How Honeymoon Israel flipped my skepticism to optimism
August 25, 2017
By: Andrew Meyer, Honeymoon Israel SF Bay Area participant on a May 2017 trip
Back in Summer of 2016, just a couple months before we got married, my wife made an “amazing” discovery - we could go to Israel with a bunch of other recently married couples, on a heavily subsidized trip, with no strings attached. Now, I say “amazing”, because at this point, the thoughts going through my head were:
- Wow, she is very excited.
- “No strings attached” never actually means no strings attached, as proven by both the rom-com of that name, and the N'SYNC album cover (where they literally have strings on them, I mean, c’mon)... as the gentile of our relationship, I’m not really in a “get converted” mood at the moment.
- 20 couples on a trip… do I make a Swingers joke now, or wait a bit for her excitement to calm down before I make it?
- I wonder what Israel is like. I do enjoy history.
Needless to say, I was intrigued, but not exactly sold.
Fast forward to November - we applied for a trip with Honeymoon Israel SF Bay Area and it’s the morning before our flight back east for Thanksgiving. My wife and I are making a stop at an office building in the city to do an interview with the Honeymoon Israel folks because we were invited to the next round. Shelley is super excited; my emotions are a mix of “this could be cool” and “I wonder if this is where we find out the catch." We went through the interview, and I personally 'moved on', not really thinking much about it (outside of the times my wife excitedly asked “when do you think we’ll hear!?”...so basically, I still thought about it a lot.)
And then, the weirdest thing happened - despite me making it super clear in the interviews that I had no intention of converting to Judaism, we received an email from the local City Director, Lisa Motenko, saying we were accepted on the trip. “More like Lisa Mistakeo, obviously”, I thought… but, my mixed feelings in tow, I tried to stir myself up to be excited for the trip.
At this point, you may be wondering: why begin a blog post on the official Honeymoon Israel website with a bunch of jokes about how much I doubted the program? Well, there’s a few different answers to that question, and while the truth might actually be “because I have no idea how to begin this post so I’m just finger-rambling into the keyboard and seeing what comes out,” I like to think it’s because it shows the contrast between how I felt then, and how I feel now, almost three (3) months after what turned out to be one of the best trips of my life.
My wife and I participated on the May 2017 Honeymoon Israel journey from San Francisco Bay Area. I can’t really put into words how special it was - hey, I’m a data analyst by trade; I do numbers, not words - but if I had to try, I’d describe it as some mix of unique, amazing, delicious, beautiful, romantic, friendship-building, historic, deep, touching, enriching, educational, fascinating and...muddy?
There’s so much I could say about the experience, but I only have so many words before you’re going to stop reading. There’s all the obvious things you’d expect - the history was, well historic; the views were incredible; the culture was unique; the food was ridiculously tasty; and on and on. But what left the biggest impressions on me were a few other things.
1. Between the incredible views, the tours and the sites and generally alternating between thinking, “Holy crap this is amazing” and, “Wait, do I get in trouble for saying ‘holy crap’ in the ‘holy land’”?... on a trip with all those things, the first things I’ll think of are the friends I met and the discussions we all had. It's really hard to describe the “discussions” on these trips, and how meaningful they are, because if you aren’t there, they sound cornier than a field in Nebraska. (Or, you might now say, “cornier than the previous sentence.”) But to be able to sit down with a group of people in a similar place in life who all seem similar on the surface, and realize how different everyone’s back story is from the other’s; to question what religion really means among people who have been viewing religious sites all day; to learn from each other’s own lives, and to have everyone approach it from a place of genuineness instead of the usual dose of sarcasm thrown in… the amount I learned - about others, about myself, about my wife, about our relationship, and about life in general, could fill a whole book.
2. If you’ve never been to the Middle East, there is no better way to see it than this trip. The various guest speakers taught us about politics, history, religion(s) and the tensions of the region. To quote our tour educator, an always-insightful and Indiana-Jones-esque man named Koren, “If you walk away from this trip with more questions than answers, I’ve done my job well.” Israel is a slice of the Middle East, and I learned more about the region - particularly how much there is to learn, and how little I understand the complexities of it - than I had in the previous 32+ years of my life.
3. As a Christian who married a proud Jew, having the chance to learn about Judaism in its Holy Land (and see sites holy to my own religion - Honeymoon Israel doesn’t shy away from the famous sites of other religions, and we spent a whole day in the town where Jesus is alleged to have performed his miracles!) has helped me better understand something that’s important to my wife, and has thus strengthened our own relationship. We’re fortunate enough to have gone on a few pretty amazing vacations, but it’s rare to go on a vacation like this and come away thinking, “Wow… I understand my partner so much better now, and can relate to her on a deeper level than before.”
Bringing it back full circle, here we are, about a year from when I first heard about the trip and had conflicted thoughts around it, and I can’t believe I ever considered not applying. We see the other couples from our trip regularly, we’ve made some great new friends, our relationship is better than ever... if there’s a single downside to Honeymoon Israel it's that the bar has been set so high that I’m hoping we aren’t relatively disappointed by trips we take in the future!