Book demonstrates how Jewish holidays can bring a couple closer

“Judaism for Two: A Spiritual Guide for Strengthening and Celebrating Your Loving Relationship” holds boundless promise for any couple with decent communication skills.

The book should be well received by Bay Area Jews, especially, as it is thoroughly inclusive — whatever the couple’s age, gender, income, mindset, lifestyle or level of Jewish knowledge and observance. What’s crucial is the couple’s grounding, as the book’s premise is that any committed pair can travel through the book’s framework toward a mutually enriching relationship.

Rabbis Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and Nancy H. Wiener build the foundation of their advice on the three pillars of Jewish life: ritual, learning and acts of loving-kindness. Using the context of a different Jewish holiday in each chapter, they suggest how to personalize Jewish customs into couple’s lives.

“More than just calendar commitments, the holidays carry with them a view of what is important in life, a set of assumptions that challenge and deepen the way we think about relationships,” they write.

“Most of us have never thought about the holidays as a means of awakening to our lives as [part of] a couple. Each holiday presents us with an opportunity to focus on what is significant in our lives, to enhance what is sacred in our connection with our partners. They provide a structure on which to hang our best intentions.”

Each chapter begins with a holiday’s history, philosophies and rituals, all vividly laid out as an engaging point of departure for the examples and exercises that follow. For instance, “the Purim tale recounted in the Book of Esther relates an unanticipated reversal of fortune. The tone is one of parody and farce, though the topic is deadly serious,” they write.

The chapters follow the Jewish calendar and relate common obstacles in relationships. The Shavuot chapter addresses infidelity. Simchat Torah, the holiday presented in “Committing to the Process,” covers closure and renewal. Shabbat, “Pausing to Bless What Is,” discusses the interplay of restrictions and freedom.

Case studies follow, in which couples embrace unique aspects of a holiday as creative means to an end. The authors present serious issues these real-life couples have dealt with — from broad to specific, from happy to bittersweet to sad. Empty nesters develop new ways to enhance the celebratory angle of kids leaving home and interfaith newlyweds reconcile family differences. A pair of longtime partners troubleshoot a personal struggle with depression, and bereaved parents reclaim their derailed closeness.

Rounding out the chapters are suggested tools for each couple to reach new depths of celebrating, learning and reaching out to others. Fuchs-Kreimer and Wiener continue to pay special attention to what makes each holiday special, resulting in plenty to process in each chapter’s exercises. There are questions, quotations and activities that suggest hearty debate, reflection and participation.

The rabbis encourage creativity and risk-taking when responding to the exercises, which requires a vulnerability that again speaks to the importance of working within a trusting relationship. The scope of the exercises runs from simple to complex, physical to emotional, intellectual to spiritual, practical to whimsical.

(For example, suggestions for “Reaching Out” in the Chanukah chapter include: “If neither of you observes Christmas, give the gift of yourself by volunteering at a hospital or nursing home on Christmas Day.” Or the further-reaching “Begin preserving the story of your family.”

But the metaphor evoked by the Shabbat Havdallah candle perhaps best embodies the approach of “Judaism for Two”:

“Through the holiday cycle we have seen that life is a complex weave of light and darkness, bitter and sweet, striving and surrendering. The twisted candle reminds us that as a couple our two lives have become entwined as one. Two souls enter a partnership, interwoven yet always distinct, joined by a third strand, the Divine Presence. As we perform the ritual of Havdallah, we hold our hands up to the flame and catch the reflection of the last light on our fingertips. Then, in the words of Marge Piercy, ‘We drown the candle in the little lake of wine.’

“We pray that the light will continue to shine through our words and deeds, in our homes and in the world.”

“Judaism for Two: A Spiritual Guide for Strengthening and Celebrating Your Loving Relationship” by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and Nancy H. Wiener (224 pages, Jewish Lights Publishing, $16.99).