About Us

Honeymoon Israel brings young couples into the folds of Jewish life.

Our Mission

Honeymoon Israel’s mission is to provide immersive trips to Israel for locally based cohorts of couples that have at least one Jewish partner, early in their committed relationship, creating communities of couples who are building families with deep and meaningful connections to Jewish life and the Jewish people​.

Our goal is to make young couples of all backgrounds feel welcome in the Jewish community and to inspire them to incorporate Jewish values and traditions into their lives in their own way. 

Honeymoon Israel is supported by funders throughout the Jewish community who share our goal of welcoming and building community for diverse Jewish families.

Our Supporters

Our Vision

Honeymoon Israel’s vision is that every committed couple with at least one Jewish partner will possess the knowledge, inspiration, support system, and sense of belonging to build a family with meaningful connections to Jewish life and the Jewish people, thereby enhancing and strengthening the Jewish community.

For many young couples, there’s no easy way in to Jewish life, especially during those critical years when they’re in permanent relationships and deciding how to shape their lives and family.  

Honeymoon Israel offers a way in: immersive group travel to Israel that lets couples encounter and explore history, tradition, and identity on their own terms. We engage couples in an open-ended inquiry into how they connect to Jewish life and how they’ll incorporate Jewish values and traditions into their families. We support couples in their own exploration and foster the organic development of community. 

The HMI Story

How It All Began

In 2013, Mike Wise sat in his home in Buffalo, NY when he came across a newly released research report. In A Portrait of Jewish Americans, the Pew Research center 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 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, Mike drafted a whitepaper centered around the question: 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. 

He presented his idea to the leaders of the Jewish Federations in North America at the General Assembly in Israel and the whitepaper was published in an online forum. Little did Mike know that Avi Rubel would read all about his idea and fall in love with it. This pivotal moment was the spark that led to the creation of Honeymoon Israel.

A Vision to Reality

In March 2014, Mike Wise and Avi Rubel officially met in person. A quick game of Jewish geography revealed that Mike’s wife’s cousins were Avi’s aunt and uncle. Starting with family as its strong foundation, Honeymoon Israel was built. 

Both co-founders had devoted their lives to Jewish communal service. Mike was the CEO of various JCCs and Federations across the country and Avi was the founding North American Director for Masa Israel. They were driven by a common quest: what would be a game-changer in the growth of Jewish life?

In October 2014, Mike and Avi were fortunate to attract the attention of a family foundation that saw their 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 real difference in the lives of young couples.

Many Years to Come

Since 2015, Honeymoon Israel has existed to ensure that young couples with at least one Jewish partner have the knowledge, inspiration, support system, and sense of belonging to build a family with meaningful connections to Jewish life and the Jewish people. With a waitlist thousands of couples long and more than four couples applying for every spot on a Honeymoon Israel trip, the initiative has taken flight.

The Honeymoon Israel experience uses an immersive group trip to Israel as a catalyst to build a diverse, inclusive, supportive community at home. Couples from the same city travel to Israel to explore their connections to Jewish people, values, and traditions and how they may incorporate them into their lives in their own way. And it’s about so much more than the trip. Couples return home with a newfound community of friends and a deeper connection to Jewish life. 

Honeymoon Israel is now supported by generous funders and a dedicated team based across the country, all 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.

Meet The HMI Team

Mike Wise

Co-CEO

Prior to founding Honeymoon Israel, Mike served as CEO/Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo. Mike has served CEO of the JCC’s of Greater Atlanta, and was the CEO of the Jewish Community Board of Akron, OH for 17 years. While in Akron he led the complete restructuring of the Jewish communal system, now a national model for small and intermediate communities. Mike grew up in Minnesota earning his BS from the University of Minnesota and a Masters of Social Work from The University at Buffalo.

Avi Rubel

Co-CEO

Before co-founding Honeymoon Israel, Avi was the founding North American Director of Masa Israel Journey, bringing more than 10,000 North Americans to Israel annually. Avi has lived in Israel for several years and also spent more than a decade working on Jewish community development in the former Soviet Union with Hillel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Avi served as a United States Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Kyrgyzstan. Avi earned a BA from Binghamton University and a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Avital Ingber

Chief Advancement Officer

Prior to joining HMI, Avital served as the President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. Avital led the Houston Federation in its historic response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Prior to taking on the role of CEO for the Houston Federation, Avital spent nearly thirteen years at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington where she served as both the Chief Development Officer and Managing Director of Federation’s United Jewish Endowment Fund. Avital is a nationally recognized community leader, innovator and change agent. She is a well-known expert in resource development and multi-generational family philanthropy who has a passion for Jewish identity and community building locally, in Israel and around the world. She received her Executive Masters in Leadership from the Georgetown School of Business and her Bachelor of Arts from the Kogod School of Business at American University. Avital lives in New York City. She loves to travel and visits at least one new country every year.

Lesley Matsa

Chief Strategy Officer

She/Her
Lesley is Honeymoon Israel’s Chief Strategy Officer. She previously worked for 12 years at the Crown Family Philanthropies, Chicago’s largest Jewish foundation, where she was the lead staff member for domestic Jewish grantmaking. Her prior work experience includes strategic planning for non-profit organizations as a Consultant at Wellspring Consulting, management consulting work in the for-profit sector, and engaging young adults as Program Coordinator at UC Berkeley Hillel. Lesley holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a Bachelors degree with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley. Lesley is a recipient of the JJ Greenberg Award, awarded to one foundation professional internationally each year for extraordinary leadership in Jewish philanthropy, and is a Wexner Field Fellow.

Michael Himmelstein

Chief Finance Officer

Michael is Honeymoon Israel’s Chief Financial Officer. For the past 23 years, Michael has served as a fractional CFO serving several businesses in the Atlanta area. Prior to that, he served in several financial leadership positions primarily in the healthcare field. Michael is a Certified Public Accountant in the State of Georgia. He grew up in New York and earned a BS in Accounting from the University of Delaware. His passion for Israel stems from his granddaughter living in Jaffa with her parents.

Rachel Zieleniec

Chief Program Officer

Rachel is the Chief Program Officer for Honeymoon Israel. Prior to joining the team, Rachel worked in philanthropy as a Program Associate for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and for the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation in Washington, DC. In these roles, she supported and managed a number of grant making initiatives, helping award millions of dollars to local nonprofits. Following college, Rachel volunteered in Israel for a year with Yahel, an educational service learning organization, and was a member of its first cohort of participants. After her time in Israel, Rachel joined Yahel as a staff member to help grow the organization and manage digital media and recruitment for its programs. Rachel is a member of the ROI Network, an initiative of the Schusterman Foundation. Originally from Cleveland, OH, Rachel earned a Bachelors in Journalism and Public Relations and certificate in Global Leadership from Ohio University.

Laura Bernstein

Director of Marketing and Communications

Laura is an experienced professional specialized in using marketing and communications to achieve business goals. She has a diverse background, working with industry leaders in sectors including nonprofit, finance, and professional services, both in-house and in an agency setting. Laura holds an Executive M.S. in Strategic Communication from Columbia University. She went on the Brooklyn Honeymoon Israel trip in 2018 and fell in love with the organization.

Mikelle Belfore

Trip Operations Manager

She/Her
Mikelle is the Trip Operations Manager for Honeymoon Israel. Her prior work includes Director of Business Development for a technology company, adjunct professor at Paradise Valley Community College, and Director of Admissions and Licensed Professional Counselor for a non-profit organization. Mikelle earned a BS in Psychology from The University of Arizona and a Masters in Education and Human Development from The George Washington University. Mikelle and her husband, who were enthusiastic participants in the inaugural Honeymoon Israel trip from Phoenix, reside there with their two toddler children.

Jennifer Jalowiec Carrocci

Information Systems Manager

Jennifer is the Information Systems Manger for Honeymoon Israel. Prior to joining the team, Jennifer worked as the Operations Manager for Hillel at Arizona State University and started, and continues to run, her own business consulting with non-profits/small businesses. Jennifer is passionate about Israel. She has travelled there 5 times and recently lived and studied in Jerusalem for three months. Jennifer earned a BA in Communication from The University of Arizona and a Masters in Public Administration from Arizona State University.

Naava Frank

Institutional Giving Manager

She/Her
Naava brings to Honeymoon Israel her passion for Israel and community building as well as her extensive grantsmanship experience. Naava has devoted her career to building a rich and diverse Jewish community, with significant achievements in program design, evaluation, and management. A seasoned consultant and facilitator, she speaks and gives workshops about communities of practice and nonprofit networks for foundations and nonprofits. Naava enjoys swimming and singing. She holds an Ed.D. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and a B.A. from Barnard College/Columbia University.

Laura Parker

Applicant Experience Manager

She/Her
Laura is the Applicant Experience Manager for Honeymoon Israel. Prior to joining Honeymoon Israel, Laura spent 6 years in the corporate world, most recently in marketing/tradeshows. Laura experienced Israel for the first time May 2019 and fell in love with the country and community. Laura has a BS in Anthropology from Kennesaw State University and resides in Atlanta, Georgia. In her free time, Laura can be found in the mountains of North Georgia with her dog and husband.

Hilary Sloane

Marketing and Communications Specialist

Hilary is Honeymoon Israel's Marketing and Communications Specialist. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Georgia in 2012, and has been part of marketing teams in many Jewish organizations including Congregation B'nai Torah in Sandy Springs, GA and Valley Beth Shalom Day School in Los Angeles, CA. In her free time, Hilary also currently manages the marketing for her sister's dessert catering company, Cakeology. Before joining the HMI team, Hilary and her husband went on Honeymoon Israel Atlanta in January of 2020, and they are both huge cheerleaders of this organization!

Chloe Nassau

Regional Director, East Coast

Chloe brings a wealth of expertise in community organizing, international service learning and non-profit management to her work as NYC Director of Community Engagement for Honeymoon Israel. Chloe joins the Honeymoon Israel team after four years as the Youth Program Director at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Before which she gained a B.A. in International Relations from Boston University and a Master’s in Social Work from Hunter College. Chloe served as a Jewish Service Corps Fellow in Turkey with the JDC, as well as a Volunteer Corps participant in Thailand and Group Leader in Nicaragua with American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Chloe has visited Israel over 25 times and speaks Hebrew and Spanish. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Stephanie Goldfarb

Chicago Director of Community Engagement

Stephanie is a veteran Jewish community professional specializing in experiential Jewish education. Goldfarb holds Masters Degrees in both Gender Studies and Clinical Social Work from Loyola University, as well as a certificate in Experiential Jewish Education from Yeshiva University. She is dedicated to providing high-quality, unique, and immersive learning experiences for people of all ages in Chicago. Stephanie is also an accomplished chef and in her spare time she can be seen competing on (and winning) national cooking shows. She also operates frequent pop-up dinners (a nod to her passion for the intersections of Judaism and food) from which she donates all of the proceeds to Chicago-based non-profits.

Jenn Green

Regional Director, West Coast

She/Her
Jenn currently serves as the West Coast Regional Director for Honeymoon Israel, after working as the Director of Community Engagement in Los Angeles for 3 years.

Jenn previously worked as an advocate for youth in foster care and on probation in South LA, and currently serves as a volunteer CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) for a teenager in foster care. She is a graduate of the Glass Leadership Institute at the ADL, the Jeremiah Fellowship at Bend the Arc, and the New Leaders Council Institute for emerging millennial leaders and entrepreneurs. She holds an MA in Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California.

She has been a teacher and community organizer across the globe, and her passions have taken her from the townships of South Africa to the villas of Argentina and the southern tip of South Korea. In her free time, she explores all of Los Angeles’ vibrant neighborhoods for her adventure blog, My Best LA Day, and gathers inspiring females for her women's circle, Her Tribe.

Jessica Gisondo

Los Angeles Director of Community Engagement

Jessica is Honeymoon Israel's Director of Community Engagement for Los Angeles. Prior to joining the team, Jessica worked in international human rights and philanthropy at Open Society Foundations and Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York City. Previously, she worked for the Government of Rwanda at the United Nations, where her work focused on peacekeeping policy and protection of civilians. Jessica earned a BA in International Studies and History from the University of California, San Diego and an MA in International Affairs from The George Washington University. She is thrilled to be back in her hometown of LA, surrounded by her favorite things - tacos, the beach, and family.

Monica Boardman

SF Bay Area Director of Community Engagement

She/Her
Monica is Honeymoon Israel's Director of Community Engagement for the SF Bay Area. She is a Bay Area native who graduated from the University of San Francisco with a MA and BA in International Studies. Prior to joining HMI, Monica was the Grants Management Associate at the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco. From 2017-2018, she lived in Netanya, Israel for ten months as a MASA Israel Teaching Fellow, teaching English to elementary school students, and was previously a Program Associate at the Koret Foundation, a private Jewish foundation in San Francisco. Monica has travelled with JDC Entwine to Cuba, Bulgaria, Greece, Argentina, Finland, and Estonia and now serves as a 2019 Community Representative for Entwine. In her spare time, Monica enjoys reading, yoga, and going to SF Giants baseball games.

Andrea Deck

Washington DC Director of Community Engagement

She/Her
Originally from the DC area, Andrea joins the team after kicking off her career in the Jewish community with Federations across the world, most recently as the Senior Associate in Community Planning and Impact with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. She holds an MSW from Columbia University, an MA from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a BA from Franklin & Marshall College. Andrea loves dancing, knitting, and trying new things!

Sarah Wasser

Boston Director of Community Engagement

She/Her
Sarah is a Boston-native with a passion for immersive experience and community building. Prior to joining the team, Sarah was the Program and Operations Manager at Trybal Gatherings. She also founded a beverage company, ParTea, in 2015 and continues to run the company today. She holds a B.A. from the Gallatin School at New York University. In her free time, Sarah can usually be found cooking, entertaining friends, exploring the outdoors, or playing mahjong.

Curtis Sechrist

East Bay Director of Community Engagement

He/Him
Curtis is an alum of Honeymoon Israel's fifth trip out of NYC in 2017, and a recent transplant to the East Bay Area of Northern California. He was an active member of the HMI community in NYC, as well as an alum of the Exploring Judaism program at Central Synagogue. He has made a career in Arts Education for the last twenty years in London UK, Japan, UAE and across North America. He is passionate about inclusivity, access and equality, as well as creating pathways to living a Jewish life in the many forms that can take. He lives in Emeryville, CA with his husband, Adam, and their rescue dog, Carmen Miranda.

Meet The HMI Board of Directors

Joe Kanfer

Board Chair

Joe is Venturer at GOJO. The second generation of family leadership of GOJO, Joe was CEO from 1976 to May 2018, when he transitioned to Venturer. As Venturer, Joe is a member of the GOJO Board and an advisor and coach to many teams. Joe brings his passion for innovation and vision-setting to constantly generate new ideas and push boundaries.
Joe is a venture investor in the United States and Israel, serving as Chairman of Startvest Partners, which develops biotech startups in Israel. He is active in national Jewish affairs and is the past Chair of JFNA, The Jewish Federations of North America, the coordinating organization of the North American Jewish community, which includes the 155 Jewish communities of North America. He served on the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel and is past Chair of JESNA/the Jewish Education Service of North America, the Akron Jewish Federation and The Lippman School. He is also a Founding Director of Lippman Kanfer Family Philanthropies. He currently serves as Chair of Honeymoon Israel, a new venture to bring young couples to Israel and foster Jewish community when they return, and a board member of Leading Edge, dedicated to building talent pipelines for leadership in Jewish organizations.

Alisa Levin

Development Chair

Alisa, co-founder of the boutique legal search firm Greene-Levin-Snyder, is an executive recruiter specializing in partner and senior level searches. Prior to founding the firm, Alisa practiced bankruptcy and workout law at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and White & Case. She began her legal career as a law clerk to Chief Judge Charles D. Breitel of the New York Court of Appeals.

Alisa is a graduate of the Joint Program between Columbia and Jewish Theological Seminary and St. John’s University Law School. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband, Charles Nathan and her French bulldog, Marnina. She and Chuck have a married son Sam and a daughter Lily. And she is very proud of her two stepchildren and three grandchildren.

Melanie Nussdorf

Board Development and Governance Chair

Melanie advises some of the world's largest financial institutions on fiduciary issues, including prohibited transaction exemption questions under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, especially in connection with financial products and services offered by major banks, investment advisers, brokerage firms, and insurance companies. Repeatedly recognized by clients and peers in Chambers USA and Legal 500 as one of the nation’s leading lawyers in the employee benefits area, Melanie’s experience spans the entire range of employee benefits, from tax-based requirements for qualified pension plans, to fiduciary issues, welfare benefits, and plan termination. She has substantial experience with the exemption and advisory opinion process under ERISA and has worked extensively on legislative and regulatory issues related to ERISA. Her experience includes seven years in senior roles at the Department of Labor and at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Melissa Bordy

Finance Chair

Melissa is Secretary/Treasurer and the Chief Financial Officer of Held Properties, Inc.

She has over 20 years experience in financial planning, cash management analysis and banking. Her expertise in financial markets includes negotiations and issuance of over $500 million of debt and equity offerings, future contracts and interest rate swap agreements. Prior to joining Held Properties, Inc. in 1987, Ms. Bordy served as Vice President of Asset/Liability Management for California Federal Savings and Loan Association and Assistant Treasurer for R & B Enterprises.

Melissa holds a Masters of Business Administrator degree in Finance and Real Estate from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of California, Irvine.

Howard Zack

Board Member

Howard has been an entrepreneur, developer and angel investor and presently is the Managing Partner of WhoKnew Ventures, an early stage venture fund and start up incubator in Sausalito CA focused on health and wellness, food and nutrition. Howard brings an overarching consumer perspective to investing, as a former P&G brand marketing executive. He co-founded two Internet start-ups and pioneered factory outlet development in Northern California. In addition, he is deeply involved in a range of non profit organizations, Jewish and secular, including the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Wexner Heritage Foundation and the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Camille Seigle

Board Member

Camille is a Global Manager at LinkedIn. She is active in the Jewish Community in Chicago. She currently serves as a Board Member for Honeymoon Israel. She is also on the advisory council for the Ben-Gurion Society for The Jewish United Fund of Chicago.

Lindy Radow

Board Member

Lindy is a trustee of the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, a member of Women’s Philanthropy and a founding board member of MACoM, the community mikvah. Both support AIPAC, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Birthright Israel and Congregation Etz Chaim, where her husband Norman served as president.

Barrett Cohn

Board Member

Barrett is co-founder and CEO of Scenic Advisement, the first investment bank to meet the capital needs of late-stage private companies, their employees and investors. Before co-founding Scenic Advisement, Barrett was a venture advisor with venture-capital firm Maveron, the consumer focused venture fund founded by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. Barrett served for more than two years as CEO of The Juno Company, a digital media company focused on educational mobile content for children. He also worked in Private Investment Management at Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse, and in Private Client Services at Stone & Youngberg.

Karyn Cohen

Board Member

Karyn joined the One8 Foundation in March 2013. She leads the foundation’s work in Jewish Continuity, Israel, and special projects in the US in the non-Jewish related issues areas. She’s responsible for identifying great organizations and leaders, developing grants and providing strategic and tactical support to help organizations increase their impact in significant and sustainable ways. Karyn has significant experience in both the private and non-profit sectors. Prior to joining One8, Karyn was Associate Vice President of Strategy Implementation at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, where she managed strategy and grant making for engaging key populations in Jewish life and led measurement efforts and other strategic projects. Prior to this Karyn spent nine years as a management consultant in Chicago and Boston with Capgemini focused on growth and customer strategy. She started her career working for the New England Holocaust Memorial and in the direct marketing industry. Karyn received a BA in Art History from The George Washington University and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

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