ABOVE: Valley area couples on the first Honeymoon Israel trip walk through Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda open-air market with a local chef.
The first Honeymoon Israel trip, with 20 young couples from Phoenix, was a smashing success (See updates from that first trip below). Applications are now being accepted for the second Honeymoon Israel trip (Feb. 11-22, 2016!) . The application process is open from July 15 to Aug. 15.
There will be an information session on Wednesday, July 29, at 6 pm at the Valley of the Sun JCC.
To RSVP for the information session, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local coordinator for the trip is Valley Beit Midrash – www.valleybeitmidrash.org
REPORTS FROM FIRST HONEYMOON ISRAEL TRIP:
Twenty couples from the Valley’s Jewish community are exploring Israel with an 11-day trip called Honeymoon Israel. Honeymoon Israel partnered with Valley Beit Midrash to provide a fun trip for couples to experience all that Israel has to offer and meet other young couples from the local community. All 20 couples are under 40 and married within the last five years. They return June 7.
Following are reports on daily activities from NOWGen Program Director Erin R. Searle, who accompanied the group along with Trip Leader Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Director of Valley Beit Midrash:
With our first two full days coming to a close I wanted to send an update your way.
So we landed in Israel late morning on Friday and we drove through Tel Aviv. The bus dropped us off and we had a walking tour led by our incredible guide Raz through Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv’s earliest neighborhoods. We stopped in a park to say the shehechiyanu prayer to mark the journey for everyone with challah and honey. We continued our tour to the Nachalat Binyamin pedestrian mall. There was a crafts fair and next to the pedestrian mall is the open air Carmel market. Participants had time to explore, eat, and get a first taste of Israeli culture. We headed to our hotel to check in and everyone had a few hours to rest and relax before Shabbat. We met in the lobby and walked down to a grassy area near the beach for a short service led by Rabbi Shmuly. The service included some songs and a time for reflection and sharing. It was a great way to kick off the trip. Our Shabbat dinner was in a private room at the hotel for just our group. It was incredible and delicious!
On Saturday participants had free time in the morning, and then we met before lunch time and walked down to Jaffa and had a beautiful Shabbat lunch at the Otzarin Gallery and toured the old city of Jaffa before heading back to the hotel. The sun was out, there was a breeze and everyone was enjoying themselves. After more free time where some couples rented bikes, some went to the beach and some to the pool, we met for Havdallah – the ceremony the ends Shabbat and starts the new week. We were joined for Havdallah by a group of young Israeli couples from Beit Tefilah Israeli – and independent community in Tel Aviv that gets together for Shabbat services, meals and other occasions too. After Havdallah the Israeli couples were divided amongst the Honeymoon Israel couples and groups went out to dinner.
On Sunday morning we said goodbye to the Royal Beach Tel Aviv and participants had pre-selected their morning activity. One group went to The Jaffa Institute which works with severely disadvantaged children. They learned about the nonprofit organization and did some hands on work. The other group learned about Etgarim which is an organization dedicated to empower and socially integrate special people through the challenges of outdoor sports. Couples got to go on a bike ride on tandem bikes where the person in back was blindfolded and the person in front was responsible for communicating what was going on. Couples also had a team building exercise where they were assigned different disabilities (lack of use of hands or legs, blind or deaf) and had to coordinate getting everyone through a series of ropes to the other side in an allotted time frame. This was challenging but everyone felt accomplished afterwards. During the debrief it was pointed out how depending on your abilities or disabilities you can be pushed to the side and how can that be changed for the better. After lunch in Tel Aviv we visited Independence Hall and then traversed about a third of Israel in our three hour drive up north where we will be for the next couple days.
Monday we headed to Tsfat and toured the mystical city, learned about Kabbalah and visited an ancient synagogue. We also had the opportunity to visit and learn from David Friedman and how his artwork is based on the Hebrew alphabet and the numbers that correlate to each letter. This is called gematria. After Tsfat we drove to Mount Bental for an overlook with the Syria and Lebanon borders. Our guide Raz talked about security and other issues with Israel’s neighbors. The last activity of the day was rafting down the Jordan River which most everyone found relaxing. The evening dinner was planned with the Honeymoon Israel group from Los Angeles. We had a private dinner in a mango orchard overlooking the Sea of Galillee (the Kinneret). It was amazing – the atmosphere, music and food with a wine tasting was a great evening that everyone enjoyed!
Tuesday we said goodbye to the Golan Heights and the Galillee and started our way down to Jerusalem. Our first stop was in Majdal Kurum – an Arab Israeli village where participants had the chance to to interact with high school students. In small groups students and participants had a dialogue on what life is like for Arab Israelis in Israel. The students are in an English club and were very excited to be able to practice their English. They asked the Honeymoon Israel couples questions and vice versa. After this visit the group headed to a Druze village for an incredible lunch and a chance to learn about the Druze people. The Druze are a minority group in Israel, have their own religion and Druze flag. Many Druze serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and are very loyal to the country in which they live. After lunch we drove down to Jerusalem where we stopped at an overlook to welcome everyone to Jerusalem. We were greeted with shofars, drumming, and a giant challah! Everyone seemed excited to finally be in Jerusalem! After we checked into our hotel, everyone had time to explore Ben Yehuda street for dinner and shopping.
Wednesday we toured the Old City of Jerusalem. We got to walk on rooftops to see the city and then we toured the Jewish quarter, visited the Western Wall and had time for shopping and lunch. After lunch we spent the afternoon at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. It was very powerful and emotional for many on our trip.
Thursday we took an early trip to Masada. Many participants hiked up the snake path while others opted for the cable car. We toured the site for an hour or so and then we all took the cable car down. It was very hot! After lunch, we headed to the Dead Sea where everyone had a chance to float. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth! Lots of people took advantage of the mud at the Dead Sea and slathered their bodies in it. Now they have soft smooth skin as it’s very good for you! The group had a relaxing dinner at a traditional Middle Eastern restaurant called Ima (mother in Hebrew).
Friday the group split with one going on an archeological dig and my group walking through Machane Yehuda, the open-air market with a local chef. The chef then led us in a cooking class. We made pita, taboule salad, grilled eggplant, hummus, rice and vegetables, and a cilantro tahini. Everything was delicious! After lunch, our two groups came back together for a workshop with David Moss, an artist who started the trend of designing Ketubot (wedding contracts) in beautiful artistic ways. He is also famous for the Moss Haggadah. The group got to see many of Ketubot he has created for couples. Each one is unique to each couple. Then we broke into small groups and did a workshop on middot (values), and then couples each chose a value to focus on and made a little art project around that value.
Saturday was our last day in Jerusalem and in Israel. We had some free time during the day and then did a walking tour of the Christian quarter, had our wrap up discussion and did havdallah to end Shabbat.
Erin R. Searle, MNpS
Director of NOWGen Programs
PS: Post-trip funding is to continue the sense of community created among the couples on the trip with the ultimate goal of connecting them to the larger Jewish community. The next planned event is a Shabbat lunch which will include the couples’ children. Eleven of the 20 couples have children. Other events will be planned based on the interests of the group, including a Challah baking class.