By Rabbi Chaim Wakslak, Ph.D.
On August 22, Chaim Goldman married Tamar Schlanger at The Atrium, a wedding hall in Monsey. To all appearances, it seemed to be a typical Lubavitch-style wedding–not surprising, given the chassan’s family’s strong Chabad affiliation–interspersed with some Yekkish and Polish minhagim of the kallah’s family. The traditional tunes of Chabad resounded as the chassan walked down the aisle, the Rebbe’s letter was read, and the chuppah progressed in a perfect synchronization of all the usual elements. The kallah looked regal in her ivory gown, led down the aisle by her loving parents as many of their neighbors from Teaneck, New Jersey, looked on with love. Hundreds of people–relatives, friends, neighbors of the chassan and kallah and their families–came from far and wide to be part of the celebration.
Yet this was far from your typical wedding. Both Chaim and Tamar are individuals who are developmentally challenged.
For the past several years, they have both been living in residential facilities under the auspices of HASC Center, a multifaceted agency that provides services to people with disabilities. Chaim lived with seven other men in a supervised residence in Crown Heights, while Tamar resided with three other women in a supervised apartment in the heart of Flatbush.
In the spring of 2015, Chaim Goldman stated emphatically that he was going to marry Tamar Schlanger. At the time, that seemed only remotely possible, and yet, as it turned out, it was predictive of what would ultimately transpire. Chaim initially met Tamar at the Yachad day-habilitation program, which they both attend on a daily basis and where they participate in an assortment of groups providing vocational training, workshops, social and recreational activities, and volunteer opportunities. As they continued to interact at work, their friendship grew and their feelings for each other became stronger. Eventually they shared their feelings and desire to marry with their families and the social-work director at Yachad-JUF. The clinical team of HASC Center was consulted and, with the consent of both sets of parents, an exploratory assessment was undertaken to determine the feasibility of such an endeavor.
It was at this point that Chaim and Tamar were each assigned their own counselors at the Blanche Kahn Family Health Center, where they were each assessed in terms of their ability to be a marriage partner while receiving guidance in the pursuit and development of their relationship. For the most part, these sessions were individual, with joint sessions coordinated between the two therapists. Periodic conferences were held with the Goldman and Schlanger families, HASC Center clinical staff, their therapists, and Chaim and Tamar.
Following the many months of this exploratory process, it was finally determined that Chaim and Tamar were suitable candidates for marriage. This decision engendered an overwhelming sense of emotion not only from the families but from all those who participated in the decision-making process as well.
At this point it was clear that their counseling sessions, both during the months prior to marriage and even after their marriage, would need to continue. The administration of HASC Center had to commence the process of obtaining approval from OPWDD (Office for People with Developmental Disabilities) to establish an apartment for the couple and provide them with necessary support staff on an ongoing basis. Without doubt, the success of Chaim and Tamar’s marriage would require an ongoing partnership between the Goldman and Schlanger families and HASC Center.
Indeed, the plan was set in motion. Chaim and Tamar have continued to receive psychological counseling to help them address the complexities of their romantic relationship and to help prepare them for the commitments and challenges of marriage. The clinicians at the Blanche Kahn Family Health Center have worked in coordination with the Yachad day-habilitation program. The residence managers and direct-care staff of Tamar and Chaim’s respective HASC Center residences have helped the couple to navigate their dating experiences and their relationship. There was a proper l’chaim, and a wedding date was selected. Chassan and kallah classes were arranged and the preparations for the wedding proceeded in earnest.
The administration of HASC Center applied for and tirelessly pursued OPWDD approval and funding for a supported apartment for Tamar and Chaim. At this date, HASC Center staff members are in the final stages of setting up their apartment in Crown Heights.
In retrospect, it was, of course, Chaim and Tamar’s unwavering commitment to each other and to their goal of getting married that created the impetus for the realization of their dreams. They were not discouraged by anyone or anything standing in their way. When doubt was expressed, they provided reassurance that they wanted to marry and were truly committed to each other. This allowed their families and the clinical team at HASC Center to continue to support them in pursuit of their goal, which came to fruition a few evenings ago.
As we return to the evening of August 22, it can be said that everyone in attendance was spiritually engaged in the mitzvah of simchas chassan v’kallah. The level of excitement and joy for the newlyweds was of a different order than what we usually experience at other s’machot. The dancing, enthusiasm, spirit, and outpouring of love were palpable.
As the evening came to an end, Chaim and Tamar walked out of the hall, hand in hand, to begin a journey that defies the odds and will iy’H result in a lifetime of sharing and contentment.
Rabbi Dr. Chaim Wakslak is the rav of the Young Israel of Long Beach and serves as clinical director at the HASC Center.