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Orthodox marriages are happier but still have stresses, study reports

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Following a news conference on a survey showing that Orthodox marriages are stronger than in society as a whole are, from left to right, Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president, Orthodox Union; Eliezer Schnall and David Pelcovitz of Yeshiva University; Frank Buchweitz of the Orthodox Union; and Debbie Fox of the Aleinu Family Resource Center in Los Angeles. Orthodox Union

Orthodox marriages may be happier than their secular counterparts, but religious unions are rocky enough to concern a team of researchers and rabbis who presented the results of their recent study on marital satisfaction at the Orthodox Union.

“Traditional family values and religious values tend to overlap,” Eliezer Schnall, an assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva University who was responsible for analyzing the data, said here last week. “But there are also those in this community who are not as happy with their marriages.”

Results showed that 72 percent of the men surveyed and 74 percent of women rated their marriages as “very good” or “excellent,” whereas the overall U.S. population has a much lower satisfaction rate of 63 percent and 60 percent respectively, according to a 2009 General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion.

Only 13 percent of Orthodox couples rated their marriages as “fair” or “poor.”

Aside from a few subjects from the United Kingdom and Israel, the 3,670 respondents were predominantly North Americans who had been recruited through Internet promotions and outreach efforts in New York and Los Angeles synagogues.

Among the most divisive issues for unhappy respondents were infertility, at-risk youth, children with disabilities, and use of birth control, according to Deborah Fox, the study’s pioneer and program director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center at Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles.

For some, the results point to the need for more premarital counseling and education.

“A lot of marriages people just jump into — there’s no preparation,” said Frank Buchweitz, national director of community services and special projects at the OU, who was responsible for coordinating the survey.

Overall, the data settle into a U-shaped curve, with the happiest subjects being newlyweds and those later on in their marriages, reinforcing the idea that issues with children and other family-life pressures are major stressors on the health of a marriage.

In addition to Fox’s observations, Schnall cites factors such as financial problems, lack of community, conflicts with in-laws, and both sexuality and intimacy as potential catalysts for frustrations. Smaller problems could include excessive time spent on the Internet or visitation to inappropriate Websites — things more common early in a marriage rather than later, according to Schnall.

Later in marriages also come stressors such as devastating illness within the family or behavioral problems of “off-the-derech” children.

“Those divorced and remarried are more likely to deal with stress from such a child,” Schnall said, adding that baalei teshuvah parents — those who are newly observant Jews or returning to observance — also reported that these problems pose a great deal of stress in their families.

His colleague, YU psychology and education professor David Pelcovitz, also said that children afflicted by “affluenza” — those raised in wealthy households — are three times as likely to submit to alcoholism, depression, and other problems that may disrupt their parents’ marriages.

Addressing a roundtable of journalists along with his team of researchers and rabbis, Schnall cited a cartoon he had read in the January issue of Monitor on Psychology Journal, published by the American Psychological Association: “Well, honey, all of our kids are now married, divorced, and remarried. I guess all our work is done.”

But for these researchers, the work is by no means done, and they are mapping out strategies for rabbis and instructors to battle marital conflicts pre-emptively by sitting down with engaged couples and discussing matters such as sexuality, evolving roles of men and women, and financial issues.

Sexuality is a particularly poorly addressed topic among Jewish teachers, according to Pelcovitz, who trains rabbis to handle marital problems among couples of all ages.

“In certain countries priests will not marry a couple till a couple has had a certain number of premarital preparation counseling sessions,” he said, adding that these countries show lower divorce rates than Catholic countries where priests lack such a policy.

Pelcovitz and many of his colleagues hope that Jewish spiritual leaders and teachers will follow suit, providing marital counseling not only before the wedding but on an ongoing basis, even through the healthiest of marriages.

“As we teach mathematics, mental skills should be there also — you’re not buying a used car,” Buchweitz said. “To establish a marriage that can be long-lasting is the goal of the OU, the goal of Aleinu, the goal of world Jewry.”

To this effect, he continued, the OU has been sponsoring marriage retreats on both the East and West Coasts for years, where couples convene to discuss their relationships in a group support setting. This year’s retreat will occur in July in upstate New York.

Buchweitz said he recently caught up with a couple — the parents of married children — that had attended a retreat four years ago.

“The last time I saw them they were walking hand in hand, like a young couple in the first days of marriage,” he said. “Dating never stops — it’s a continual process throughout a marriage. Courting never stops.”

The Jewish community may need to focus more attention on marriage preparation, the doctors and rabbis say, but those facing the prospect of marriage should by no means despair and should remember that the results were still overwhelmingly positive.

“It may not just be the shandah [disgrace] factor,” Pelcovitz said, noting that much more than just shame of divorce likely holds religious unions together. “There may be something about the Orthodox community that leads to more satisfaction in Orthodox marriages.”

Schnall agreed, adding, “Wives and husbands are happy to hear that they would do it all again if they could.”

JTA (New York Jewish Week)

 
 

Jewish Center of Teaneck embraces Orthodoxy

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After decades of labeling itself as traditional, the Jewish Center of Teaneck has defined itself as an Orthodox synagogue.

Members of the Jewish Center of Teaneck might not have been surprised to get a letter earlier this month announcing that the venerable shul will “define” itself as Orthodox.

An identity crisis had been brewing for more than a year, as the shul sought to stem a fall-off of members in an increasingly Orthodox community.

According to the letter, dated Feb. 5 and signed by the Center’s president Eva Lynn Gans and Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, the board of trustees had participated in a series of retreats during the past five months in order to discuss the future of the center. On Jan. 10, the board decided to define the center as Orthodox, while also maintaining its traditional minyan.

“It’s a recognition of who we are,” said Wallace Greene, the Center’s executive director, on Tuesday. “[The board] felt it was very important to make this statement and perhaps look at options in moving in a different way.”

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Rabbi Lawrence Zierler

Zierler and Gans were in Israel this week and could not be reached for comment.

The redefinition will have no effect on the center’s operations, Greene continued, nor will the synagogue affiliate with any Orthodox organization, such as the Rabbinical Council of America or Yeshiva University. The move is merely a recognition of what the center has already become, he said.

In June 2007 a mechitza was added to daily services in the Feldman Chapel and Zierler began the Orthodox Hallel V’Zimrah Shabbat minyan in October 2007, which runs concurrent with the center’s traditional minyan. That minyan has mixed seating, but women do not read from the Torah. It also uses an Orthodox prayerbook. The only difference between the traditional minyan and Hallel V’Zimrah, according to Greene, is the mechitza.

The new definition might, he added, help attract new members.

“The reality is that the demographics of the community are decidedly Orthodox and the center recognizes that,” he said.

Not including Chabad, 11 of the 16 synagogues in Teaneck listed in The Jewish Standard’s Guide to Jewish Life identified as Orthodox. The Jewish Center identified itself as Orthodox and Traditional.

According to the letter, the center’s leadership intends to hold parlor meetings next month to explain how the board reached its decision and hear members’ questions and concerns.

“There are people who are very comfortable with the way things are and some individuals who would not like to see any change,” Greene said. “The center has to look at different directions to attract younger people.”

The change hasn’t elicited raves from all of the center’s members. Milton Bornstein, a lifetime trustee, led a campaign last year with a group calling itself “Concerned Members of the Jewish Center of Teaneck” to bring Zierler’s contract renewal to a general membership vote. The group protested what it called the sidelining of the synagogue’s traditional service, which they blamed on Zierler. In the end, the rabbi’s contract was renewed.

Now that the synagogue has defined itself as Orthodox, Bornstein said, “I believe it’s the dream of Rabbi Zierler but not necessarily the dream of the people of the synagogue. I believe a change like that should go to the membership [for a vote], which wasn’t done.”

The Jewish Center once boasted more than 1,200 member-families and a Hebrew school with more than 200 children. Bornstein, who joined the center in 1963, predicted that within a few years it would run out of money and people. Several people, he said, had already told him that the letter had prompted a decision not to return.

“It’s unfortunate the synagogue is going this route,” he said.

But Greene maintained that the center’s members “are now comfortable in stating who they are. The future will determine how much further they’re willing to move in that direction.”

 
 

Kosher restaurants put ethical standards on the menu

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Kosher diners are starting to think about what goes on behind the counters where they eat, according to the Orthodox ethics organization Uri L’Tzedek. Three Bergen County restaurants have thus far signed up for the organization’s year-old ethical kashrut seal and a fourth will be announced later this month.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, then a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, N.Y., founded Uri L’Tzedek in 2007. The organization unveiled the Tav HaYosher — the ethical seal — last year to reward businesses that recognize what its Website refers to as “The right to fair pay. The right to fair time. The right to a safe work environment.”

So far, 39 restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have signed up.

“It’s the next wave of 21st-century Jewish activism,” Yanklowitz said. “The simple act of a consumer choosing where to buy a sandwich is a matter of Jewish ethics. The act is so easy and the effect is so meaningful.”

Locally, Teaneck’s Noah’s Ark and Shelly’s Café and the frozen yogurt retailer 16 Handles at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus have signed up for the certification. A third Teaneck restaurant is expected to be announced next week, Yanklowitz said, adding he could not disclose any further details of its identity.

In addition to the businesses that have received its certification, Yanklowitz said Uri L’Tzedek has received commitments from synagogues, federations, schools, and other organizations and individuals to patronize only restaurants that have the seal. The recognition also sends a message to the non-Jewish community that watched the Agriprocessors scandal unfold in the media, he said.

“Many consumers have become disillusioned by the ethics of the kosher community,” Yanklowitz said. “By upholding the name yashrut, ethics, it expands the kosher clientele.”

When a restaurant signs up, a Tav Yosher compliance officer — one of some 60 volunteers — reviews the business’s payroll and other records and speaks privately with the employees. These inspectors are trained to review business ledgers and fluent in other languages to better communicate with non-English-speaking workers. The inspectors then return every two to three months to check the books and interview employees. The certification is free to businesses.

The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which oversees the kosher supervision of most of the area’s kosher restaurants, would allow restaurants to make their own decisions regarding the seal, said its president, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron. Rothwachs declined further comment until he could learn more about the certification.

Calls to the manager of the 16 Handles Paramus branch, which received the Tav HaYosher last week, were not returned. The 16 Handles in Manhattan also carries the certification.

Noam Sokolow, owner of Noah’s Ark and Shelly’s, told this newspaper that the community was outraged by ethical violations uncovered in recent years and wanted reassurance about local establishments.

“We’ve always felt we want our restaurants to be on a level where everyone feels comfortable,” he said. “It was an opportunity for us to have an additional agency supervising an aspect we feel is important.”

Neither of his Teaneck restaurants nor his Manhattan Noah’s Ark restaurant, which also carries the certification, had to make any changes before Uri L’Tzedek awarded the Tav Yosher, he said. After the certificate appeared in his stores’ windows, however, customers began thanking the management, he added.

“They want to see people here locally are following the rules,” he said.

The Jewish community as a whole reacted very responsibly following the Agri fallout and has overcome the challenges it presented, he said.

“As long as we can move forward and do something constructive with the information that we have, we become better people,” Sokolow said. “It’s an evolution.”

 
 

This column is anti-Orthodox

 
 
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