Book review: The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide

Divorce attorneys. Are there two dirtier words in the English language? Thoughts of them conjure up images of circling human sharks, cold-blooded assassins and profiteers feasting on the misery of others. Turning to them for suggestions on how to stay married would seem about as useful as seeking out Donald Trump for tips on humility or former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair for advice on journalistic ethics.
Sometimes, though, the conventional wisdom misses the mark. Drawing on interviews with 100 prominent divorce attorneys nationwide, author and former practicing attorney Wendy Jaffe has written an interesting and illuminating work called, “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide to Staying Married.” Apparently, those with ringside seats in divorce court, a place where couples venture to shred their wedding vows and one another, have a special insight into how not to behave in marriage.
In her book, Jaffe outlines how to diagnose and treat myriad union-killers, ranging from no-sex marriages to infidelity to unrealistic expectations. Beyond that, she argues that many couples who end up in divorce court could have, and should have, worked harder to save their unions.
In Jaffe’s view, marriage, except in cases of physical or verbal abuse and untreated drug and alcohol addiction, is worth fighting for. She argues that the fact that about half of all marriages in the United States don’t last is less a reflection of widespread incompatibility than an indictment of a disposable American culture that encourages folks to trade in their old-but-perfectly good cars, computers and, yes, even spouses for newer, fresher models. All too often, Jaffe argues, mates in the process of shedding their significant others come to realize too late that they’ve made a terrible mistake, especially when children are involved. The grass might appear greener elsewhere, but that, like a waterhole in the desert, is often only a mirage. The proof: Two of three second marriages end in divorce.
Jaffe’s starts her book detailing all the ways sex can kill a marriage. Why start with sex?
“It is rare that someone who is having good and regular sex will come to me for a divorce,” says Miami family law attorney Maurice Kutner, one of several lawyers Jaffe quotes.
Couples having infrequent intimate relations should beware, Jaffe warns. Sex, she writes, is an integral part of most marriages, and its absence augurs poorly for their survival. There are myriad reasons why married couples’ love lives can cool, including familiarity and the exhaustion of parenthood. Still, a no-sex marriage is far from the norm. As Jaffe notes, just because married spouses have stopped making love with one another doesn’t mean they have stopped making love.

Take the case of Steve and Linda, one of several case studies Jaffe sprinkles throughout her book. The couple married in their mid-20s, had three kids in six years and moved to the ‘burbs. To the outside world, they appeared to have the perfect union. However, behind the smiles, Linda felt increasingly disconnected from her spouse, and her interest in intimacy dwindled markedly with the birth of her children. Over time, Steve also became more disenchanted, especially after his wife rejected repeated requests to discuss her waning drive with a gynecologist. Steve eventually left a “shocked” Linda for a work colleague.
So what to do if sex begins to vanish from the bedroom? Jaffe suggests the road to recovery begins with recognition.
“Even if sex is not important to you,” she writes, “you have to realize that it might be extremely important to your spouse, and that it is a significant cause of divorce.”
Throughout the book, Jaffe encourages readers to consult a therapist. She also offers a helpful list of reference books readers might want to peruse.Infidelity is another sex-related marriage-killer with which Jaffe grapples. On the upside, she argues persuasively that many marriages can withstand cheating. If both spouses figure out what caused the straying and address the problem; if the victim spouse can forgive the affair; and if the adulterous husband or wife truly recommits to the marriage — a lot of ifs — the couple might salvage the union. On the downside, Internet chat rooms and dating services have made it easier than ever for bored spouses to find a playmate.
Many marriages, Jaffe writes, are in trouble even before they begin. That’s because one or both partners bring unrealistic expectations to the altar.
Couples who expect the romance and fires of passion to burn indefinitely set themselves up for their marriage to flameout. Similarly, men and women who believe marriage will magically transform their significant other are deluding themselves. Her insane jealousy won’t suddenly vanish, just as his verbal abuse and alcoholism won’t disappear. The bottom line: What you see is generally what you get. A caveat, though: People often do change over the course of a marriage, for better or for worse, Jaffe says.
Even those who’ve never married, as well as people considering getting hitched for the second or third time, could benefit from “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide.”
Jaffe and the attorneys she interviewed counsel against getting married at a young age. A little life experience, they argue, allows a person to grow up and figure out what they want from themselves and from a prospective spouse. It is no surprise, Jaffe writes, that Oklahoma, despite its location at the heart of the Bible Belt, has the second-highest divorce rate, according to 1990 stats. The reason: One of the lowest average ages for first marriages, at 22 for women and 24 for men.
As for remarriage, Jaffe warns against the “clone syndrome.” That is, finding a new spouse with a similar personality to the person just left behind. To avoid making the same mistakes again and again, such as repeatedly hooking up with alcoholics, Jaffe suggests seeing a therapist to “understand why your marriage broke down and how your selection of your spouse played a part in it.”
Jaffe’s book makes a surprisingly good read, considering that many lawyers tend to write in a turgid, tangled legalese. Still, Jaffe does trip up a few times.The lawyer in her devotes an entire section to prenuptial agreements. She argues that men and women with substantial assets need to protect them. Rational?

Brachas vs. bluegrass: moms make the switch

Reality shows seem to be becoming less and less real every season. Exhibit A: The very intriguing but highly unlikely pairing of a Shomer Shabbos Jewish family from Brookline, Mass. (near Boston), and a coon-huntin’ family from Olympia, Ky. (on a map that would be nowhere near a kosher grocery store), in the Oct. 20 two-hour season premiere of FOX’s “Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy.”

For the past two years, the show has been trading moms between families of vastly different demographics (i.e., pro-choice and pro-life, gays and conservative Christians). And this one is no exception.

In spite of the obvious cultural differences between the Southern Martins (mom, Sharon; dad, Dale; daughter, Ashton, 20; and son, Aaron, 17) and the East Coast Shatzes (mom, Lisa, who wears pants; dad, Michael; son, Aryeh, 20; and daughters, Esther, 17; Adina, 15; and third-grader Kayla) both families are very insulated in their respective worlds.

Lisa, an MIT-educated associate professor of electrical engineering, asks Dale, a corrections officer, what bluegrass is when told that is what the state is known for. (It’s a grass.)

Sharon, a registered nurse, goes shopping at the kosher market with Michael, a physicist, and remarks that she couldn’t understand any of the “Arabic, Hebrew, whatever” on the labels, adding, “I could give a flying flip about the kosher.”
The families, who each receive $50,000 (with a twist) for participating, have very parallel, yet opposite, living situations.

According to Lisa, Aaron spends too much time playing on the computer and hanging out and not enough time studying. She wants to call a tutor, much to the horror of Aaron, who is adamant that he’s not stupid and doesn’t need a tutor. Lisa also makes the faux pas judgment that raccoon hunting, a Martin family pastime, is “intolerable and should be outlawed” after they take her on a late-night jaunt in search of the critters.

According to Sharon, the Shatz kids are socially awkward and need to have fun. She suggests throwing a party, much to the horror of Michael, who is adamant that there be no party and no dancing (“in the Jewish religion, we don’t give our kids permission to indulge in risky behavior,” he tells her). Sharon also makes the misstep of bringing up two very taboo topics at the dinner table: dating and Jesus.

So will there be fireworks in the second hour when Grandma confronts Lisa (“Do y’all still have sacrifices?”); Sharon tries to throw the Shatz kids a party (“They’ll dance! You wait and see!”) and the two moms meet face-to-face? It doesn’t take an MIT degree to figure that answer out.

“Trading Spouses” kicks off the new season Friday, Oct. 20 from 8-10 p.m. on

Ten Commandments for a Happy Marriage

For those preparing for marriage, as well as those already wed, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, offers his Ten Commandments for a successful marriage. His advice is based on the 3,300-year-old Jewish tradition, is timeless and applicable to modern couples of all backgrounds.

Marriage Unplugged — From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, observant Jewish families turn off the TV, shut down the computer, ignore the phone and spend time together without the distractions of daily life. Set aside a night each week to tune out the world, tune into each other and focus on the reality of your own lives.

United We Stand — The chuppah, or canopy, that a couple stands under during a Jewish wedding ceremony signifies the home they will build together — symbolically reminding all present that the couple is becoming a unit. It’s OK, even healthy, to have differing opinions from your spouse, but when dealing with outside challenges, remember that you’re a team.

Marriage Ain’t All Wine and Roses — During a Jewish wedding ceremony, wine is sipped to symbolize joy; later, the ceremony concludes with the breaking of a glass calling attention to the fact that life is not always joyful. Yes, your wedding day should be one of the happiest of your life, but keep in mind that you’re sure to face tough times, both big and small, too — from lost jobs to clogged toilets. The good news is that when the proverbial glasses break, you can pick up the pieces together.

Save It for Your Spouse — Ever notice that religious Jewish men and women dress very modestly? It’s not because they’re ashamed of their bodies, but rather because they save their sensual side for their spouses. Keep that in mind the next time you dress for a night out with your pals. Yes, you should look your best, but reserve the seductive stuff for those nights you stay at home alone with your spouse.

Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Thy Spouse — OK, so it’s not one of the original commandments, but Jewish law does forbid people from embarrassing others. It’s equated with theft, since embarrassing someone is like “stealing” his or her dignity. Jewish tradition teaches, “Let your fellow’s honor be as dear to you as your own.” In other words, treat your spouse with respect and admiration in public, as well as in private, and you can expect the same in return.

Don’t Carry a Grudge — A marriage’s foundation can crumble under the weight of too many grudges. You’ve heard it a zillion times — “don’t go to bed angry.” Jewish tradition builds this age-old — and excellent — piece of advice into prayers said before going to sleep at night. But even more than that, in Judaism, Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — is the holiest day of the year. The catch is, however, that Jews can’t ask God for forgiveness until they’ve asked for forgiveness from the people they may have wronged. Take note — offer and accept apologies often.

Meaningful Conversations Encourage Meaningful Marriages — Remember when you were dating and you had in-depth conversations about current events, art, literature and other interesting issues? Keep that in mind the next time you notice that all you and your spouse seem to talk about is what to add to the grocery list, whose turn it is to wash the dishes and how much the neighbors spent on their new sofa. Jewish tradition reminds people to respect their spouse’s intellect, because when your conversations become too trivialized, your marriage does too.

Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder — According to Jewish law, a husband and wife should refrain from sexual relations during a specific part of each month. The time apart forces a couple to relate to each other in other, non-physical ways. Pick a few days each month to stay apart, and you’ll find it brings you closer together.

Thanks Are Welcome — Sure, we always say thanks for a great birthday present or an effusive compliment. But what about for the day-to-day things like a freshly prepared meal, cleaning the bathroom, taking out the trash and sharing the last serving of ice cream? Jewish tradition reminds people to appreciate the small stuff. There are blessings to be said before and after eating a small snack, upon wearing new clothes for the first time, upon smelling beautiful fragrances and upon seeing fruit trees in bloom for the first time each spring, among others. Remember to thank your spouse for the small things they do each day, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls of taking each other for granted.

Get to Higher (Spiritual) Ground — Yes, marriage is about two people, but you can’t focus on yourselves to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Jewish tradition encourages couples to bring spirituality and godliness into their homes and lives.

Whatever your religious beliefs, if your marriage has a higher purpose — whether it’s to transmit your religious heritage to your children, help the homeless or save the environment — you’re sure to develop a stronger, long-lasting connection to each other.

Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald is founder and director of the National Jewish Outreach Program (

H.O.P.E. for Los Angeles’ Bereaved

I felt like a third wheel,” Shirley said.

“I never felt more alone,” Diane said.

“I felt my oneness,” Helene added.

These women, along with 12 other females and two men, all in their 50s to their 80s, sat in a circle in Valley Beth Shalom’s Lopaty Chapel in Encino. They were reporting on the setbacks and successes of the past week, coming from cities as far away as Whittier and Thousand Oaks as they do every Thursday evening because of a common bond: Their lives have been shattered by the death of a spouse.

Here, they are members of Group Three, one of the many groups offered by H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation for Bereavement and Transition, the oldest and largest grief support organization in the greater Los Angeles area, according to Dr. Marilyn Stolzman, H.O.P.E.’s executive director since 1982. And they are dealing with profound sadness and loneliness in a caring and communal setting as they seek to rebuild their lives.

Licensed family and marriage therapist Bonnie Ban, facilitating this group, whose spouses have died 11 to 14 months previously, asked the members if being alone has gotten any easier.


“A little.”

“It’s changing. And my dog helps.”

Clearly, many participants are making progress.

“On Saturday I was missing my husband 10 times more than ever so I decided to go to a movie,” Beverly said.

“I made my first dinner party last week,” Elinor boasted.

Ban reminded them that time is passive and grief is active.

“You have to make the effort to go through the discomfort,” she said.

To accomplish this, H.O.P.E. — established in the 1970s and which stands for “hope, opportunity, participation and education” — offers seven weekly grief support groups for widows and widowers. Five are held at Valley Beth Shalom on Thursday evenings and, for the past seven years, two at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles on Tuesday evenings. The organization also offers a weekly family loss group for parents, siblings and other close relatives as well as two monthly alumni groups and a cancer support group.

What makes H.O.P.E. unique, according to Stolzman, is that the groups, which generally include 10 to 15 participants, are organized according to months of mourning, allowing participants of varying ages to experience similar issues as they progress unevenly through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief and mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Those in Group One, for example, who have lost a spouse within the past four months, are still in intense pain. Group Four members, on the other hand, 15 to 24 months out, are still sad but are moving toward acceptance and a redefined life.

The H.O.P.E. groups, whose ratio of women to men is 7:1, reflecting the national population of widows and widowers, are facilitated by licensed therapists, who are paid for their services and who have additional training in bereavement. This approach differs from other organizations such as Our House, whose grief groups are led by supervised para-professionals.

Not everyone, however, believes in the necessity of bereavement support groups. The new “Report on Bereavement and Grief Research,” published in November 2003 by the Center for Advancement of Health, concluded that bereavement counseling for adults not experiencing “complicated grief” did not alleviate the sadness and pain. Instead, the report found that symptoms normally and gradually receded over six to 18 months.

H.O.P.E.’s Stolzman disagrees, citing David Spiegel, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of “Living Beyond Limits: New Hope and Help for Facing Life-Threatening Illness” (Crown, 1993). He found that people who attend support groups do 50 percent better in the healing process than those who do not.

Stolzman points to the success of the group process — the power of participants to tell their stories, and to refrain from offering advice, and to give hope to others as well as their ability to listen empathetically and actively to group members. She also refers to the effectiveness of humor. “We owe it to our audience not to make death and dying deadly,” she said.

Plus, it’s a Jewish concept not to hide or run away from death, according to Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, herself a marriage and family therapist, who refers widows and widowers of all ages to H.O.P.E.

“But we live in such a grief-light society that most people want to get rid of any bereavement experience,” she added.

That includes well-meaning family and friends who often lose patience with the mourner, asking questions such as, “Are you still going to that grief group?” or, “Aren’t you over that yet?”

As Joan, a member of Group Three, said, “They think [losing a spouse] is contagious.”

Thus, many participants find that H.O.P.E., a group they never wanted to belong to, becomes an indispensable part of their lives. Members often meet for dinner before group sessions and go out for dessert and coffee afterward. Many socialize on Saturday nights and sit together at Yizkor (memorial) and High Holiday services. They also provide support for each other during the week via the telephone, sometimes in the middle of the night.

“Family and friends say they know how you feel, but only the people in the group really know,” said Hy Cohen, 75, of Encino, a former H.O.P.E. participant.

Additionally, as members transition to creating new lives, H.O.P.E. helps them with such issues as dating and sexuality. Cohen, now remarried to someone he met through H.O.P.E., reflected, “I remember that first date. I got home from work and showered and put on cologne. I was nervous … like a teenager.”

Stolzman advises newly bereaved to wait at least three weeks after the death of their loved one — and sometimes as long as six months — before joining a support group. People can also join any group along the grief continuum at any time. Stolzman suggests that potential participants come at least three or four times, with a family member if necessary, before deciding if H.O.P.E. is the right place for them.

H.O.P.E. is nondenominational, though 90 percent of its members are Jewish, representing 21 different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. And while many find it comforting to meet in a synagogue setting, grieving is a universal experience that, for most people, cuts across religious boundaries.

The organization is a nonprofit, charging a suggested fee of $25 per person for each session but not turning anyone away. Still, the fees and annual fundraiser, which this year brought in $12,000 and which Stolzman described as “good for us,” don’t cover operating expenses. With two locations already accommodating about 135 people weekly and with new referrals arriving regularly, Stolzman would like to expand the program, funds permitting.

Two years ago, H.O.P.E. was able to found two alumni groups which meet monthly and are run by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jo Christner, a former H.O.P.E. counselor who moved away but who returns each month as facilitator.

“It’s a group about life,” Christner said. “It’s a place to meet others, to create new friendships and to continue a changed life as a ‘single.'”

Anyone who has lost a spouse more than two years ago is eligible to join.

In all the groups, participants learn that even as they become stronger and begin to create new lives, they can still have a continuing relationship with their spouse, even though he or she is no longer there.

“I loved Norm my whole life,” Group Three’s Helene said. “I love him more now.”

Therapist Ban explained that the love is now more pure.

“The person has died but the relationship still exists,” she said.

And yet, participants eventually can move forward.

“I was with one spouse for 45 years and I loved my wife very much,” H.O.P.E. graduate Cohen said. “But life goes on.”

For more information about H.O.P.E Unit Foundation’s bereavement groups or to make a donation, call (818) 788-4673 or visit

Discovering Keys to Lasting Matrimony

“Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More,” by Sheryl P. Kurland (American Literary Press, $39.95).

In the late 1940s, Ron Farrar’s and Joan Pachtman’s passion to help those in need charted the course for personal passion and lifelong matrimony. The West Hills residents met in college, when Ron was a member of a veteran’s organization and Joan belonged to a service club.

The two groups shared office space, and their frequent sittings led to another common interest — each other. Today, 53 wedding anniversaries later, their love is deeper and richer than ever before.

In the United States, according to the National Marriage Project, the odds of a marriage lasting, much less lasting over 50 years, are dim. Statistics released by the organization show:

• The U.S. divorce rate is close to 50 percent;

• Today’s divorce rate is more than double that of 1960;

• The number of people getting married has declined 40 percent from 1970 to 2002;

• The more partners people live with, and the longer the time they live together, the more likely they will eventually divorce.

Even with shelves full of self-help marriage books available today, the statistics aren’t improving. Celebrity divorces are splashed across news headlines: Celebrities terminate marriages as if they’re spilling out a bad cup of coffee.

We rarely hear of success stories of real marriage experts, like that of the Farrars.

The Farrars are one of 75 couples I interviewed — husbands and wives separately — across the United States and Canada who’ve celebrated no less than their golden anniversaries. Two other couples from the Los Angeles area are also featured in my book, “Everlasting Matrimony”: Russell and Ruth Blinick of Chatsworth, married 52 years, and Arthur and Anna Cohen of West Hills, married 54 years.

What makes a marriage loving and lasting until death do us part? The lessons in “Everlasting Matrimony” are innumerable. The Farrars, Blinicks and Cohens share theirs:

Accept nothing less than permanence.

“There are many wonderful ups and difficult downs in the course of a long marriage and certainly moments of wanting to flee,” Russell Blinick said. “There slowly evolves, however, a realization that something strong and reassuring is being established.”

Blinick echoed a stalwart philosophy expressed by others in the book that divorce was never an option.

Today’s naysayers challenging this core commitment believe that this generation of couples stayed married, no matter how miserable the relationship became. On the contrary, no matter how difficult the circumstances, their attitude and determination to keep the marriage afloat never wavered.

Through compromise and communication, and patience and understanding, harmony eventually was restored. Ultimately, the marital bond became more meaningful, sacred and rewarding.

Sprinkle anger with humor.

“It took us many years to learn how to ‘fight,’ but now we are aware that we have periods of stress, can argue, get it out on the table and negotiate it, and then let go of it,” Ruth Blinick said. “A sense of humor is always important.”

Disagreements can only be solved with each spouse giving a little here and there, with one person sometimes abdicating more than the other. Laughter is often the best anecdote for problems.

So what if she mistakenly threw out the green bean casserole that he was going to eat for lunch? Is it a major offense that he erroneously read the friend’s party invitation, and they showed up on the wrong date? Chastise or chuckle? The choice is yours.

Be willing to make changes. Children, money, health — different factors, planned and unplanned, impact a marriage over the years.

“Ideally, both [partners] should be able to change; to initiate change and anticipate change, and sometimes switch roles,” Anna Cohen said.

There’s no pat formula for a solid, loving marriage. Additionally, the formula that works today will require alterations over and over and over again throughout the years.

Capitalize on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Pooling talents, skills, likes and dislikes creates a dynamic duo.

“We found that we worked very well together as a team,” Joan Farrar said. “When we teamed up, we found that we could do anything together.”

Feeling good about the relationship requires first feeling good about yourself.

“A long-lasting marriage demands loving, liking and respecting. If I love, like and respect me healthily, I will love, like and respect thee healthily,” Arthur Cohen said.

Being self-content as an individual is essential to the health of couplehood. Complacency of either partner produces stress and anxiety in the relationship.

When talking with each couple, it was easily evident that their hearts still go pitter-patter. Each spouse was quick to praise the other for the success of the marriage.

Ron Farrar’s closing words well represented the depth of their love: “I love her [my wife] dearly — far more than at the beginning of our marriage…. I find myself grateful to the point of tears that I ended up with the girl I did.”

Sheryl P. Kurland resides in Longwood, Fla. For more information, visit

Widows, Widowers Seek Ways to Cope

When Esther Goshen-Gottstein’s husband of 39 years died, she felt like her world had crumbled.

“The bottom had fallen out my life, as in an earthquake, when the ground on which one has stood firmly for years suddenly collapses,” she writes in “Surviving Widowhood” (Gefen, 2002). “Would I have to wait for rescue workers to pull me out and put me back on my feet?”

Unfortunately, as Goshen-Gottstein made clear in her book, there is no road map for how to get back on your feet; no emotional recovery drug that can make it all OK. Most people must navigate on their own this desolate landscape of loss. Yet there are things that they can do that can make this experience at least bearable, if not easier: join a bereavement support group, turn to rabbis for religious guidance .

“Surviving Widowhood” is one of a number of Jewish books on dealing with loss. But what makes it unique is instead of citing hard-andfast-rules about how people should act when their spouses die, she walks them through her own experiences and, using her skills as a psychologist, is able to thoughtfully analyze her own and others’ reactions to the gamut of emotions bought about by the experience of death.

For the author, dealing with the death of her husband Moshe — a well-known academic in Israel and the winner of the Israel Prize — was an ongoing process that continued long after the shiva (seven days of mourning).

The book is unflinchingly personal and she does not shy away from talking about the little things that his death affected, such as changing habits that had become second nature, like transitioning in speech from “we” to “I.” The hardship in having no one to share the minutiae of life, she finds, is one of the most difficult things to deal with.

She also writes about the role that Judaism played in her emotional recovery. Goshen-Gottstein found the moratorium provided by the shiva “allowed me to express my grief uninhibitedly. What a relief it was not only to know what to do, but also how long you have to do it.”

Yet, there are other philosophical aspects of Judaism that can help one deal with loss, said Rabbi Levi Meier, chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“The major way that Jewish people cope is through real belief and religious imagination that the future good can already be experienced now,” Meier said, referring to the feeling one has when one recovers emotionally from the loss. For those not spiritually evolved enough to see the silver lining in a horribly dismal rain cloud, Meier says that sitting shiva and reciting ‘Kaddish’ can ease the pain.

“The recitation of ‘Kaddish’ is like an incessant dialogue with the deceased, because when you say ‘Kaddish’ you are constantly thinking about the deceased, and they become more visible as a result,” Meier said. “Also, the laws of mourning don’t let you mourn by yourself. When you sit shiva, people come to visit, people come to the funeral and when you go to shul to say “Kaddish” you need a minyan. You need to mourn with a community, so you might feel existentially alone, but still connected to other people.”

While it might be important to feel connected to the outside community, many people who are grieving feel the need to talk to others who are sharing their experiences. Many synagogues, such as Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Temple Isaiah on Pico Boulevard offer bereavement support groups where people can meet others who are going through the same thing. Typically therapists or trained counselors run these groups, and people usually attend them for one to two years.

“I think every single emotion comes into grief,” said Fredda Wasserman the adult program director at Our House, a Woodland Hills organization that provides grief support services. “From sadness, guilt and anger, to joyful memories and sometimes relief. People usually don’t know to expect all of that, and don’t know that all of that is normal. Going to a bereavement support group provides people with a lot of long-term support. People often feel that they don’t want to be a burden to someone else by having to share their feelings, but in these groups, they are talking to other people who know what they are feeling and what they need.”

“Grief is not a psychiatric disorder,” she continued. “It’s a normal reaction to natural process, and people’s feelings, emotions and responses can be normalized when they are with other people who are going through the same thing.”

“All these things are cathartic.” Meier added, “Ultimately, after you lose someone and you go through the process and do as much as you can, you actually come out of it stronger, with a greater sense of faith, a greater understanding of God and a greater understanding of life and of death.”

For more information on bereavement support groups in Los Angeles County, visit the Jewish Bereavment Project’s Web site at

Single in the City

It’s 8 p.m. on Friday and a large crowd has gathered in front of Congregation Ohab Zedek (O.Z.) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Blue police barricades have been set up to keep more than 500 20- and 30-something congregants from blocking the street. The wooden barriers are mostly ignored. There is little room for cars to pass.

It’s not a special Jewish holiday, it’s simply another Friday night at O.Z. where hundreds of Orthodox Jewish singles have come from around the world — to pray, to socialize, and all (whether they admit it easily or begrudgingly) to find a spouse.

The Upper West Side, stretching roughly from the upper 70s to the lower 100s and from Central Park West to Riverside Park, is known in the religious Jewish world as the place for Orthodox singles to live in the years between college and marriage. More than 60,000 Jews live there. Outside of Israel itself, it is the Jewish community for young singles.

"Growing up, you just know that that’s where you go," said Jennifer Cohen (all names of singles have been changed), a 26-year-old Los Angeles native. Cohen moved to the Upper West Side 18 months ago. Raised in a modern Orthodox home, Cohen received her degree from Boston’s predominantly Jewish Brandeis University, worked as a project manager in Los Angeles for a few years and then made the pilgrimage to Manhattan. "I came to New York because I knew that if I stayed in L.A., the chances of my meeting a suitable Jewish husband were very slim," Cohen said.

Cohen has not yet found her husband, but is open to the possibilities New York presents. Like many Jews in New York and around the world, she has registered on, a Web site for Jewish singles. Cohen has met and dated a number of men through the service.

There have always been large numbers of Jews in New York. However, according to Sol Zalcgendler, executive director of O.Z., large numbers of young Jews started moving to the Upper West Side around 1988 because the rental market changed, making housing more affordable to young people

Recent college graduates moved to Columbus Avenue as they started their first jobs, Zalcgendler explained. At that time, two large apartment buildings, the Westmont and the Key West, had a number of vacancies available. Located adjacent to each other on the western corners of West 97th Street and Columbus, the buildings are in the neighborhood of a number of synagogues including Kehilat Orach Elizeer and the Lincoln Square Synagogue, as well as O.Z, which is less than two blocks away.

Today, the two apartment complexes are known as "dormitories" for religious Jewish singles. Most doors in the building have mezuzahs affixed to them, making it easy for residents and nonresidents alike to determine who is observant. Saturday afternoon, a crowd of suit- and kippah-wearing young men and well-dressed young women are known to socialize in the lobby or in front of the building.

Though most prefer not to say they came to New York to date, a majority of the single, religious Jewish men and women will admit they came to Manhattan for "the community." Twenty-seven-year-old Leah Silverstein from Philadelphia defined "the community" as men and women in their 20s and 30s who keep kosher and are shomer Shabbat.

"There just isn’t anywhere else to go," Silverstein said, meaning that there isn’t anywhere else to go for singles.

Silverstein is currently dating a 31-year-old man from Boro Park. The couple have been dating on and off for over a year. He brings her flowers on Shabbat and the two meet for dates frequently each week. Following Orthodox custom, the two are shomer negiah, which means they follow the law forbidding unmarried men and women from touching one another. Silverstein will not discuss how strict the two have been (some couples only refrain from intercourse), nor whether they have ever kissed, but Silverstein’s roommate said she had never seen them touch.

Not all Jews on the Upper West Side who consider themselves Orthodox will practice the laws of negiah. Many admit to kissing and "fooling around" and, without disclosing names, some tell stories of the "Tefillin Date," where religious men bring their tefillin on dates because they will be sleeping over.

After marriage, most couples leave the Upper West Side and Manhattan altogether.

"I would never raise kids here," said Josh Hirsch, a computer specialist originally from Pittsburgh. Hirsch moved to Manhattan a couple of years ago. While he said he did not move to New York to date, he admits it is a factor for many.

"Honestly, let’s face it, if someone wants to get married nowadays, it’s better to be where there is a high concentration of people from which to pick," Hirsch said.

"Judaism is a community-based religion," he added. "For a 25-year-old, New York is a great place to be." But the city is not a place for children, he said. "It’s gritty, dirty, just not comfortable. There’s no grass or backyards." After he marries, he hopes to buy a home in the suburbs.

Hirsch echoes the sentiment of most Upper West Side Jewish singles. They come from far and wide but they hope the duration of their stay will be short.

If marriage and subsequent flight is the goal, 26-year-old Rebecca Gold is one success story. Gold, originally from Los Angeles, first came to New York to attend Stern College, a women’s school under the auspices of Yeshiva University. After college, she moved to the Upper West Side because "everyone comes here."

Gold met her fiancé through friends on a "set up." Andrew, who will only go by his first name, lives in the Key West but is originally from Teaneck, N.J. On their first date, they went to Abigail’s, a kosher restaurant and popular dating destination in the Orthodox world. They dated for 12 months, with a three-month break-up in the middle. After the two married in November they planned to leave Manhattan for an apartment in Riverdale, a Bronx suburb with a large community of Orthodox Jewish families.

Although Gold found her husband on the Upper West Side, she warned against singles moving to New York for the sole purpose of finding a spouse: "I don’t think it’s healthy to come out here to date because you’ll always be disappointed." Then again, it worked for her.

Marital Bliss

A story is recorded in the inspiring biography about the late Jerusalem rabbi Aryeh Levin, “A Tzaddik in Our Times.”

One of the rabbi’s students was about to be married when he came to Reb Aryeh and asked: “How should I behave toward my wife? How should I treat her?” Reb Aryeh looked at him in wonder and said: “How can you ask a question like that? A wife is like your own self. You treat her as you treat yourself.” And, indeed, when his own wife, Hannah, felt pains, he went with her to Dr. Nahum Kook and told him, “My wife’s foot is hurting us.”

This same idea is found in the Torah, where it permeates the life of the first patriarchal couple, Abraham and Sarah. It is not surprising, therefore, that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz wrote in his work, “Biblical Images,” “Abraham and Sarah were not just a ‘married couple’ but a team, two people working in harmony.”

We might wonder, however, how Abraham and Sarah transformed their marriage from “married couple” into a harmonious “team.” Perhaps the answer can be found in a puzzling incident. The Torah relates that soon after arriving in Canaan, Abraham and Sarah had to leave for Egypt because of a sudden bitter famine. As they approached the border of Egypt, Abraham commented to Sarah, “Behold, I now realize that you are a woman of beautiful appearance” (Genesis 12:11).

The commentaries question how Abraham could have made such a statement, as if he were seeing Sarah for the first time, when, in fact, the two had already been married for many years. Rashi, the classical commentator, likewise was perplexed, offering us not one but three answers to the problem. His last answer, labeled “the simple explanation,” seems most intriguing. Rashi suggests that Abraham always had appreciated Sarah’s beauty. He was not an ascetic, oblivious to physical reality, but, instead, recognized the true extent of her attractiveness. His unexpected remark was made, therefore, because he also realized that she would be attractive to the Egyptians, and he had to protect her. In worrying about her welfare, he demonstrated that her problem wasn’t simply her own; rather, it was their problem.

With this in mind, we can comprehend the next words in the text, which state that Abraham said to Sarah, “Please say, therefore, that you are my sister so that it will go well with me for your sake, and my life will be spared because of you” (Genesis 12:13). How, we must wonder, could Abraham ever have jeopardized Sarah’s life in order to save his own? Abraham, however, is really saying that he and Sarah are one. By saving himself, he likewise would save Sarah, and, therefore, he is totally justified in offering this plan of action.

A number of years ago, when the late sage Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach of Israel lost his wife after 50 years of marriage, he eulogized her and declared: “It is customary to request forgiveness from the deceased. However, I have nothing to ask forgiveness for. During the course of our relationship, never did anything occur that would require either of us to ask the other’s forgiveness. Each of us led our life in accordance with the Shulchan Arukh, the Code of Jewish Law.”

When I heard this story, I wondered how anyone could make such a statement! But then I realized that Rabbi and Mrs. Auerbach had models whom they followed. They had an image of how to treat each other, and they followed that image in every aspect of their relationship.

The image of biblical figures such as Abraham and Sarah, and of contemporaries such as Rabbi and Mrs. Levin and Rabbi and Mrs. Auerbach, can inspire all of us if we consider what our spouses really mean to us. Our mission in life is to emulate these models to the best of our ability, because when we do, we achieve real marital bliss.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.