Retreat aims to turn good Jewish marriages into great ones

In an atmosphere reminiscent of a large family gathering, the Orthodox Union brought together 84 happily married couples on a summer weekend, with the aim of “turning good marriages into great ones.”

According to Frank Buchweitz, O.U. director of special projects, who orchestrated the entire “Positive Jewish Marriages Enrichment Retreat,” the couples spanned the ideological spectrum of Orthodoxy, providing a sense of achdut, or Jewish unity, throughout the program. Participants ranged from one year of marriage to 53 and came from many localities, as far removed from the retreat’s suburban New Jersey location as Des Moines.

“People realize that marriage is a long-term situation, that just as doctors and other professionals engage in continuing education, even happily married couples should take the time to renew their knowledge of each other and to learn techniques to strengthen their healthy relationship,” Buchweitz said

In 19 sessions, the program concentrated on such topics as communication skills, decision-making, conflict resolution and realistic expectations. The presenters were all professionals from the Orthodox community, two of whom were also synagogue rabbis.

“We took special care to make certain that there would be a family atmosphere, that the relationship with the presenters would be informal, and that through audience participation and discussions, the retreat would not be a seminar, but a living experience,” Buchweitz explained.

“Men Are From Minsk, Women Are From Pinsk — Understanding Gender Differences,” a session led by Rabbi Mordechai Glick, had participants rolling in the aisles at dialogues in which first the husband took a cool, businesslike attitude to the emotional words of his wife, and then, in a role reversal, the wife became cool and the husband emotional. 

All was not laughter, however. Presenters and participants alike acknowledged that there are stresses even in good marriages, and that only by addressing them can good marriages become great.

“We have a wonderful, Orthodox lifestyle which can, at times, stress us out,” declared Dr. David Pelcovitz in his session, “How to Speak So Your Spouse Will Listen, and How to Understand What Really Is Being Said.” Such roadblocks to harmony as poor communication between spouses, the challenges of parenting, in-law relationships and financial strains (often due to the soaring costs of yeshiva tuition) were explored, and techniques to deal with them were presented.

An interested observer was O.U. Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, himself a psychologist with years of clinical experience in dealing with issues of marriage, in addition to his role as a rabbi. He said the retreat fulfilled his expectations. “We learned a lot about positive Jewish marriages,” he said, distinguishing between positive marriages and those in trouble. “Also, “in the biggest bonus of all, we had a lot of fun.”

The O.U. hopes that local communities will sponsor events of this kind, utilizing expert resources from their own localities or importing them as necessary.

If they did, that would be good news to Dr. Michael Elman of Baltimore, an O.U. regional vice president, who attended the retreat with his wife, Linda. “Marriage and the family are the most important aspects of Jewish life,” Elman said. “The O.U.One is in the unique position of being able to facilitate happy marriages in the Jewish community, to help people maintain the proper priorities in their Jewish lives, and to bond these people to their synagogues through these programs.”

Two-day Marriage Enrichment Retreat

The Orthodox Union’s West coast regional office will offer a two-day Marriage Enrichment Retreat on Feb. 27 and 28 in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Mordechai Glick of Montreal will lead the retreat, which helps couples learn communication skills, decision making, conflict resolution and how to have realistic expectations.

The retreat will take place at the Luxe Summit Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd.,Bel Aire. For information, call (310) 229-900, ext. 3.

Information on future “Positive Jewish Marriages” programs: Frank Buchweitz, Orthodox Union, [email protected], or (212) 613-8188.