Jewish Family Service and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations have teamed up to be proactive against the rising divorce rate among Jewish couples in America. Seattle will be one of three cities to test a pilot program for couples who plan to marry called The Aleph Bet of Marriage — A Program for Pre-Marital Couples.
Jewish couples in Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee will simultaneously be taking part in this seven-week course designed to enrich and illuminate the experience of marriage for couples and prepare them for the many challenges they will face.
According to Lynn Levy, director of pre-marital counseling in the department of Jewish Family Concerns at UAHC in New York, divorce used to be less common in the Jewish community. But it’s been several generations and at least 20 years since the rate of divorce for Jewish couples was lower than that of the general population. This troubling trend alarmed and motivated their department and they came up with this plan of action.
“We feel that this is an opportunity to head off obstacles that couples will encounter along the way,” said Levy. “This idea has now become a part of mainstream society but the Reform Movement is the first movement in Judaism to put this into effect and we think it’s time.”
Couples who want to become involved in the program will need to be sponsored by a rabbi from a Reform synagogue in order to gain admittance to the course, which will cost $125. The program will also be accepting couples who are gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation as well as those who have been married before or divorced.
“We will address both the secular and Jewish aspects of marriage,” said Levy. “We will be including interfaith couples who have chosen to make a Jewish home and couples who are marrying for a second time, although we may want to divide them into a second group. While we are not comfortable mandating this program [for couples], we do urge couples to participate.”
The curriculum has seven parts that range from exploring the self and the differences between the partners’ families of origin to discovering communication styles and learning how to communicate effectively and fight fairly. The course will also deal with the legalities of marriage, finances, how to create and build a Jewish home, as well as sexuality and intimacy between partners.
“The program is meant to be psycho-educational,” added Levy. “We’ll begin with an overview of Jewish historical, ceremonial and symbolic rituals and look at marriage as it began in the Middle Ages. Each session will begin with a short text study. There will be skills practicing and some homework that couples will be expected to do.”
Locally, Rabbi David Fine, director of the Pacific Northwest Council of UAHC, will be facilitating the course at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill in Seattle along with Robin Moss, clinical director at Jewish Family Service. Fine is hoping that the program will cause couples to affiliate and integrate into the Jewish community sooner rather than later and choose congregations where they can plant themselves and grow in the community.
“It used to be that when we were looking for communal guidance and wisdom we would go to an aunt or uncle to give us that wisdom,” said Fine. “This program is a way to bring couples closer to their rabbi and other Jewish couples and build a cohort with whom they can share what they are going through. They will have questions about setting up the wedding, where they are going to live, what synagogue they will belong to and how Judaism will have an impact on their marriage.”
There is a maximum enrollment of 10 couples for this test run. Each local Reform rabbi will use his or her own standards when referring couples. The course is not meant to be a counseling opportunity but it is meant to enhance each partner’s knowledge of themselves and each other to strengthen the marriage relationship.
“The Hebrew word for marriage is kiddushin (holiness),” said Fine. “The goal is to increase the kiddushin they have for each other. The class is not meant to be a study session nor will it be a lecture. Partners will talk with each other and interact with the larger group. It’s a great way to learn more about yourself and to learn who you are as a couple. It’s about increasing happiness in the marriage. We will be looking at topics through a Jewish prism. Judaism speaks to all topics. It gets very personal and very private and can help illuminate our lives and add to the richness.”
Classes begin on April 18 and will meet from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. for all seven consecutive Wednesdays. To find out more about this program, contact Rabbi David Fine at 206-374-9393 or on the Web at firstname.lastname@example.org.