In honor of my fourteenth wedding anniversary (it’s tomorrow!), I’m going to tell you about an unexpected improvement to my marriage. About a year ago, Bryan and I started learning with the head rabbi from a synagogue we had recently joined. Rabbi Kalatsky from Kenesseth Israel comes to our house once a month. Yes, our rabbi makes monthly house calls right after we’ve put our kids to bed. Happy Anniversary, Bryan, Reb K will be here to learn at 8:30.
Let’s start with that expression, to learn, which sounds dry and maybe even a little dreadful. Of course it is neither otherwise I wouldn’t dedicate any time to it at all, not when I could spend that childless hour watching one of my shows, reading, or most realistically, clicking around on the internet.
Learning or studying, in the context of a Jewish life, means to learn from a Jewish text. We might start with a few lines of Torah, a story from the Talmud (oral law), a short lesson about ethical standards in Judaism, or the details of an upcoming holiday. The possibilities are endless, but the main point is that the three of us spend about 45 minutes to an hour analyzing whatever topic is on the table. I am always at least a slightly better individual when the hour is over. I see Bryan in a different light. And our marital bond is strengthened, too.
Trust me, it’s not as if Bryan and I haven’t found the occasion for hearty Jewish discussions (and some arguments) in the past fourteen years. Quite the opposite. Every turn in our lives has come with thought, pivots, and negotiations. We’ve been intentional in our decisions starting with the details of our wedding ceremony, choosing which synagogue (or synagogues, in our case) to join, planning a bris for our two sons and a baby naming ceremony for our two daughters, choosing schools and summer programs, and adding Shabbat dinners then morning services and lunch a few years later. The last one was more like a major conversation, which stands out like the day I randomly came home and declared I wanted to start going to the mikveh every month, and the day that Bryan decided we should add what I’ve always called the “random holidays” like Lag BaOmer to our lives.
Clearly Bryan and I have covered many Jewish topics and then some in the past fourteen years. What then makes this one hour a month with Rabbi Kalatsky so different? A lot. Certainly more than we ever expected.
None of the discussions mentioned above were anything like learning and studying the text and the stories together at our dining room table with a rabbi who teaches us and challenges us to be the best individuals, couple, and parents we can be. (Rabbi means “teacher” after all.) I’ve had excellent Jewish teachers in my adult life, especially my friend and teacher Devora who has guided me in so many aspects of my life. Bryan has also studied with his own favorite rabbis. But for the two us to hear how the other responds to whatever aspect of a Jewish text we are covering that night is an experience that brings the two of us together in a way that is incomparable to going out to dinner, spending time on a walk, taking a vacation without the kids, or anything else. (I’ll leave that open to interpretation.) I’m not saying that hour a month is better than any of the above. However, the time we spend learning together with a rabbi is unique. It’s special. It’s unlike anything else in our marriage.
An added benefit of that hour a month at the dining room table with Rabbi Kalatsky is the fact that our children are aware of the three of us learning together. They know when it’s Rabbi Kalatsky night. Inevitably our older two kids end up in the dining room for some reason. Rebecca will need an icepack for some imaginary ailment or Sam will “need” to put a book in his backpack. They will pause for a moment to get an extra hug from Bryan and me and to say goodnight to the rabbi who doesn’t scare them because he comes to their home and is not just a figure up on a bema. They’re curious about our discussion, and I like for them to see what’s happening at the table.
So no, Rabbi Kalatsky didn’t make our marriage great. Our relationship is a result of plenty of hard work and maybe even a little bit of luck at having made a good choice at the ages of 23 and 27. But “Reb K” (as Bryan calls him) has definitely taken our marriage to the next level in its fourteenth year.