Beyond the Huppah: Creating the Jewish Marriage You Want

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By Shira Cohen-Goldberg

We had already had a wedding, run a marathon and gotten pregnant when we decided it was the right time to take Beyond the Huppah: Creating the Jewish Marriage You Want with Judy Elkin at Mayyim Hayyim. Perhaps we hadn’t prioritized, maybe were so excited about the guest list, the flowers, the photos, our muscles, our heart rates, and the baby’s heart, that we forgot to attend to merging and nurturing our hearts and minds as a couple. It wasn’t too late, though. Eleven months into our marriage, it was the right time.

Ari and I had a whirlwind romance. We knew within six months of meeting each other that we wanted to get married. However, if there is one lesson I have learned since getting married almost seven years ago, is that wanting to marry someone, and being able to stay married to that someone are two very different ideas.

Although we took Beyond the Huppah after we were married, we used our experiences in the sessions to clarify and solidify our approach to our lives as newly married individuals evolving towards couple-hood. The Beyond the Huppah curriculum is framed by five big ideas that have helped us throughout our marriage. I will discuss each, and share how each big idea has fortified our marriage as we carry it from our Beyond the Huppah experience into our lives today.

  1. Positivity

It’s about what we can do, not about what we can’t do. It’s about what’s working, not just what’s not working. We have the power to choose that framing.

My husband and I smiled a lot at our wedding. That was to be expected. But two kids and seven years later there is worry, irritation, fatigue, and disaster. Even if the outer smile is not present, I try my hardest to maintain an inner smile. I remember how lucky I am to have loved Ari when we met, how we still have the capacity to love each other deeply. We have added a lot of laughter to our daily diet that is just shared between us. We are not always positive, but we strive to add our daily dose of proverbial sugar. It helps.

  1. Our relationship keeps evolving

We keep growing and changing as individuals throughout adulthood and so will our marriage and the decisions we make in it. We must revisit core themes throughout our lives together and look at them anew.

I hardly knew Ari when we married. I knew the major things about him and trusted that we would be compatible long term. We have both changed a lot in the past several years although the major parts of us were developed enough that nothing has changed dramatically. One ever-evolving area of our lives is our relationship around parenting. We joke that we were the “best parents” before having kids. Rearing children has caused us, as individuals and as a parental unit, to re-examine many aspects of ourselves, our families of origin, and the family life that we initially envisioned. The fun part is that there are tons of surprises. The scary part is that we are rearing tiny humans and they throw us unexpected curve balls on a regular basis.

  1. It takes commitment and attention

Communicating, enjoying each other, supporting each other – all of it takes our ongoing commitment and attention.

I admit it here: Sometimes I feel like walking away. I think it is normal. Life has, at times, delivered challenges that feel too hard to conquer as a couple. However, when I feel this way, I need a little time, self-care or physical space to nurture myself, before being able to fully re-engage in couple hood. With this opportunity to re-charge, I remember that Ari and I are more powerful when we act together rather than apart. My greatest accomplishments during the course of my married life are jointly accomplished, my partner by my side.

  1. Our experience is normal

Every person is different. Every couple is different. The things we’re going through and learning and struggling with are not unique, we are not alone. Others have walked this road  – we can learn from them. Others are walking this road now – we can journey together.

We have learned that it is okay to ask for help. The experience of couplehood is old, having existed since the world was created. As I write this piece, the Torah begins again for our people, and we meet Adam and Eve. Even the very first couple in the world had different perspectives and chose to act differently when faced with a challenging situation. Participating in Beyond the Huppah established an opportunity for us to look to others- relatives, community members, and professionals, not IF, but WHEN we need help.

  1. Judaism is a part of this

Intentionally making use of Jewish tools, texts, and traditions enhances and gives grounding to what we do as a couple and a new family. It’s not the only set of tools, texts, and traditions out there—but it’s ours. Whether we’re using something it offers as-is, adapting it to our needs, or struggling with and against it to create something new – it’s rich, it’s deep, it’s good, and it’s there for us to wrestle with and make our own.

When Ari and I met, my top priority before the relationship could progress was to feel assured that our Jewish values and practices were aligned. Looking back, I realize that our spiritual practice and relationship to G-d, both individual and collective, is ever-changing. The assurance I was seeking was confidence boosting, but only a snapshot in time. Building a Jewish home did not start with registering for dishes, it began with a study of sacred text. We had dedicated space and time to sit and learn together, life partners and hevruta, learning partners, to engage with sacred ideas and language, and set the foundation for our shared Jewish life. Our observance continues to evolve and change, but our foundation is solid.

It is an amazing thing to build a relationship, but it can be effortful. Beyond the Huppah provided Ari and me with tools, structures, and a safe community within which to ground our relationship when it was a tiny, fragile seedling. Now that our marriage is a small, flowering plant, I know to anticipate that there will be both harsh frosts and lovely sunshine ahead. As I remind myself of this, I smile a bit and remember that we imitate God when we create, and that building a Jewish home and collaborative married partnership is among the holiest of tasks. I’m all in.

Shira M. Cohen-Goldberg is madly in love with her husband, and fiercely proud of the Jewish home they are creating. She and her family recently moved to Medford, MA, and are slowly integrating themselves into the Jewish community there. She works as a literacy specialist at an educational non-profit focused on organizational change. She spends most of her time working and rearing her 5-year-old son, Hallel, and 2-year-old daughter, Ya’ara, in partnership with her husband, Ari.

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Beyond the Huppah is a 5-session curriculum now available to your community, with sessions on couplehood, Jewish ritual, sexuality, decision-making, and financial management. Learn more here: http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Store/Beyond-the-Huppah-Curriculum

Beyond the Huppah was created through a Young Adult Community Grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies and is funded with support from Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.

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