Pre-bride program offers new approach to marriage counseling

Pre-bride program offers new approach to marriage counseling.

couple love marriage 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
couple love marriage 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When 28-year-old Shirli married last year, she knew that the preparations for her wedding would also have to include the mandatory bridal counseling class demanded by the rabbinate or religious council, but she really wanted to find a class or counselor that would give the experience more meaning. "I was already living with my fiancé," said the young Jerusalemite, who describes herself as neither secular nor religious but traditional. "For me, the class was an important part of the preparations for my marriage and I wanted it to be a special experience that would give me practical advice for after my wedding. "A friend told me about the 'Sister Bride' program and said that it was a little different to the standard class most people take before their weddings," continued Shirli. "My husband and I spent three hours in the class and we both found it very valuable, even enjoyable." Run by the Tzohar nonprofit organization, which aims to strengthen ties between the religious and secular communities, together with the rabbinate in Jerusalem and several other locations countrywide, Sister Bride pairs modern-Orthodox women who are experienced wives and mothers with young, secular brides-to-be for a lucid, two-way session. The program will be the main focus of a series of conferences entitled "Let Life In" taking place this month for both religious and secular women. The opening series of workshops begins Wednesday in Moshav Beit Meir, near Jerusalem, with additional sessions taking place on July 9-10 at Kibbutz Lavi. "We are not an alternative to the rabbinate, we try to work together with them," said Sister Bride coordinator Nomi Wolfson, who oversees the training of some 200 volunteer-counselors countrywide. "However, we do offer the brides a more personal approach. We don't watch the clock and we don't lecture them on an a-b-c list of topics, instead we follow the bride's lead and allow her to talk or ask questions about the issues that are on her mind." While Wolfson steers clear of criticizing the existing mandatory course run by the rabbinate, she does highlight that the material covered in those classes could be considered passé by the country's secular majority. Today, many couples are already living together before their wedding and have no intention of following the religious laws of nida (counting of the menstrual cycle) or visiting the mikva (ritual baths) after they are married. "If brides want to understand about such things, then of course we do explain it to them, but most of those who come to us want to learn the secrets of how to make their marriage work," observed Wolfson, a trained marriage counselor. "In fact, it is quite ironic that they are coming to us in order to get married but most of their questions focus on how to avoid divorce." While the secular focus undoubtedly accounts for Sister Bride's growing popularity - Wolfson estimates that more than 1,000 brides-to-be were counseled last year - those who run the class don't miss the opportunity to inject some Jewish pearls of wisdom as well. "We don't want to change anyone's beliefs or force them to do something that they don't want to, but I do like to show them how Jewish law governs relationships and can actually be an excellent guideline for all relationships," said Rivka Hevroni, a counselor with the program since its inception six years ago and a wife with "26 years experience." According to Wolfson, most local rabbinates have welcomed the group's new approach. However, she says about 12 rabbinical councils have yet to agree to her services, including overwhelmingly secular Tel Aviv and Herzliya.