by David Zenaty and Leeza Negelev
David and Leeza, two former participants of the program, who were recently married, discuss their experience at Beyond the Huppah: Creating the Jewish Marriage You Want, led by Judy Elkin, PCC. Mayyim Hayyim’s seminar for engaged and newly married couples.
DAVID: Hey, Leeza. I thought it would be interesting to create a blog post about Beyond the Huppah in the form of a conversation. When we finished the program, I felt like we’d been led into a conversation about our lives together, about marriage, about starting a Jewish family – which was all pretty good. So, let’s keep the party going.
Here’s my first question: Before you arrived on the first night of the program, what did you think you’d signed up for?
LEEZA: Well, full disclosure: As the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim, I was organizing the program. But Beyond the Huppah was the first time I’d been the organizer and full participant of any of our Mayyim Hayyim programs. So, what did I think I’d signed up for? I thought that we might have a chance to have big group conversations about the things we think make a relationship successful, and what makes things challenging. I had also hoped we’d meet other young adult couples in a similar place in life.
How about you?
DAVID: You know this, I’m a skeptical person. I wasn’t excited about joining a program where we would be – in my misguided preconception – forced to “fix” things about our relationship. I was definitely wrong about that, as it turned out.
But for you, which assumptions proved right?
LEEZA: I did meet some people I liked a lot, and we definitely were in a similar stage in life. The group was more diverse than I expected; people came from different types of family structures, religious backgrounds, and of course, not everyone was Jewish, so it all impacted the kinds of things that we discussed.
I picked up some actual tools for interrupting some of my challenging habits. Those have stuck, by some miracle. For example, The Four Horsemen; four emotional states that can really make conflict resolution impossible. I remember two of them best: contempt and stonewalling. Since thinking them through at Beyond the Huppah, I can pause when I feel myself going there and take a step back (sometimes).
DAVID: But, come on, you also wanted to fix our relationship.
LEEZA: Yes. I was pretty determined. But I quickly realized that wasn’t what this was about at all.
DAVID: It definitely wasn’t about fixing… I was totally wrong about that. I found that there was a good deal of emphasis on the fact that there are difficult things about being in a relationship, not just difficult people. Money, sex – these are things that are hard for everyone. I liked that framing.
So what was your favorite moment of the eight weeks?
LEEZA: I loved the conversation where we took 15 minutes to share every crazy and ubiquitous myth we ever heard or internalized about sex, sexuality, and gender. We laughed a lot. I think we all felt a lot closer after that class.
DAVID: My favorite moment was when you and Ben* volunteered to act out a dispute, trying different conflict approaches that we had been discussing. You and Ben were both incredible thespians, but poor communicators! It helped to watch two people struggle with an issue that, from the outside, looked so simple, and frankly, ridiculous.
So what will you take away from Beyond the Huppah?
LEEZA: My major takeaway was this: We are doing pretty damn good. We’ve figured a lot of stuff out, and we will keep working at this. That’s what it’s all about.
DAVID: Agreed. I found the program to be helpful in recognizing all the good things we’ve got going for us, and also that relationships are a work in progress. Also, we aren’t alone. Many other couples are struggling to make it work. And workin’ it.
Thanks, Leez. Good work on this experimental blog post.
LEEZA: Right back ‘atcha.
Only one spot left for Beyond the Huppah, which begins September 28th. To register or get more information click here.
Leeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim. She and her now husband live in Jamaica Plain, MA. David Zenaty is an administrator at Harvard Medical School and loves being a newlywed.
*Name changed for confidentiality.