Jerusalem, Israel

In 2017, we were trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and met Kelsey, who told us about Honeymoon Israel (HMI). HMI’s mission is to provide immersive trips to Israel for locally based cohorts of couples that have at least one Jewish partner, are early in their committed relationship, with a focus on creating communities of couples who are building families with deep and meaningful connections to Jewish life and the Jewish people​. More details on HMI can be found on their website and in this video.

In early 2022, we were talking about the travel we want to do before starting a family and we remembered HMI! And so, in late June we attended an info session and decided to apply. In August, we learned that we passed the first round of applications and went to UJA in midtown Manhattan for an in-person interview. In early September, we received an email stating we had been accepted on the January 2023 trip!

Once accepted, we received a list of bios of the other couples on our trip, attended a Meet & Greet at UJA, and received a detailed itinerary. While HMI organizes most of the trip, we still made sure to gather recommendations for some free afternoons and evenings.

January 5, 2023

In the early evening, we took an Uber to Newark. Security for El Al (the Israeli airline) was something we had never experienced. After spending a lot of time getting through security, we got to the gate, boarded our flight, and tried our best to sleep on the 10 hour journey to Israel!

January 6, 2023

Before we knew it, we landed in Tel Aviv! The ~40 couples traveling with HMI were split into 2 buses: Bus A (our bus) consisted of couples living in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan and Bus B consisted of couples living in Upper Manhattan and Jersey City. After going through customs and grabbing our checked bags, we boarded Bus A and met Lior, our guide for the week! We were also officially introduced to Matt Green, our Rabbi, and Arianna, our HMI coordinator.

On our drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we stopped for some burekas (the first of many!) and coffee (which was very necessary).

Throughout the rest of the bus ride, Lior provided us a brief history of Jerusalem. Today, Jerusalem is home to ~1 million residents and is controlled by Israel, of which 60% are Jewish, 38% are Palestinians, and the remainder are Christian or Other. With roots dating back over 6,000 years, Jerusalem has been captured over 40 times and destroyed twice.

Before arriving at our hotel, we stopped for a panoramic view of Jerusalem. We imagined the layers of history by viewing the walls surrounding the city, the distinct architectural styles, and various places of worship.

While we took in the view, Lior played her guitar (the first time of many).

After arriving at the hotel, we lit Shabbat candles and then walked a few minutes towards the Old City to have Kabbalat Shabbat at the Montefiore Windmill. Kabbalat Shabbat is a traditional Jewish practice that translates to “Welcoming the Sabbath” and it begins just before sundown every Friday.

This Kabbalat Shabbat was the first time our group (Bus A) was gathered together to be led by Rabbi Green. He prompted us to check in with our partners about what Shabbat means to articulate our intentions for the next 24 hours together.

After Kabbalat Shabbat, we walked back to the hotel for a quick dinner and then eagerly went upstairs to get a good night’s sleep.

January 7, 2023

Given the timezone change, we woke up at 3:30AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. When it was time for breakfast, we took the Shabbat elevator. In observance of Shabbat, most public areas and hotels make it easy to not “work” (in this case, pushing a button), so the elevators stop on each floor and wait a few seconds before moving to the next.

After breakfast, we listened to a lecture on the 5 Legged Table by Rabbi Lana Zilberman Solloway, a multi-talented Rabbi and informal educator. The 5 Legged Table is Avraham Infeld’s metaphor to describe a framework for a strong and stable Jewish identity. According to Avraham, there are 5 components (or “legs”) that combine to make up a person’s Jewish identity: (1) Memory, (2) Family, (3) Covenant, (4) Israel and (5) Hebrew. Choosing at least three of the components (or “legs”) of Jewish identity provides a stable platform for living a Jewish life and contributing to the world. 

After the morning lecture, Lior walked us through her personal story and provided us more information about the recent history of Israel. The modern map of Israel (below) has changed several times since its recognition in 1947 by the UN under the Partition Plan for Palestine. Today, there are 3 major disputed territories: (1) Golan Heights (North East), (2) West Bank (referring to the Western bank of Jordan), and (3) the Gaza Strip (South West area bordering Egypt).

We spent the remainder of the morning strolling from the neighborhood of the hotel towards The Israel Museum. Given that it was Shabbat, the streets were quiet and tranquil. During this walk we passed Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence and an ancient burial site that was found by archaeologists while building in the area.

After our walk, we had a picnic lunch in Gan Sacher Park. We ate sandwiches with fresh vegetables and chatted with more people in our group.

After lunch, we walked into The Israel Museum. The museum was really informative and the replica of the Old City of Jerusalem was very interesting to sit near as Lior and Rabbi Green explained a lot of history.

We also loved seeing the famous Ahava (which is Hebrew for “love”) sculpture.

After the museum, we took a quick nap before meeting the group for our first (of four) HMI Conversation. During this conversation, we created a Community Agreement and then grouped up with Chelsea & Harrison and Michael & Madeleine. We will not share personal details in this blog, but we loved opening up with and getting to know them. We all expressed how it’s hard to make friends at this stage in our lives and we discussed our intentions for the trip.

Later in the evening, we observed Havdalah (meaning “separation” or “end of Shabbat”) led by Rabbi Green, during which he mentioned his love for Debbie Friedman and her music.

After Havdalah, we went to dinner at Adom with Chelsea & Harrison, Kaitlin & Neil, John & Chris, and Jackie & Shao. The restaurant was in a fun area and the food and drinks were great!

January 8, 2023

Still fighting jet lag, we started our day very early and drove to the Old City of Jerusalem.

Our first stop was Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. Since none of us are Muslim, we had to enter in the Jewish Quarter through security. Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount is located in the Muslim Quarter, was once home to the Second Jewish Temple, and is currently the third most holy site for Muslims.

There is a lot to unpack here, which we will not attempt to do. Nonetheless, we enjoyed visiting the site and respecting the modern traditions and rules of Dome of the Rock (e.g. men and women cannot touch while at the site, hence the picture of us standing far apart).

After exiting the Dome of The Rock, we walked through the Muslim Quarter filled with lots of candy and Jerusalem bagels with za’tar. Lior did a fantastic job providing multiple perspectives of the history and would often stop the group to interview a shopkeeper or local, all of whom seemed eager to tell their story.

Soon, we found ourselves out of the Muslim Quarter and in the Christian Quarter near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We stopped and saw some of the 14 Stations of the Cross, representing the path that Jesus walked from his arrest to his Crucifixion.

After exploring the Church of Holy Sepulchre, we went back to the Muslim Quarter for lunch. We had hummus at Lina and quickly explored Cardo Street, which is a good street to get Judaica (we didn’t have enough time, but recommend it to those that do).

We then met up back up with Lior and Rabbi Green for a conversation about the thousands of years of Jewish history that led to the current Jewish State. We saw a few groups of Israeli soldiers in training and observed children and families from all backgrounds stroll past.

We then walked through the Jewish Quarter towards the Kotel.

Finally, we got to the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall) which is considered the holiest site in Judaism. Like most aspects of religious Jewish life in Israel, the Western Wall is part of an Orthodox Synagogue, so we respectfully observed their rules and traditions. Men and women split into their designated areas and we each dropped notes into the Wall.

Upon regrouping, we all discussed what our experience was like and we also learned about an organization called Women of the Wall.

Throughout the day, it continued to become more and more clear to us that HMI really does not have a religious nor a political agenda. As such, we left the Kotel and went to the Palestinian National Theater for a discussion with Mahmoud Muna, a Palestinian bookshop owner and author. He candidly told us about his life and the challenges he faces being a Palestinian Resident of Jerusalem, with no right to vote and limited rights compared to his Jewish neighbors.

After this extremely eye-opening conversation, we showered back at the hotel and went to dinner at Machneyuda with Chelsea & Harrison. The food was great and the vibe was so fun!

January 9, 2023

We woke up to rain, which was honestly fitting for our visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Jews who were murdered, honoring Jews who fought against Nazi oppressors and Gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need, and researching genocide with the aim of avoiding such events in the future.

We spent a few hours touring the center with a guide named Lana. Needless to say, the museum was very emotional, informative, and an absolute must for anyone traveling to Israel.

After an emotional visit to the main part of the center, Lana took us to the Children’s Memorial. This tribute to the ~1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust was extremely powerful and left many of us in tears.

We concluded our visit with a reflection led by Rabbi Green. Much of this conversation we will not share publicly in this post. In general, we reflected on the current rise in anti-semitism and how Yad Vashem clearly shows how Holocaust did not happen overnight. We finished our reflection with the Mourner’s Kaddish.

After Yad Vashem, we drove to Machane Yehuda Market, a stark transition to a lively marketplace with hundreds of stores, restaurants, and bars.

We passed by the famous Marzipan Bakery and got a lot of rugelach, including some to take back home!

We had lunch at Azura with Chelsea & Harrison and Olivia & Philip. The food, especially the oxtail, was SO delicious!

After lunch, we made our way back to the hotel by meandering through Ben Yehuda. We bought a kosher scroll to put inside our mezuzah (which is made from the glass Cody stepped on at our wedding) and we also bought a beautiful challah cover that we want to start using on Shabbat!

After a quick rest at the hotel, we went to our second HMI Conversation, which focused on discussing our independent values and our collective values as a couple. Again, we are not going to share any personal details here other than the fact that we really like the prompts and openly chatting not only with each other, but also with other couples on the trip.

For dinner, we went back to Machane Yehuda Market and had the best veal shawarma at AKA with Jess & Sam, Chelsea & Harrison, and Kaitlin & Neil.

After dinner, we did a pub crawl. One spot we went to was The Parliament, which had an awesome vibe! We also learned about street art and how a lot of it began from wanting to create some beauty on the shop doors when they were closed for Shabbat.

We ended our evening walking back to the hotel with Kate & Jesse.

Next on the itinerary: the Judaean Desert!

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