Ken Toltz
Israel-based writer

Solidarity Mission Was No ‘Honeymoon in Israel’

Jena Finn and husband Greg Dumas in Israel
Jena Finn and Husband Greg Dumas on solidarity mission to Israel (Used with permission of Jena Finn)

“I need to go, I need to go to Israel. I need to see for myself what is happening there. The more I heard about October 7th, the more I saw, I felt this pull to bear witness to what happened. That was the most important thing I could do in this situation, because I know first-hand accounts of the Holocaust are the most important evidence we have. Anybody can say whatever they want, but if I know someone who saw it with their own eyes you can’t convince me it didn’t happen.” So says New York native, suburban Boston mom and internet influencer Jena Finn in a recent conversation about what motivated her and her husband Greg Dumas to jump on a plane for a 48-hour personal solidarity mission to Israel last spring.

Over the past several months Israel has hosted several high-profile, celebrities, business and community leaders who have gained media coverage for their willingness to take solidarity missions to Israel. Actor Michael Douglas, TV personality Dr. Phil, top business leader Sheryl Sandberg are recent examples of deeply moved visitors. But there have also been many individuals and small groups on missions of bearing personal witness with similar motivations as Jena Finn.

I’ve written a few profiles of visitors since October 7th, both in acknowledgement of their efforts and the depth of appreciation we feel. Every expression of support is deeply appreciated, and special recognition is reserved for those who jump on a plane to see and be among the Israeli people still living October 7th every day.

The most impactful early visitor, American President Joe Biden flew Air Force One to Israel just 10 days after October 7th to embrace the Israeli people and embody his personal and America’s “iron-clad commitment” to Israel’s security. For most Israelis that trip and visit will be long remembered for the first opportunity we had to take a breath, begin to recover some limited amount of equilibrium and belief that we weren’t alone facing the trauma.

Yet it’s people like Jena Finn and husband Greg Dumas who struggled with how to make the trip fit their responsibilities at home and very busy schedules who deserve special recognition. Jena and Greg took the Friday overnight flight from Boston, arriving early Saturday morning in Israel and immediately traveled by car to the communities surrounding Gaza. Accompanied by Maya Rizel Jena’s great Israeli friend from her first Israel experience in 2012 hosted by Birthright, they drove directly from Ben Gurion airport to moshav Netiv HaAsara on Gaza’s northern border with Israel. The barbarous Hamas massacre of Netiv HaAsara residents on October 7th hasn’t received nearly the media coverage as other sites surrounding Gaza.

It’s been reported by surviving Netiv HaAsara residents that 35 Hamas terrorists arrived on foot, flying paragliders and by car in the early morning hours of October 7th with the sole goal of murdering or taking hostages. With vicious cruelty they succeeded in killing 24 surprised residents, including 3 members of the moshav emergency security team.

“At the moshav we were taken around by Moshi who was part of the emergency squad, he was on the front-line fighting Hamas for 6 hours because the army never came. We were literally on the border of Gaza just a couple of hours after landing.”

“He took us into these houses, some of his neighbor’s homes that were completely destroyed by Hamas terrorists”, says Finn in describing their experience at Netiv HaAsara. “We saw a house burned down to the studs; the wife is still missing of the couple who were known for driving sick Gazans to Israeli hospitals.”

“We talked with another resident Alfredo who lost two children that day,” and even in his grief “like everyone we met in Israel Alfredo said, ‘thank you for coming’ we’re so grateful you’re here.”

“It’s hard to put into words what the experience was like.”

Pressed on why she and her husband would make such a long trip to spend 48 hours on the ground in Israel before returning to their suburban Boston home Jena explained, “I felt such a deep commitment to raising awareness around the world, especially regarding the hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza.”

Finn is frustrated by the social media in which she makes her personal impact, “the loudest voices are not the ones telling the truth, the bombardment of lies on social media is astounding.”

“I get a lot of ‘thank you’ for posting, I can’t believe this happened.”

“I feel like I did my job for my followers who don’t follow Jewish influencers and educators, and the response has been very positive.”

Finn made a video now pinned at the top of her Instagram on the day she and Greg left for Israel explaining what drove her to make the trip. Worth watching here.

Besides her personal decision to visit Israel and bear witness firsthand, the story of Jena’s connection to Israel is also noteworthy. Growing up in Scarsdale, NY Jena actually found her Jewish identity and connection with Israel in her twenties. Already in a committed relationship with Greg who was raised Catholic attending Catholic private schools until college, Jena and Greg met in college at Northeastern University in Boston.

It wasn’t until two years after college that Finn had her first significant Jewish experience when she decided to join her sister for a Birthright program to Israel. It was on Birthright that Jena and Maya met as Maya was assigned as part of her army service to join a Birthright group. As described by both they made an instant connection and hung together throughout the trip.

Says Maya about that connection “I believe Birthright opened a new door, new thinking and connection to Israel and Judaism, she had her Bat Mitzvah here while on Birthright.”

If Birthright opened a new door for Jena, it was the joint decision with her new husband to participate in the 2019 Honeymoon in Israel program a few years later that solidified her Jewish identity and personal connection to Israel.

Perhaps not quite as well known as Birthright, Honeymoon in Israel is a thriving program now in it’s tenth year. According to co-founder Avi Rubel Honeymoon in Israel was conceived in the wake of the 2013 Pew report on trends in the North American Jewish community which among other statistics reported 47% of non-Orthodox Jews were marrying people of non-Jewish backgrounds.

Says Rubel, “Mike Wise and I had the thought, what would it look like to give these intermarried couples a real embrace? A genuine welcome to Jewish life.” Since then, Honeymoon in Israel has assembled groups in 23 US cities, “the idea is we would take 20 couples from the same city in a group to experience Israel and they would return as a community based on a shared experience.”

“Part of our theory is that a connection to Israel is a critical part of experiencing Jewish life,” says Rubel.

If Jena Finn and Greg Dumas are any example the theory has clearly proven valid.

Jena Finn and husband Greg Dumas as they depart their solidarity trip to Israel (used with permission of Jena Finn)
About the Author
Ken Toltz began his professional career at AIPAC in Washington, D.C. after attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He's a 3rd generation Colorado native, businessman and long-time gun violence prevention activist. After 42 years from his first visit to Israel, in 2019 he relocated his home to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's Negev. Ken currently resides in Herzliya. He writes about Israeli politics, relations with the U.S. and the Israeli creative class of writers and filmmakers.