Courtesy Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle

When Dan Degginger  returned to Seattle after his college years on the East Coast, he found that the Jewish relationships of his youth had faded. He wanted to rekindle those community connections, and a Honeymoon Israel trip looked like the perfect answer.

Dan’s wife Ingrid was drawn to the trip for reasons of her own. Raised as a Protestant, Ingrid thought Honeymoon Israel would be an opportunity for “learning more about Judaism through the eyes of Israel” as well as a way for the couple to make new friends.

“The trip blew me away,” Ingrid says. “It beat all my expectations.”

Twenty couples were on the first local trip, offered to the Puget Sound region by the organization Honeymoon Israel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. The goal was to give committed couples knowledge and a sense of belonging to connect with Jewish life.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see the vision for Honeymoon Israel come to reality in Seattle,” says Jenna Hanauer, the Federation’s Young Adult Leadership Program Manager. “I was honored to travel with such a delightful group of people! To watch them explore their identity or that of their partner was very powerful. Now that we are back in Seattle, it’s been so fun to see how the group is keeping the spirit of the trip going here.”

Rabbi Callie Schulman from Temple De Hirsch Sinai, who accompanied the couples on the journey as a Jewish educator, says the trip was “the beginning of a process, a means to an end — creating a community back here in Seattle.” The key to creating Jewish connections, she explains, was the immersive nature of the experience — nine days traveling together through Jerusalem, Israel’s north, and Tel Aviv.

Avi Rubel, Co-CEO of Honeymoon Israel, says the trip accomplished its goal of building community and connecting committed young couples to Jewish life. “I was with the first Seattle cohort in Israel, and I can confidently say that these couples will be an integral part of each other’s lives for years to come,” Rubel recalls.

For mixed-heritage couples, meeting similar couples on the trip helped with bonding and building community. “Right off the bat, before you go on the trip, you have an orientation, and you realize how many couples are in a similar situation as yourself,” Dan Degginger says.

For Lauren Spiegel and Brandon Lane, newcomers to Seattle from New York City, “one of our big takeaways from the trip is that being Jewish and Jewish life can look different for every couple and family.” An impassioned talk to the group by author and educator Avraham Infeld “really resonated with us, as we are trying to figure out what being Jewish looks like for our family,” Spiegel and Lane say.

A trip to Israel is not complete without sampling the delectable cuisine — especially hummus. “Our group was joking by the end that our stomachs were just lined with hummus,” Spiegel and Lane remember. For Ingrid Degginger, hummus she tasted in Akko “just ruined grocery store hummus for me,” she laughs.

The trip left indelible memories. In Jerusalem, the group made its first stop in the outdoor market, “the busiest market you could imagine, like the busiest day at Pike Place,” Dan Degginger recalls. Hours later at sundown, “seeing the stillness and silence fall over the city” for Shabbat “got me into a state of mind that, here we are.”

Visiting Yad Vashem made a profound impact. The group was “overwhelmed,” Rabbi Schulman recalls. A follow-up group discussion, one of the structured “Honeymoon Israel conversations” that were part of the trip experience, helped the couples process the immensity of what they had seen. “We gained more insight by being able to reflect together,” Ingrid Degginger says.

Traveling to Israel together planted seeds for building community. Now, the seeds are beginning to sprout. Couples have gone on hikes, enjoyed happy hours together, visited each other’s homes for Shabbat, and they held a reunion at the end of June.

Say Amber Dawn Hallet and Ben Smith, “We are going to raise families together, and it’s an incredible beginning to community we never could have built on our own.”

“This trip will definitely play a role in shaping the future of the Jewish community,” Spiegel predicts.

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