Micah Siva and her husband, Joshua, in Jaffa.
Micah Siva and her husband, Joshua, in Jaffa.

On Israel trip for young couples, we went from strangers to family

My husband and I have lived in four cities across three countries over the past five years. While this has led to great experiences and adventures, it has been a challenge to put down roots and immerse ourselves fully in any community.

Our nomadic journey has left us with a smattering of friends across time zones, and truthfully, on Saturday nights, our social lives are often lacking.

When we moved to the Bay Area in 2021, we asked ourselves: How do adults make friends? Our answers were few and far between, until we read about Honeymoon Israel, a program to help young couples incorporate Jewish life and community into their everyday lives.

Honeymoon Israel offers a subsidized nine-day trip to Israel for couples ages 25 to 40 in their first five years of marriage or of a long-term, committed relationship, where at least one partner identifies as Jewish. Jewish foundations and federations help defray the cost of the trips.

The organization also helps with post-trip activities and community building, meaning that once we arrived back in San Francisco, we could (in theory) have 30 new best friends who live nearby. This felt like the answer to our prayers! As a trained chef and a J. food columnist, I was also excited at the prospect of sampling and indulging in the foods I love so much (which I documented for J. on Instagram).

When we received our acceptance email, we were nervous. I am a seasoned traveler and had been to Israel before, but never with a group. Joshua and I were accustomed to traveling according to our own schedule and preferences. Would we be able to handle a trip with 30-plus adults? I was definitely skeptical about a group trip where for nine days I would not have full control of anything, including meals, while hanging out with strangers.

After acceptances were sent out, Honeymoon Israel was quick to introduce us to one another through an online portal where we could read people’s bios — and wonder whether they’d like us. For the first time since middle school, I was worried that we’d be picked last in the game of friendship.

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Fast-forward to our Feb. 2 departure, where there’s no better way to really get to know someone than on a 16-plus-hour journey that starts at 3:30 a.m.

Once we landed, we met our tour guide Yishai, who was with us for the entire adventure.

The itinerary was packed with the classic highlights of Israel. We walked through Shuk HaCarmel (Carmel Market) and ate our way through Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv. We wandered the streets of Jaffa. We toured the Sea of Galilee, the Syrian border and the mystical city of Tzfat.

We visited Sindyanna of Galilee, a nonprofit that sells Arab farmers’ olive oil and spices and funnels the profits into Arab women’s education, where we blended our own za’atar seasoning. In Jerusalem, we took in the must-see sites, including Machane Yehuda Market, the Old City and Temple Mount. Of course, we hiked Masada and floated in the Dead Sea.

I was in culinary heaven. I dipped fluffy pita bread into creamy, rich hummus, bit into crispy, fresh falafel and tore into cheesy Georgian khachapuri. I ate a few too many rugelach from Marzipan Bakery, and I washed it all down with local wine and Turkish coffees.

Every few days, we had scheduled group conversations meant to build trust and intimacy, sometimes talking about difficult issues connected to family, goals and personal values. These moments allowed us to reflect together after an emotional day at Yad Vashem, sharing stories of family members who perished or survived the Holocaust, and bond as a group. Those who didn’t come from a Jewish family learned about the atrocities that have shaped the Jewish people and about why Israel is so important to many Jews.

This wasn’t simply a trip to see the highlights of Israel. It was a trip to build memories as couples and as a group to better understand our heritage and how it might influence the future of our families. It was studded with conversations about the current political climate and ongoing conflict and incorporated viewpoints from Arab Israelis, Ethiopian Jews, young Israeli couples and a resident of East Jerusalem.

Given that the majority of the trip was made up of interfaith couples, we also visited sites that I’d never seen on my previous family trips to Israel, from the ancient fishing village of Capernaum on the Galilee to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.

I am writing this six weeks after we landed back in the Bay Area, and it is safe to say that I’ve never been more social. From Purim parties and dog meet-ups to Shabbat dinners and wine nights, the Honeymoon Israel experience created so much more than new friendships for me. It created a family.

Micah Siva
Micah Siva

Micah Siva is a registered dietitian and trained chef in San Francisco. She develops modern Jewish recipes inspired by her grandmother, with a plant-forward twist. See her recipes and photography at Nosh with Micah.