Originally posted on January 18, 2017
by Cantor Sarah Bolts and Michael Chernicoff
Sarah: I honestly didn’t know what to expect from a pre-marriage class. I grew up in the Orthodox community, where pre-marriage classes came in the form of “kallah (bride) classes” in which a bride would learn about the laws of niddah (regular separation of partners) as well as some basic sex education. Somehow I predicted this class would be different, but I still expected some sort of instruction about “how to do marriage.” I was also somewhat apprehensive about several of the sessions, particularly the sexuality session, and wondered how much detail about our private relationship we’d be expected to share. This fear, for the record, ended up being totally unfounded; we were never asked to share more than we’d be comfortable sharing, and in fact, much of the sexuality session involved each couple going into a room by themselves to discuss the topic privately.
Michael: I was definitely expecting something that was more focused on the components of a specifically Jewish marriage, rather than advice on marriage in general. It ended up being more of a balance between the two. I was also expecting to be bored at least some of the time, but it ended up being more interesting and a lot more participatory than I thought it would be. As an educator, I really appreciated that.
Sarah: One of the things I liked most about the class was that everything was totally open-ended. There were no assumptions made about what our marriage might look like, what our beliefs and values were, or even what Jewish rituals we might (or might not) want to participate in together. This left plenty of room for each couple to discuss the topic of the week in the context of their specific relationship, rather than just talking in general about what marriage “should” look like. While we did learn some specific relationship-building tools (such as strategies for navigating conflict and for discussing finances), the class was far more about starting these important conversations between each set of partners. We always found ourselves continuing the conversation on the car-ride home after each class.
Michael: I liked the fact that the class wasn’t trying to teach us a specific way of doing things. Instead, it was about finding the way to do things that worked best for our particular relationship. The class pointed us in the direction of discussions that we needed to have, but might not have thought to have before we took the class – especially when it came to communication and money issues. I especially appreciated how the class about ritual ended up being not only about specifically Jewish rituals, but also about all of the rituals that are part of being in a relationship. Sarah and I had already talked plenty about Jewish ritual (it is part of her job as a cantor, after all), so it was nice to be able to talk about some of the other rituals that we were already doing as a couple but might not have thought of as “rituals” before.
I came out of the class with a some concrete tools for navigating the complexities of our relationship and some new ways of thinking about how and why our relationship was already working really well.
Sarah: The class also gave us some great book recommendations! We ended up using Meeting at the Well, one of the books that was handed out at Beyond the Huppah, as inspiration for the contemporary English t’nai’im (engagement contract) that we wrote together and signed at our wedding tisch (table). Our t’nai’im outlined our intentions for our marriage, some of which were based on conversations that started at Beyond the Huppah. So in a way, you could say that a piece of Beyond the Huppah will be hanging on our bedroom wall for the rest of our married lives.
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Cantor Sarah Bolts is Cantor-Educator at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel in Manchester, CT, where she and Michael live. Michael Chernicoff is a high school physics teacher in Framingham, MA.