As part of a same-sex, interfaith couple, I never felt particularly connected to or, sometimes, even welcome in the two religions of my upbringing. But after this life-changing experience with 19 other couples who are navigating the same life questions we are, I’ve learned that there’s no one way to be Jewish. Honeymoon Israel showed me that I get to decide what being Jewish means to me and my family, and that I always have a home—not just in Israel, but also with my own local Jewish community.

For our honeymoon, we did one of the strangest things you can imagine: we had a group honeymoon in Israel with 19 other couples.

Let me rewind. About a year and a half ago, Garrett and I were having dinner with a friend from New York—someone I had met on Birthright, the program that sends any 18- to 26-year-old Jewish American to Israel free of charge. And she was asking us a bit about our wedding.

When the topic turned to our honeymoon, and we were considering Provence and Malta, she stopped us cold. “Why don’t you just go to Israel? There’s this new thing—it’s like Birthright but for newly married people. It’s highly subsidized.”

“But I’ve been to Israel, Garrett’s not Jewish, and we’re same-sex,” I protested.

But she assured us that her lesbian cousin, who married a non-Jew and had been on Birthright, just went. And, with that, we decided to look into it.

I mean, could we do a group honeymoon? Would it be weird? There were trips coming up shortly after our wedding, so it’d really be our honeymoon.

And were we Jewish enough for this experience? I mean, my mom once made a spiral ham for Hanukkah, and that’s the only holiday we celebrate.

Nevertheless, we decided to go for it. And off we went to Israel with 38 strangers from the Boston area.

Related

Days were packed with tours about Israeli culture, politics, and history. Nights were filled with late-night conversations with other couples over wine. We ate too much. We slept too little. And we traveled in large packs. I felt like a freshman in college all over again.

There’s something alchemical about spending intensive time with people. With just the right combination of sleep deprivation and alcohol, walls begin to break down. People reveal things they might not otherwise to total strangers. I revealed things I might not otherwise to total strangers. And connection forms at rapid rates.

It’s weird for me—a person whose main connection to Jewish identity is a neurotic mom and a necklace I wear around my neck—to realize how much Jewish culture actually weaves its way into my own socialization and my values about our marriage. As we connected to other couples, I laughed so many times about how similar different families were. About how the Jewish side was always too loud, too involved in each other’s lives, and too open compared to the other side.

Garrett says he always knows when something is happening in my family because my phone rings off the hook all day as every single family member needs to share the same news with me from their point of view.

It’s part of who I am. And whether I choose to ever celebrate a holiday or not, it’s impossible for me to not be Jewish.

I’ve long said that I wish every culture had something like Birthright. There’s a real reason we got engaged in Italy and had our honeymoon in Israel. Because it’s part of who I am. And unpacking and understanding that is vital to Garrett understanding who I am. I’m grateful to have lived in Italy, to have visited Israel twice now, to know a bit more about where I came from. Because it helps me understand myself. And how I want to show up in a marriage.

There are so many things I learned about myself on this trip. Too many to fully process right now. But things about my own values and gifts and experiences. Things about my own spirituality and connection to Divinity. Things about my family and especially my grandparents.

I always wanted Garrett to meet my Bubbie. She was—magical. She always believed I would change the world through my writing. Even when I was maybe 6 or 7, she’d tell me I had a gift inside that would change the world. And she was the most psychic—actually, the only psychic—person I knew. She encouraged me to be intuitive. She taught me so much about the magic of the world.

And when she died, my heart broke. I still carry her wedding photo in my wallet every day.

I know that she’d have loved Garrett. He’s her type of person. And she’s very picky with her type. But, somehow, going to Israel with Garrett was sort of like meeting her. Getting to see these incredibly fashionable older Israeli women in the streets. Getting to experience different Jewish foods and cultures, and remembering days when she’d cook for me (OK, more likely getting it catered) in her kitchen. And I imagined that Garrett felt like he knew her a little bit.

All because of this trip. This strange, powerful, action-packed, emotional, exhausting, life-changing trip. What I call my honeymoon.

We did extend the trip a few days. And we did ultimately have the luxurious, relaxing honeymoon we wanted. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for any other honeymoon in the world. I mean, don’t get me wrong—it was totally bizarre to have a group honeymoon with 19 other couples. And I’m still absolutely not a resource for any questions about Jewish religion or even culture. But I know myself a little better. I know Garrett a little better. I know some amazing people a little better. And I know the family we want to create a little better.

I’m not sure what else I could want in a honeymoon.

Want to learn more about Honeymoon Israel, see upcoming trips from Boston or other cities, or sign up to be notified when we open our next round of applications? Sign up on our website!

Mike Iamele is a mentor for spiritual entrepreneurs, author, coach and creator of Sacred Branding.

Originally posted on mikeiamele.com.

This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here.