Redefining the Jewish Family
I grew up as a child of a “Wexnerite” and it was through that lens that I decided to work professionally in the Jewish community.
As the NYC Director for Community Engagement for Honeymoon Israel, I have the distinct privilege of supporting and connecting hundreds of couples in the NYC area to Jewish life in ways that are meaningful to them. Honeymoon Israel provides immersive trips to Israel for locally-based cohorts of couples that are early in their committed relationship and have at least one Jewish partner. The goal is to create communities of couples who are building families with deep and meaningful connections to Jewish life and the Jewish people. Since May 2015, Honeymoon Israel has brought more than 500 couples to Israel — 80 of which have traveled from NYC.
The groups of participants are reflective of each community at large, meaning that the majority of couples are of diverse backgrounds, including multi-faith, interracial and LGBTQ. One of the most unique aspects of the Honeymoon Israel experience is that the trip is simply the beginning of a much broader journey that couples continue when they return home.
Through my work, I often meet with different Jewish community leaders; a sentiment frequently whispered to me is, “How sad is it that the Jew married out’?” When I hear that, I feel they are saying that because a couple has chosen a multi-faith marriage, the partner who is Jewish has chosen to dilute their culture and heritage.
From my experience, this could not be farther from the truth.
I have personally listened to hundreds of couples who continually express their deeply emotional journeys and the struggles that they have encountered while engaging with the Jewish community, simply because they feel the community does not approve of their relationship.
So, this begs the question — what if we reframed the conversation and asked, “How wonderful is it that the non-Jewish partner married ‘in’?” Honeymoon Israel is built on the notion that anyone who chooses to be Jewish or be in a lifelong committed relationship with a Jew is part of the ‘Jewish family’. This ‘Jewish family’ — one that is welcoming and inclusive of couples of all backgrounds — is a concept that, sadly, many couples have never heard of or experienced prior to Honeymoon Israel.
Below are a few reflections from partners who were not born Jewish upon returning home from their trip on Honeymoon Israel:
One individual wrote to me to ask about where to purchase Hebrew lessons for a Hanukkah gift for her Jewish husband; while another individual wrote his own set of prayers for Kabbalat Shabbat. Scores have learned how to bake challah, too. Another individual wanted to learn more about philanthropy following the trip, and was accepted to participate in a year-long incubator program through Amplifier. She has since opened her local giving circle to all Honeymoon Israel NYC past participants to join.
Honeymoon Israel has learned a lot since we first started. By providing couples with tangible experiences that incorporate universal Jewish values, couples return to their communities with a newfound sense of belonging. Upon returning home, many non-Jewish partners are now raising their hands and sharing that they want to know more, learn more and do more — with their partners, with their family and with their new community. Jewish professionals should continue to build bridges, listen and react to couples’ experiences and desires so that we empower them to build their own Jewish families and communities in whatever way is meaningful for them.
Chloe Nassau is the NYC Director of Community Engagement at Honeymoon Israel. Previously she served as the Youth Program Director at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. She earned a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Boston University and a Master’s in Social Work from Hunter College. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and cat and can be reached at email@example.com.