By Rachel Marks, Esq.

Within the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen countless posts on social media and have participated in a lengthy group WhatsApp chat with my besties (“The Old Gang”) discussing recipes and dairy menus for the upcoming holiday of Shavuos. While every holiday elicits a flurry of planning, Shavuos brings the added excitement of preparing elaborate dairy meals. More exciting to me personally than the menu planning is looking at all the flower arrangements being advertised in anticipation of the beautiful holiday. I can say with confidence that Shavuos is my favorite holiday. The weather is beautiful, the food delicious, the flowers abundant, and the air light. The stage is set for quality time with family and friends.

My social-media accounts have been equally congested with posts about s’machos, most frequently bridal showers, weddings, and sheva berachos. I’ve seen a myriad of beautiful table settings, mouthwatering delicacies, gorgeous dresses, and video clips of leibedik dancing and moving chuppahs. This time of year is known to have many s’machos and specifically weddings, baruch Hashem.

The anticipation leading up to Shavuos and to a wedding is highly similar and has been noted and discussed by scholars since Mattan Torah. We count each day between Pesach and Shavuos in anticipation of the commemoration of Mattan Torah, the marriage between the Jewish people and Hashem. We celebrate and reaffirm our commitment to Hashem. We use the time leading up to Shavuos to strengthen our relationship with Hashem. Preparation for Shavuos is not simply preparation for the holiday itself, by way of menu planning and tablescapes, but rather is it a time for strengthening of our connection to Hashem so that we can forge a meaningful, productive, and healthy relationship in anticipation of reaffirming our bond and acceptance of the Torah. This is accomplished through Torah study, introspection, careful attention to the performance of mitzvos, and improving our relationship with other people as well.

If we are to liken Mattan Torah and Shavuos to a wedding, one would then expect similar intense preparation and nurturing of the relationship between the soon-to-be-married individuals as well. It is typical that a bride and groom each take chassan and kallah classes to learn the halachos that pertain uniquely to a married couple. Often in these classes other useful information might be imparted to the bride and groom. Such classes focusing on the physical parts of the marriage and related halachos are essential to the marriage and are thankfully the norm in the Orthodox community. However, what is unfortunately rarely stressed for Orthodox engaged couples is how to increase understanding and sensitivity to each other’s feelings, communicate effectively, build a sense of mutual respect, promote self confidence in each other, utilize valuable tools for conflict resolution, integrating each other’s families, and gain better financial awareness.

It’s a fact of life that young couples today face a more complex life than ever before. The typical complex marriage–managing two careers while raising children–requires that couples have strong, well-established abilities to communicate, resolve issues, maintain mutuality, and set goals. Without this foundation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and time pressures. Problems can intrude much more easily and quickly challenge the solidity of the marriage. Marriage preparation can function as an immunization that boosts a couple’s capacity to handle potential difficulties. According to a U.S. advisory committee on marriage, premarital education could help reduce divorces by as much as 30%.

Shalom Task Force provides a myriad of classes and workshops, in both private and group settings, to young adults, engaged couples, and newlyweds, to fill this void. Shalom Task Force begins by educating students while they are in high school, and teaches adolescents the art of communication through mastery of positive conflict-resolution techniques. Students also learn to identify behavioral predictors of potentially healthy and unhealthy relationships. Programming continues in seminaries both in the United States and in Israel and follows the young adults as they navigate college and dating as well. The SHALOM Workshop (Starting Healthy And Long-lasting Marriages) is a highly successful premarital education program that aims to prepare engaged couples for a healthy and successful marriage. Many hundreds of engaged and newly married couples have attended this innovative workshop. SHALOM Workshop, given in one or two sessions, is led by Orthodox professionals who have been specially trained and have successfully assisted many young couples in making sure that their marriage is healthy at the outset and will be long-lasting. It is important to note that this workshop is not therapy nor is it intended for couples in distress. The workshop does not replace traditional pre-marriage classes offered by chassan and kallah teachers; rather, it enhances it.

Spearheaded by Avital Levin, LMSW, director of women’s education at Shalom Task Force, these educational programs aim to help both singles and married couples improve their own relationships, as well as give participants guidance on healthy marriages and how to identify and deal with an abusive relationship.

“For many of the young men and women I speak to, this is the first time they’re learning about these critical topics in a forum that fosters in-depth understanding and practical support,” said Levin, who often partners with mental-health professionals and other organizations to present the workshops to diverse groups of participants. “Each program is tailored to the specific audience we are addressing, and they are so grateful for the opportunity to hear about and discuss these sensitive topics in the proper setting.”

Participation in pre-marriage classes is essential in creating the healthy marriages that we all strive for. If parents were to encourage their children to incorporate this into their engagement preparation, and more rabbanim and kallah teachers would place a value on this sort of relationship-building similar to that of the halachic educational component, then we would have future generations of healthy and strong marriages.

We do all we can to create a beautiful wedding, making sure each detail is executed to perfection–from food to venue, décor, attire, shtick, music, photography, and so forth. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to put equal effort into giving a new couple the tools they need to create a beautiful, healthy, solid, and long-lasting marriage? After all, a wedding lasts an evening and a marriage lasts a lifetime. v

Founded 23 years ago, Shalom Task Force promotes peaceful family resolutions and healthy marriages for Jewish families. STF offers legal services and maintains an anonymous domestic abuse hotline (718-337-3700) that has received thousands of calls. The organization also sends staff members to speak about relationships to Jewish high schools across America and seminaries and yeshivas in Israel. For more information, please call 212-742-1478, ext. 8, visit www.ShalomTaskForce.org or e-mail info@shalomtaskforce.org.

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