son and daughter-in-law a challah knife, kiddush cups, Shabbat candles and Jewish cookbooks galore. The grandmothers supplied them with oodles of passed-down recipes for chicken soup, chopped liver and brisket. We flipped through the boys' Bar Mitzvah albums. We talked repeatedly about the boys' Jewish summer camp experiences. We spoke glowingly about the beauty of Shabbat, lighting the candles, hosting Shabbat dinners. We discussed the terrifying reality of the Holocaust. What more can we do without being labeled intrusive and cloying? And how healthy is it anyway that my daughter-in-law's only intimate and ongoing exposure to Judaism is through the eyes of our family?
Honeymoon Israel recognizes there is no "easy way in" to Jewish life. So Honeymoon Israel offers 20 young couples at a time an immersive group travel experience to Israel that lets each couple encounter and explore history, tradition and identity, together, on a nine-day trip. They hit the best tourist spots -- the Western Wall, Jerusalem's Old City, Tel Aviv beaches, meals with local families, meetings with high level public officials and business leaders. They visit sites important to Jewish, Christian and Muslim history and meet Israeli peers to hear about life in Israel. And sample wine and food galore.
Cost: $1,800 per couple -- the rest is subsidized. This includes flight, hotels, planned activities and most meals.
Eligibility: generally speaking, couples should be within their first five years of marriage or a committed relationship and be between the ages of 25-40. At least one partner must be Jewish and at least one partner must have no organized Israel trip experience as a teen or adult.
At present, ten cities are offering trips: San Francisco/Bay Area, San Diego, New York City, Phoenix, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Denver/Boulder, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston. Participants travel with fellow residents of their city and there are ample opportunities to continue their relationships with fellow participants after the trip.
In 2016-17, Honeymoon Israel will send more than 650 couples from 10 cities on 34 trips to Israel. I hope my son and his wife are one of those couples.
For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.honeymoonisrael.org or 347-292-8809.