I had seen the notice for the Orthodox Union Marriage Retreat several times in the past but didn’t give it more than a fleeting glance. After all, how could a couple justify the cost of the retreat, possibly using precious vacation time from work and making the other necessary arrangements for what seemed like such a luxury if their marriage wasn’t in trouble?
This year when I saw the notice, it occurred to me that we had no vacation plans on the horizon and hadn’t been on any trips for awhile. When I noticed that the retreat was specifically for happily married couples, I became more enthusiastic. The possibility of attending started to take shape in my mind. I forwarded the notice to my husband, Tom, briefly explaining that it might be a fun change of pace. That’s it. No insinuation that our marriage “needed” anything. My husband seemed to feel the same way…he was intrigued. Tom and I have been married for 17 years and between us we have three grown daughters and two granddaughters.
We made the arrangements and started getting excited about our long weekend in the Catskills. Neither of us had been to any such activity as a couple and really had no idea what to expect. The titles of the workshops sounded “nice” and even “dynamic” but neither one of us put much stock in them. It is very rare for a speaker to hold my attention so I thought I would try the first workshop and if I was disappointed, I simply wouldn’t go to the others and would find alternate ways to amuse myself. Tom had a sense of “I’ve heard it all before” and was also mostly into the weekend for the “getaway” rather than the “strengthen your marriage” aspect.
The retreat exceeded both of our expectations. The atmosphere brought my memories back to the Shabbatons of my youth. The hotel, while slightly faded, was grand and so spacious that I experienced a sense of adventure just trying to navigate the hallways and find the ballrooms. Giving a hint of its glamorous past, the grand lobby had several arrangements of comfortable couches which attracted groups of people to congregate between meals and workshops.
With the first speaker on Friday night, I felt like I had come home. Most of the speakers not only held my attention and spoke “my language,” but kept me on the edge of my seat wanting more. Tom was so impressed with the first workshop, “The Art of Being a Listener…An Interactive Journey,” given by Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, L.S.W. and Sharon Zwickler, L.S.W., that he became enthusiastic about selecting subsequent ones.
OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil’s talk on Shabbat morning kept the kahal spellbound. He referenced Dr. Judith Wallerstein’s 25-year study on the children of divorce, and a thought came to me that perhaps the OU’s focus on strengthening marriage is the means to the goal of solidifying the foundation of every society: the family. The strong and happy marriage of a couple permeates the lives of the children, friends, relatives, and even the children’s friends. When a child or an adult walks into a home where the couple is happy, there seems to be a subtle feeling of, “I want this for myself one day.”
We certainly did not come for the food, but were amazed at the quality, variety and quantity of the meals served throughout the weekend from the time we arrived on Friday afternoon until the time we left on Sunday after lunch. The food was delicious! A disciplined person could’ve eaten quite healthily due to the number of healthy options. Tom and I try to eat properly most of the time; however, when we go on vacation, we let our guard down. The delicious treats made “coffee time” special. For those who had to watch their diets, it helped that desserts of the high carb/sugar/fat persuasion were always at separate tables.
We enjoyed meeting and socializing with happy, pleasant couples, some of whom had been to the retreat in the past. The diversity of ages and hashkafot (religious outlooks) kept the conversation interesting and stimulating.
We signed up for this retreat with the idea of “getting away” for a weekend, but we ended up feeling very excited about our marriage, ready to recommend the program to our friends and even thinking of how wonderful it would be to be able to come to the next one!