When Sam Reznik and Alison Kracunas first found out that they were selected for the January 2024 HMI trip to Israel from Boston, they felt a sense of hope and excitement about finally finding a local community of unique Jewish couples like themselves.

Prior to applying for our HMI experience, if Sam wanted to celebrate any aspect of Judaism, it almost always required getting in the car and driving two and a half hours back to his parents’ house in Connecticut. The thought of being able to bring Judaism into their new home in Boston seemed like a distant dream until they began the application process.

One thing that struck Sam as he and Alison moved through the process was how often HMI confirmed that the couple planned to stay in Boston long-term. He realized that was the whole point of the program – it’s about more than just the trip to Israel.

“Couples can build something here where they live, where they’ve settled. And that meant a lot to me,” he said. “I actually got emotional during the interview…realizing how much I yearned to create my own Jewish space and culture.”

But when the tragic events of October 7 rocked the Jewish community worldwide, HMI applicants across the country worried that the possibility of finally having their own Jewish community was about to be snatched away.

For Josh Bernstein, who had planned to travel with his husband Michael Nguyen from the San Francisco Bay Area, the thought of missing out on the HMI experience made him realize that he had taken for granted how much the Jewish community meant to him. “[It was] just that sense of belonging that I didn’t realize I needed as much as I did,” he said.

After October 7, HMI knew we had to pause our travel to Israel, but we also could feel that our couples needed the HMI community more than ever before. Our commitment has always been to make young couples feel welcome in the ever-changing and diverse Jewish community. Through our heartbreak and devastation, we knew we couldn’t just abandon the more than 400 couples whose trips were postponed – couples like Julie and Brogan Brasseaux from Houston who were looking for not just friends but a community.

At Honeymoon Israel, we’ve always been about more than a trip to Israel. It says it right there in our slogan, “it’s about the journey.” A journey for Sam and Alison to discover what parts of Judaism feel meaningful to them. A journey for Josh and Michael to explore their local Jewish community with confidence. A journey for Julie and Brogan to foster deep and long lasting connections with other couples asking the same questions about life and love.

And while the typical HMI journey begins with a romantic trip to Israel, the past six months have reminded us to meet our couples where they are on their personal Jewish paths. Even if that means rearranging the stops on our previously scheduled journey.

With the support of our partners and donors, 81 couples from Boston, Houston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area who were scheduled to travel to Israel between November 2023 and March 2024 were able to join the HMI family at local couples retreats. During the retreats, the couples started to connect with one another around why they applied for HMI in the first place.

Retreat activities included Shabbat and Havdalah ceremonies, s’mores around the fire, intimate HMI-style conversations around family dynamics and traditions, a couples reflexology session (proudly named the “chutzpah foot spa”), and more. And over the course of the weekend, participants who came in as strangers left with a new sense of connection and community they never could have imagined.

Jenna Rosen from Houston couldn’t believe how quickly she and her husband, Asher, felt comfortable opening up to the other couples. During dinner on the first night, she looked over at Asher and saw that he was having a deep heart-to-heart conversation with someone he’d only met a few hours before. “It was a conversation you would have with somebody that you were really, really close friends with,” she said. “You become so vulnerable so quickly.”

Michael initially came into the HMI experience thinking it was more of an “us-trip” where he and his husband, Josh, could explore the Jewish faith as a couple who happened to be traveling with other people. But that changed for him after meeting the other people at the retreat.

“Seeing just how welcoming the community was, especially as an ‘outsider’ who isn’t Jewish, I really appreciated the acceptance and that sense of community,” he said. “It changed my perspective in that the trip is about more than just us as a married couple. It’s about community and exploring all these great things together as a group.”

One of our goals at HMI is to help couples see that they’re not alone when it comes to navigating Judaism and all that comes with it. Whether you’re a Jewish partner who’s tackling questions of how to create new traditions in your home or a non-Jewish partner who just wants to be able to feel comfortable and confident in a Jewish setting, we bring people together to show them that there are other couples in their hometowns, maybe even right down the street, who are just like them.

Brogan said he felt immediately more at ease when he realized he wasn’t the only person in the room reading the English transliteration of the Hebrew prayers. And when it comes to heavier topics like Israel and the rise in antisemitism in the aftermath of October 7, couples like Mitchell Regenstreif and Melissa Agnello from the San Francisco Bay Area shared that it’s been helpful to have met people that are going through the same emotions.

“We live in San Francisco, a super liberal, progressive place, and while people like myself may have aligned with those politics in the past, we’re now kind of feeling abandoned,” Melissa, who recently converted to Judaism, said. “I feel like a lot of people outside the Jewish community don’t get that at all, so it has been nice to have people in a similar situation.”

Over the last few weeks, our HMI team has been kvelling (bursting with pride) as we’ve seen couples come together to continue building the bonds they created at their retreats. Since Melissa and Mitchell returned home from their retreat in the San Francisco Bay Area, they’ve connected with at least one HMI couple every weekend. Sam and Alison enjoyed an unforgettable Shabbat dinner with eight of the other Boston couples, and Jenna and Asher went to a painting party with their Houston cohort!

And aside from group gatherings, we’ve heard from many couples like Adam and Dale Kraiterman from Boston who have already begun incorporating new Jewish traditions into their homes since their retreat, like lighting candles almost every weekend.

“Adam and I do the Hebrew blessings, or sometimes we just have a moment of silence, but whatever feels right that night, we do it,” Dale said. “We now create that space of pause for Shabbat in a way that is comfortable for us.”

In February, alongside other Israel trip providers, HMI made the complex but exciting decision to relaunch travel to Israel beginning this summer. The seven months since October 7 were difficult for many who are Jewish or who love someone who is Jewish. But with safety as our absolute top priority, we are confident that our trips will offer our couples a unique opportunity to connect with their partners and peers who are having similar experiences.

We knew that not all of our couples would be available for our initial rescheduled trip dates, but many, like Jenna and Julie, who are both from Houston, reached out to say that even though the conflict is ongoing, their desire to go to Israel is even more intense now.

“From the little bit of a taste of [the HMI community] I got in Galveston [at the retreat],” Julie said, “it just makes me even more excited for the actual trip this July.”

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We asked a few of our couples, “what does HMI mean to you?”

“Before the retreat, the ‘I’ (or Israel) of HMI was the most prominent part for me…Having gone to the retreat, my perspective on HMI has completely changed. I felt just the warmth and the acceptance in the community, especially as the non-Jewish partner. And it's not a super deep religious thing. Everyone's on their own spiritual and religious path. And just having peers on that path and knowing that they're there learning with me, it's really touching. Having that almost unconditional embrace from the community, it was just very heartwarming.”

Michael NguyenHMI San Francisco Bay Area

“HMI has given me a renewed faith in the idea that I can be Jewish in any way that I'd like to be and that it doesn't have to fit in a specific box. It’s given me that renewed faith that I can be Jewish in the way that means most to me.”

Josh BernsteinHMI San Francisco Bay Area

“I really do see the HMI community becoming like a second family of people that are there for you. It's a safe space to talk about your feelings of Judaism, marriage, and just life. And in these very dark and trying times with the spike of antisemitism all around us, I feel like this is the most incredible opportunity to experience Jewish joy.”

Jenna RosenHMI Houston
Honeymoon Israel is made possible thanks to the generosity and partnership of our supporters. If you’d like to pay it forward to ensure more couples can participate in the Honeymoon Israel experience, you can make a donation.