September 28, 2018 By: Alex Whitaker, Honeymoon Israel Colorado, February 2018

By the time we sank into our seats on our flight to Israel last February, it had been a long year for us. My wife, Jodie, and I had moved across the country in May, got married in September, and both of us had started new jobs since moving to Denver. And while we loved the pace and quality of life in Denver after years of work in DC, we were exhausted. We needed a vacation.

Exhaustion aside, we were pretty excited for this trip. We’d both been to Israel before and had seen the big sights, but we hadn’t been together. Something told me that a guided trip to Israel as a 32 year old with my wife and 19 other couples who also wanted to figure out how to build a Jewish life together would be slightly different than backpacking by myself when I was 22 (Spoiler Alert: I was right).

And from the start, it was clear that this would be no ordinary vacation. Was it relaxing? Absolutely. Did we get to see awesome things and eat amazing Israeli food? Oh yeah. But it was more than just a trip. We had moments of togetherness and community, away from the normal distractions of daily life, that just can’t be replicated back home.

We celebrated shabbat at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on our first night. I could try to put into words how that made me feel, but I would fail. No matter what your relationship with Judaism looks like, whether you spent years in Hebrew school or, like me, you were raised Catholic and still can’t pronounce the Shehecheyanu, observing Shabbat there with your partner and friends is a life-changing experience. After it, I felt more connected to Judaism and my wife than I could have imagined possible.

But it wasn’t just all religious solemnity! There were beer tastings in Jerusalem, art tours in Safed, and mud baths in the Dead Sea. We hiked Massada together and talked at the summit about what it means to create family and community. In Tel-aviv we walked along the beach and did head stands next to Ben-Gurion’s statue. Every day was a new experience.

Since we’ve gotten back, that growth and community building hasn’t stopped. We’ve had baby showers for our parents-to-be, “dadchelor” parties, outdoor bbq’s, casual get-togethers during the week, and more than a few Shabbat dinners together. I’m so thankful for the community we’ve found, but I’m also so thankful for the opportunity to turn off my phone for ten days and connect with my wife. We had the chance to really talk about what we want our home to look like, and we shared an experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

And so while we got the break from the real world that we needed, we also got so much more. Honeymoon Israel isn’t just a vacation. It’s about building a lasting community and family – even if you don’t know it at the time you’re getting on the plane.