Visiting Israel, interfaith couples find Jewish roots

A ‘Birthright for marrieds,’ Honeymoon Israel program brings newlyweds to the Jewish state for a look at their heritage

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative screen capture of a Honeymoon Israel interfaith couples trip to Israel. (YouTube/Avi Rubel)
Illustrative screen capture of a Honeymoon Israel interfaith couples trip to Israel. (YouTube/Avi Rubel)

A privately funded organization has taken on the challenge of preventing Jewish identity from eroding among assimilated US Jews, by providing subsidized trips for interfaith couples to explore their Jewish roots in Israel.

The Honeymoon Israel organization brings married couples in which at least one spouse is Jewish to Israel, for a tour during which participants get to sample everything from local food to ancient Jewish religious sites.

Assimilation through mixed marriage is a leading concern of the Jewish community in the US. During the 1970s only 17 percent of Jews in the US married out of the faith. But by the 1980s that figure had risen to 40% and today stands at some 58% of all Jews in the US. Discounting the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where intermarriage is minimal, some 71% of marriages are outside the faith.

During the nine-day tours the couples are taken to Jewish religious sites, given presentations on Jewish and Zionist history, and encouraged to sample the local cuisine, for an experience reminiscent of those provided by the popular Birthright visit to Israel for those 18-26 years of age.

Avra Siegel from New York, a descendant of Jewish Holocaust survivors, came on a recent trip with her Christian husband Jake Hargreaves.

“It is very much part of our story and it seemed the perfect opportunity for us, and kind of the end of our dating life and the beginning of our married life together,” Hargreaves was quoted by Channel 2 news as saying.

Siegel told Channel 2 that the experience of marrying a non-Jewish man brought her closer to her ethnic roots.

“I actually think I’m much more Jewish and more connected to Judaism now than I was before I met Jake,” she was quoted as saying. “I had to really examine how I felt about Judaism myself and define it for myself.”

Couples pay $1,800 for the trips, which are currently booked through the end of 2016, with a long waiting list.

Avi Rubel, co-director of Honeymoon Israel, said the trips have been successful. “We hear from them, ‘Wow, this is the first time we didn’t feel that we were being judged,” he said.

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