Before Hebrew College alumnus Rabbi Getzel Davis met his wife, he was engaged to another woman. The relationship ended because the two weren’t compatible, he says, but he regrets that they didn’t meet with a counselor or clergy person as they contemplated their life together.

So, when Davis and his wife got engaged, they decided to work with a rabbi in their transition to marriage to envision their life together. They still refer back to those meetings, even after five years of marriage, and every time Davis mentions his premarital experience to someone, they either say, “I wish I had done that,” or “Oh, I would love to do that when I’m in that life stage,” he said.

Davis, the father of two, a 2-year-old and a 3-month old, was inspired to help other couples through this important moment. Davis, a rabbi and chaplain at Harvard Hillel and founder of Unorthodox Celebrations, which helps people find rabbis and cantors to celebrate their lifecycle events in relevant and meaningful ways, started his own pre-marital class through Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning. He calls the class “Zivug,” a Jewish mystical word meaning “connection.”

“People put all of this creative energy into planning a wedding, but often don’t spend that amount of time or thought into their marriage. And their marriage is going to last a lot longer!” he said. “This class is about taking the energy around the transition to marriage and using it as an opportunity to vision and to problem solve. The goal is for folks to have a wonderful, vibrant marriage and to make conscious decisions about how they treat their partner and their home.”

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Davis has taught Zivug four times this year and is preparing to start a fifth cohort this summer. He’s also preparing to teach a summer session of Hebrew College’s Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, which brings parents of young children together to explore Jewish values that can enrich their families, reflect on the joys and challenges of raising kids today and find support, encouragement and connection.

Each Zivug class has a different theme, ranging from Jewish conceptions about relationship and love to money to “how we fight,” from chores and tasks in relationships to sex and intimacy. Students read and discuss texts and reflect as couples and as a group.

“When people are getting married, there’s wonderful goodwill. After 20 years, the little things that already drive you crazy about your partner will feel bigger. One of the things we are discovering is how to build a marriage that’s actually going to be the way you want it to be from its beginning,” Davis said. “Over the past Zivug groups, I have learned a great deal about the power of groups themselves to help couples to learn from each other’s mistakes and celebrate their relationship hacks.”

Two of the couples Davis worked with transitioning to marriage are now pregnant with kids and planning to take his Parenting Through a Jewish Lens course. He helped them vision themselves as couples and is looking forward to helping them re-envision themselves as families.

“Working with families through these life transitions is an amazing opportunity to help them discern and actualize their unique and powerful visions,” he said. “My transitions to marriage and to parenthood have yielded much more valuable insight and spiritual highs than anything I ever found on a retreat. It’s so meaningful to explore with others these transitions of self, family and spiritual identity.”

Learn more about Zivug and other summer community learning courses at Hebrew College here.

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