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Written by: Meredith Castin, Honeymoon Israel participant, San Diego 2015

My husband, Nick, and I were part of the very first Honeymoon Israel trip from San Diego way back in December 2015! Hard to believe it’s been seven years, but so much has happened since then.

If it hadn’t been for our trip with HMI, I’m not sure we would have made being part of a Jewish community a vital part of our family life after some major life changes, including a cross-country move.

After we returned from our trip, we spent a lot of time hanging out with people from our group, building on the connections we created in Israel, and meeting other HMI cohorts. We loved the community we were building in San Diego, but when the pandemic started, we decided to move cross-country to be closer to my aging parents. We chose to move to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a college town in the Ozark mountains. Why did we choose Fayetteville, you ask? Good question! We picked it because it sounded like it would be absolutely perfect for what we wanted: a four-season climate (including blessed RAIN!), lots of foliage, slower pace, small city with lots of amenities, progressive/hippie vibe, within driving distance to my family, and a pride parade (that’s a MUST for us)!

People are still SHOCKED that we moved to Arkansas, by choice, but this area is incredible and, believe it or not, there’s actually a small but thriving Jewish community here! For the first time in our adult lives, we joined a temple, Temple Shalom. While we don’t attend services regularly, we are friends with lots of local temple members, we volunteer for community events, and we light Shabbat candles when we can on Friday nights. Temple Shalom is super involved with local social justice initiatives, and the temple is active in helping refugees settle into life here. The temple also marches in the annual NWA Pride Parade and was recently selected as part of a pilot program by the ADL to combat antisemitism.

I have never been so impressed by a Jewish congregation, especially considering there’s no rabbi! Like many small Jewish communities outside major cities, everything is community-driven in this congregation, and I’m so thrilled to be able to tell the HMI community how fantastic our tiny little Jewish community in Arkansas really is.

Honestly, HMI really helped us maintain our Jewish identity over the years. Nick, being half Jewish but raised Christian (and identifying as agnostic), never really cared about religion, but I did because it was a big part of my childhood in Tyler, TX (despite it being challenging!) Now, our best friends in Arkansas are a Jewish woman and her husband, who converted when they married. We run into members of Temple Shalom all over town, and it seems like we have mutual friends around the country with all of them! Gotta love Jewish geography.

Life in a small city in Arkansas is very different, but we have really pulled from our HMI experience and identify more strongly with the Jewish faith than either of us did before. I think if we hadn’t joined the HMI community, we probably wouldn’t have joined the temple here, nor would we have met so many wonderful folks in the Ozarks!

I decided to share our story because I want the world to know that, yes, there are Jews in Arkansas, and they’re a huge and respected part of this community. Jewish communities in these towns are often small but mighty, and I am grateful to HMI for reinvigorating my Jewish identity before this move, as it’s helped us enjoy being part of the close-knit Jewish world here. HMI continues to inform our views on Judaism, Israel, and the meaning of community, even if that community is VERY different from the one we left. We love and miss our HMI San Diego family, but we are grateful to feel like we are now part of multiple Jewish communities.

You can help more couples like Meredith and Nick find meaningful Jewish community. Pay it forward today to make the Honeymoon Israel experience possible.