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.
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
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.
Jenn currently serves as the Chief Engagement and Program Officer for Honeymoon Israel after working as the West Coast Senior Regional Director and the Director of Community Engagement in Los Angeles over the last 4 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.
Mikelle is the Director of Operations for Honeymoon Israel. Her prior work includes Director of Admissions and Licensed Professional Counselor for non-profit organizations. She was an adjunct professor at Paradise Valley Community College and currently sits on the board of her local synagogue. 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 were enthusiastic participants in the inaugural Honeymoon Israel trip from Phoenix, and reside there with their two children.
After two years as HMI Boston's Director of Community Engagement, Sarah is currently HMI's East Coast Regional Director. 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.
Emma is HMI's Regional Director of Community Engagement for the Midwest. Prior to joining the HMI team, she directed the joint young adult program of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations, overseeing HMI and a range of leadership and engagement initiatives for Jewish adults in their 20s/30s. She holds a BA and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota and a Certificate in Jewish Leadership from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. Emma is active in Jewish and political causes locally, serving on the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota's Board of Directors and volunteering in various capacities in the Jewish community. She is a lifelong Midwestener and spends her time discovering new trails, people, and passions.
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.
Catherine is the Applicant Experience Manager for Honeymoon Israel. She holds degrees from Sewanee: The University of the South and Parsons School of Design. Her prior work experience includes freelance illustration, design, and development for technology companies and political organizations. She and her husband live in Washington, D.C. with their son. They enjoy hosting dinners, art, outdoor adventures, and traveling.
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.
Melissa fell in love with Honeymoon Israel when she and her husband went on the November 2018 HMI Los Angeles trip. Melissa’s enthusiasm for HMI led her to serve on Honeymoon Israel’s National Leadership Council for two years and subsequently join the team as the Los Angeles Director of Community Engagement.
Melissa began her career in the entertainment industry at the Endeavor Talent Agency before earning her J.D. from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. For the past decade, she served as a prosecutor and was given awards and accolades for her service to the community and victims of crime. During this time, she also taught fifth-grade students about the criminal justice system for Los Angeles County’s Project L.E.A.D.
Melissa holds a B.A. from Columbia University in History, a B.A. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in Bible and Ancient Semitic Studies, and spent time studying in Israel at Tel Aviv University. In her spare time, she loves to travel, explore new restaurants, read, and design and renovate homes with her husband. A long-time resident of West Hollywood, Melissa currently resides in Eagle Rock with her husband, daughter, and husky.
Meet The HMI Board of Directors
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.
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.
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.
She is active in the Jewish Community of Chicago and currently serves on the advisory council for the Ben-Gurion Society for the Jewish United Fund of Chicago. Camille received her Organizational and Leadership Coaching Certificate from Northwestern University and her undergrad from Denison University. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Joe, 2-year-old daughter, Isabel, and 10-year-old dog Palmer. Camille and her husband participated in the Honeymoon Israel trip out of Chicago in 2019.
Benneth received his law degree from UCLA School of Law and economics degree from St. Cloud State University. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Heather, and one-year-old son, Benn. Benneth and Heather participated in the Los Angeles Honeymoon Israel trip in March 2018 and remain active members of the HMI community.
Brian serves on the Board of Trustees for Atlanta-based synagogue The Temple, one of the largest and most storied congregations in the Southeast, and previously served as Chairman of the Leven Family Jewish Identity Institute. He studied Journalism at The George Washington University and also holds a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) from GW, as well as a Master's of Communications from Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Dunwoody, GA with his wife Yang and their daughters Ellie and Sophie. Brian and Yang participated in the Atlanta Honeymoon Israel trip in May 2016 and have since become deeply involved with the organization, including serving as members of the Alumni National Leadership Council.