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Co-Leading Richmond’s Honeymoon Israel Trip this summer

Rabbi Ahuva performs a special couples blessing over the participants on their last day in Tel Aviv.

Editor’s Note: Fifteen young Richmond couples took part in a wonderful life-changing JCFR Honeymoon Israel trip earlier this summer. Rabbi Ahuva Zaches of Congregation Or Ami served as the co-leader, with Rachel Peters of the Federation. The following is a reflection on the experience by Rabbi Zaches.

By Rabbi Ahuva Zaches

As we approach the High Holy Days, we are encouraged to reflect on the past year of our lives. While reflecting on my personal experiences from this past year, one that stands out prominently in my mind was the Honeymoon Israel trip that I was privileged to co-lead with Rachel Peters from the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond.

Although I had been to and even lived in Israel more than once, somehow twelve years had passed since the last time I’d set foot in the Land. As I thought back on my previous Israel experiences, I remembered the many talented Jewish educators who had put their heart and souls into creating beautiful and meaningful programming for me to enjoy as one of the participants.

Rabbi Ahuva offers remarks in the Caro Synagogue in Tsfat. Originally built in the 16th century, it is said that Rabbi Joseph Caro was visited by an angelic messenger, who revealed secrets of the Torah.

I knew this summer’s Honeymoon Israel trip would be particularly meaningful for me, as it was my first time in Israel as a trip leader rather than as a participant. It was now my turn to share the magic of Israel that others had once shared with me. I wanted to make sure that each couple would take away their own meaningful moments as well as a deeper feeling of connection to the larger Jewish community.

I was blessed to work with Rachel Peters on this trip, as she had a similar vision for our program. We spent hours discussing how to start building a sense of community among Richmond’s Honeymoon Israel participants so that this 11-day trip would not feel like any ordinary vacation. For our orientation a month before the trip, we decided to bring in the magic of Jewish summer camp, to give adults who have been dealing with pandemic stress for the last couple of years, a fun night where they could step away from the pressures of work and parenting and focus on connecting joyfully with peers.

Rabbi Ahuva Zaches and Rachel Peters pose with Eran Shlomi, Honeymoon Israel Tour Educator.

It’s not often that Jewish and interfaith couples between the ages of 25 and 40 get to be around so many other couples in the same demographic. So, we wanted to make the most of this opportunity for meaningful connections. Participants started learning one another’s names, interests, and special talents as part of our Orientation Olympics featuring Team Israel and Team America. The names of each team signified that while this experience would begin with an amazing trip to Israel, the friendships would be carried on as we returned to life in America. Both components were equally important.

Group gathers for a photo at Richmond International Airport.

The trip itself began on June 30. We left Richmond together and arrived the next day in Jerusalem, just in time for Shabbat. We talked, prayed, ate, sang, danced, hiked, and swam together over the course of 11 days. Between excursions, we made time to reflect on the most important aspects of our lives. Couples shared their values, hopes, and fears with new friends in a supportive community setting. Some tears were shed along the way, but only the happy kind.

Since our return, our Honeymoon Israel cohort has already met up to explore the next chapter of friendships here in Richmond. I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten to know each individual and couple along the way. While it was sad to say goodbye at the end of our Israel trip, I am happy to know that this is still only the beginning of our meaningful lifelong connections.

For more on Honeymoon Israel, reach out to Rachel Peters at rpeters@jewishrichmond.org.