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Beyond the Huppah: Creating the Jewish Marriage You Want

Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center
Newton, Massachusetts United States
Leadership team

Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director
Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director
Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education
Rachel Eisen, Director of Annual Giving
Lori Kramer, Office Manager
Leah Robbins, Marketing/Administrative Assistant

Sheri Gurock, Board President

Organization website
Prize category
Local/Regional
Operational
5+ years
Target audience
20s & 30s, Adults, GLBTQ, Interfaith, Jewish Professionals, Unaffiliated
Categories
Community Building, Experiential Learning, Family, Ritual, Spirituality, Text Study

Marriage preparation classes are common and even required by some Christian denominations. Orthodox Jewish women attend classes or one-on-one premarital sessions, but these focus primarily on the laws of niddah – physical separation between husband and wife.

Engaged and recently married couples are particularly open to examining their relationships and plans for life as a married couple; they also seek opportunities to connect with other couples facing the same changes and challenges. Few programs exist specifically for this population, and almost none from a Jewish perspective. Beyond the Huppah fills this need.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Beyond the Huppah focuses on the following Jewish wisdom, and related questions:

Couplehood
-How will our lives change once we are married?
-How do we identify our identity as a Jewish family?

Decision-making and Financial Management
-How do we negotiate important decisions for our family honestly and respectfully?
-How will we manage our money?
-How can tzedakah, giving to others, play a role in our lives?

Jewish Ritual
-How does Judaism sanctify marriage?
-How can Jewish rituals help mark important transitions, such as deciding when and how to begin a family?
-How might we relate to the ritual of mikveh within our marriage, on our own terms?

Sexuality
-What does Judaism teach about sex in marriage?
-How do we build and maintain a healthy sex life?

Building a Jewish Family
-What does 'a Jewish family' mean to us?
-How will our marriage change if we choose to have children?

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Participants learn as much from each other as they do from the seminar's leadership. The program is explicitly open and welcoming to all, including people in interfaith relationships and LGBTQ couples, so no matter each couple's background, they are placed as "normal" within the group's population. We do not make assumptions or pass judgment about whether or not the couple is living together before marriage, whether or not they plan to have children, or are affiliated with a synagogue. We offer gifts of relevant books to help build a couple's home library together, and provide experiential learning activities (within couples and as a group), both during the program and as "homework" between sessions.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Due to the timing of the Beyond the Huppah seminar, one couple would be on their honeymoon during one of the sessions. We assumed that they would miss the session because of it, however, the couple found the program so useful, they did not want to miss it! As a result, we set up videoconferencing for them to Skype into the session from Aruba.

In our most recent Beyond the Huppah class, 92 percent of survey respondents reported either the highest or second highest rating as to whether they would recommend the program to a friend.

Here are some quotes from participants:

"I learned a lot more about what's written in Jewish text about money (and tzedakah) and sex that I didn't know! I learned a lot about my partner and also about myself, especially how my upbringing has shaped the person I am today and how that impacts how I want to be in my marriage and eventually as a parent."

“I loved it – before we got married the Rabbi told us to go to pre-nuptial counseling; the therapist we saw didn’t provide us with the great tools you did.”

“I developed a better understanding of potential areas of conflict in our marriage and learned ways to manage those conflicts.”

"We ended up talking to some other couples after class about how they dealt with a particular problem we had in common and even though their solutions don't work for us, it felt better to know that it wasn't just us with the problem.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

We have learned that couples are particularly open to exploring how Judaism fits into their lives at a point of transition, like getting married. There is no shame or stigma in accessing resources at a time like this, and that doing so can help set a couple up for success throughout their married life. Planning a wedding and the early days of marriage can be an isolating time and couples are hungry to connect with others going through the same process at the same time.