- Ed Reggi
- Participant in the 2014 Interfaith Couples Mission to Israel
- Marriage equality activist
- St. Louis transplant
“For the first time in our relationship, we were co-learning about Israel from our uniquely different perspectives.”
My husband Scott Emanuel and I were fortunate to join Federation’s 2014 Interfaith Couples Trip to Israel. This was not my first time in Israel but it was the first time for Scott. From my first shehecheyanu in Israel, I had always wanted to return with my spouse in the hopes that he could have the same life changing experiences I felt exploring the cities and people of Israel.
Several weeks before Scott and I embarked on our trip, the organizers with CAJE hosted a dinner for the couples to meet. During the dinner, Rabbi Jim Bennett spoke about why this interfaith Israel trip was personal for him. He shared how on most Israeli mission trips, he often was remiss when the tour guides, due to lack of time, skipped stopping at the non-Jewish landmarks. Rabbi Jim explained how this trip would weave our Jewish stories about Israel and include many of the Druze, Christian and Muslim stories. As the Rabbi continued to speak and the other couples began to share, I noticed we all shared a common experience as interfaith couples. Many Jewish families are looking more and more like ours, multifaith households with family and in-law members taking spiritual cues from all kinds of traditions and scriptures.
Arriving in Israel, at first our St. Louis group looked like “March of the Penguins,” each spouse supporting the needs of their spouse. I personally realized that traveling with my spouse and other couples is not familiar to me; however, it immediately proved itself to be the best way to experience Israel. Who knows me better than my spouse? And this seemed true for the other couples, too. I found myself free to fully engage using all my attention; no need to phone home, as my other half was next to my arm eating a falafel! I could explore Caesarea and be totally in the moment. Unlike when I experienced Israel alone and had to explain to Scott what I felt using photos, on this trip we co-experienced Israel together. Scott and I would wake up before sunrise and walk the streets of Tel Aviv and the Old City Jerusalem, listening to one another’s impressions of the sights and sounds from the day before. I kept having “Deja Shehecheyanu Vu!” It’s what I call re-experiencing those first “aha” moments with my spouse in places like Jaffa, Kibbutz Dalia and Jerusalem.
During this trip, I spent much of my time exploring the Israel I learned in Torah. And together with the help of our tour guide, we challenged ourselves to examine the Christian and Muslim narratives often right under our feet. As the group unpacked the biblical Israel, often our spouses helped frame the interfaith dialogues where Judaism overlaps with Christianity and Islamic history. No matter how comfortable I am in my Jewish faith, there was something very Jewish by sharing in our spouse’s non-Jewish experiences at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City and at St. Joseph’s Church in Nazareth. For the first time in our relationship, we were co-learning about Israel from our uniquely different perspectives.
And even though I thought I knew Israel, during this Interfaith trip, Israel became a little less of a personal thing, and more of a family experience we will never forget.