Jewish Journal

Dealing With Divorce

Organizers hope a new UJ class will focus much-needed attention on the end of marriage.

by Wendy J. Madnick

Posted on Feb. 6, 2003 at 7:00 pm

The Jewish community has always pushed marriage. So when it comes to divorce, it is understandable that resources in the Jewish world are limited. It's not the sort of thing the community wants to encourage.

Still, there is a need. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics available reveal that nearly half of first marriages end in divorce. Because of this and despite some cultural resistance, the University of Judaism (UJ) is offering a class on divorce -- the first in its history.

The course is "an attempt to meet the various needs of our community," said Gady Levy, dean of UJ's continuing education department and the person behind the school's public lecture series at the Universal Amphitheatre. "The concept of pairing a psychotherapist with a rabbi has proven very successful in our Making Marriages Work program." he said. "I believe this format could [also] be of help to those dealing with divorce."

Getting Through a Divorce will run three Thursdays, beginning Feb. 13. The first two sessions will be led by Tamar Springer, a licensed clinical social worker, and will deal primarily with coping strategies for dealing with the emotional side of divorce and how to build a support network. The last class will include Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel, who will discuss the Jewish aspects and perspectives on divorce.

Prior to going into private practice, Springer worked for the Los Angeles Superior Court's Child Custody Division, where her main aim was to "help people make good decisions, despite their difficult situations." She said that while each divorce involves different factors, the main cause that she sees is communication.

"Usually, there are long-term, deep-rooted problems that were not addressed earlier that should have been," Springer said. "Resentment builds up, and the disconnect between the couple gets too big."

"But I think people can use the experience of divorce to get themselves to a wonderful place -- to a richer, more fulfilling relationship, eventually -- and to really know themselves in a way [that] can only lead to better connections," added Springer, who also teaches the UJ's Making Marriage Work class.

"One of the reasons I wanted to do the class is because there is a lot of help offered at the UJ for married people or for people getting married, but nothing for people who are getting divorced," she said. "I think partly it is because going through a divorce is difficult and people shy away from difficult things, and partly that in Jewish culture we have so many celebrations and acknowledgments of positive things and, aside from funerals, there is not a lot going on for more difficult situations."

The Jewish community in Los Angeles does have a few resources for divorced families, such as the Jewish Single Parent Network offered through Jewish Family Service and various singles groups at area synagogues.

However, the lack of sufficient support among Jews for those going through the difficult, emotional process of a divorce was one of the factors that prompted Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am to write his book, "Divorce Is a Mitzvah" (Jewish Lights Pub, 2002)

The book addresses the gamut of Jewish divorce, from the initial decision to the beit din (Jewish court of law), as well as Jewish perspectives on divorce, from what the rabbis of the Talmud had to say to today's reactions from well-meaning friends ("I'm sorry to hear about your divorce, but have I got a girl for you!").

Netter said that while divorce may no longer be stigmatized, the typical reaction in the Jewish community is to gloss over its painful reality, instead of dealing with it in a helpful way.

"We need to give people permission to talk about this," Netter said. "Divorce is not a disease; it's not contagious, but that is the way most people treat it."

As an example, Netter described a focus group he conducted with some congregants prior to the book's publication. Some in the group were divorced before they had joined the synagogue, while others went through a divorce while they were members.

Netter said there was a divorced couple who were members of the same chavurah. Because the man and his ex-wife did not want their children to suffer, they decided to both remain in the chavurah, and whoever had the children that weekend would be the one to participate in the chavurah's events.

"This man spoke to our group with a hurt bordering on rage, his lip quivering, saying, 'When my kids are through with school at this synagogue, I am through with this congregation. When I was going through my divorce, I approached people in my havurah to talk, and they said no, because they didn't want to take sides,'" Netter recalled. "The man said, 'I didn't want them to take sides -- I just needed someone to talk to.'"

Netter said that people must find the vocabulary with which to talk about divorce and "to be in touch with the compassionate side they have, to let that overtake their fears and anxieties. Listening to someone is not taking a side."

Getting Through a Divorce is scheduled Feb. 13, 20 and 27, 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism. Cost for the class is $72. For more information, call (310) 440-1246.  

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