It has long been rumored that couples who meet on Birthright trips receive a free honeymoon to Israel. This is just hearsay, but there is a way for newly married couples to enjoy a highly subsidized trip to the Holy Land.
Honeymoon Israel provides trips to Israel for American couples with at least one Jewish partner. While the actual cost is around $10,000 per couple, each couple pays only $2,200. The remainder is subsidized by One8 foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Boston, and 15 other local and national funders.
The typical Honeymoon Israel itinerary covers all the major tourist destinations including the Dead Sea, Masada, the Western Wall and Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, in addition to some more unique experiences. On one particular trip, couples visited an artist’s studio in Safed (Tzfat), Pelter Winery in the Golan Heights, and a nonprofit organization in the Galilee led by a team of Israeli-Arab and Jewish women working together.
“We try to create diversity in the trip by highlighting the diversity of Israel, which has amazing beauty to it,” said Honeymoon Israel co-CEO and founder Mike Wise. “It’s really to help them understand Israel, but also how Israel can be a model for their own existence. We want them to understand the broad nature of what Israel is and not just a single narrative.”
Each trip includes two Shabbat experiences – one traditional Shabbat in Jerusalem and a more modern, secular Shabbat in Tel Aviv.
Honeymoon Israel trips are locally organized and include 20 couples from the same city. So far, it operates in 16 US cities, with four more on the way and a waiting list in the thousands for most trips.
There are no rules about how “Jewish” you need to be to participate.
Since Honeymoon Israel began operating in 2015, 70 percent of its participants have identified as mixed-religion couples. A survey by Pew Research Center in 2013, which helped inspire the Honeymoon Israel concept, showed that intermarriage rates have risen substantially over the last five decades. Almost 60% of Jewish respondents who married between the years 2000 and 2013 have a non-Jewish spouse.
“We want our trips represent what I would call a ‘normalized’ community — a community that looks like exactly what their peer community is,” said Wise, who notes that 8% of participants are LGBTQ.
The goal of the trip is to create a welcoming atmosphere for those without previous Jewish connections, said Wise, who launched the project with co-CEO Avi Rubel, founding North American director of Masa Israel Journey, which organizes long-term Israel programs for young people. Wise previously headed the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo (NY), JCC of Greater Atlanta and Jewish Community Board of Akron, Ohio.
After the success of the first 50 Honeymoon Israel trips, the organization will host its second “2nd Honeymoon Israel” trip in October, a similar concept available to couples and individuals age 50 and up. This trip, welcome to people of all backgrounds and religious affiliations, is not limited to married couples but is particularly targeted toward parents whose children have participated.
“I get notes from people constantly about how this trip has changed their life and impacted relationships with in-laws, with their own parents,” Wise said.