Before they met five years ago, searching for their besherts kept Lynn and Thad Gerber active in Jewish life: Between singles' dances, Shabbat dinners and Jewish discussion groups, their dating lives gave way to a sense of belonging and connectedness through Judaism.
But since they married in 1999, Lynn noticed that while her relationship with her husband continues to grow, the couple's involvement in the Jewish community has not. "As far as Jewish events, we don't do anything at all," admitted the 32-year-old mother from West Hills. "Ever since I've been married, I don't know about any Jewish things that married couples can do." With a 2-year-old daughter and a second child on the way, the couple is craving Jewish involvement more than ever.
While growing up, Claudine LaMell Pelc identified as Jewish, but only went to shul on the High Holidays. After getting married last November, Pelc, a wedding coordinator in Encino, said she is looking forward to creating a Jewish life with her new husband, Avi. "We're going to be more religious now, because when we have a family we're going to raise our kids with more religion," she explained.
In a country where 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, some couples find that getting involved in the Jewish community can help support and enrich their marriages. But many do not know where to begin in creating their new Jewish life together, said Rabbi Scott Aaron, director of education of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.
"With young adults, we celebrate their Jewish adulthood and lifecycle," he said, "but we don't often give them the interpersonal Jewish cultural skills to choose their own Jewish path and embrace their Jewish identities."
At the Cotsen Institute for Newly Married Couples at Brandeis-Bardin weekend program, just-marrieds can find their Jewish identity, and mingle with other couples with whom they can practice together and connect Jewishly.
"Ellen," a 31-year-old speech therapist from Redondo Beach went on a Cotsen Institute weekend with her husband three years ago.Â "Both of our families are traditional," said the new mother. "We wanted to add to what we were already doing religion-wise. It was also a nice way to meet other Jewish young couples."
Some couples establish this important link by taking classes. One Sherman Oaks couple said they had learned communication skills at a Making Marriage Work class at the University of Judaism, so they plan to take a six-session Challenge of Growth seminar, which is geared toward couples married two to 15 years.
"It will be three years for us in July and there are a lot of issues that have come up since our Making Marriage Work class," said the wife, who works in the entertainment industry.Â The 30-year-old also hopes to meet more couples.Â
"It will be nice to be with other Jewish couples who are going through what we are going through, like figuring out things like money and defining your roles within the marriage," she said.
Other Jewish couples find these commonalties by joining havurot -- groups of families or couples that meet socially and share common interests -- through their synagogues. These groups meet on a monthly basis for lectures, discussions, dinners, group outings and socialization.
"People join because they would like to get to know people in the congregation and have a group of close friends to do Jewish things together," said Jan Ballon, the havurot chair at Adat Ari El in Valley Village, which currently has 40 havurot.
But not everyone has the funds to join a synagogue, usually a prerequisite for joining a havurah. For couples wanting to work on their relationship, the Jewish community has several courses where the focus is on the couple rather than socialization.
Rabbi Dov Heller, a family therapist in Beverly Hills, runs the Relationship Institute, a program that offers classes and seminars for singles and married couples. By incorporating Jewish ideas and psychological research into his lectures, Heller offers couples a relationship "tune-up" in his seminar "The Joy of Marriage."
"Spouses don't talk about what's really important 90 percent of the time," said Ileene Morris, who, with her husband, Sandy, attended a Jewish Marriage Encounter weekend in 1974, and has volunteered for this national program ever since. The 44-hour communication marathon teaches couples to learn to listen to each other.
While they realize that marriage is constant work, both the Gerbers and the Pelcs look forward to developing their Jewish identities as couples.
"There's a big difference in how you deal with religion growing up with your family and how you deal with it with the person you love," said newlywed Avi Pelc.
For more information on the organizations and programs mentioned, please contact them directly: Brandeis-Bardin Institute, (805) 582-4450; Making Marriage Work classes at the University of Judaism, (310) 440-1566; the Relationship Institute, (310) 659-7449; Jewish Marriage Encounter, (310) 641-0122. Â