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Reflections from REALITY's First Couple's Retreat

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This story comes to us from REALITY, a Schusterman initiative and a values-based leadership program that invests in young professionals, empowering them to enact positive social change in their communities.

Jon Marker and Jackie Gold share their thoughts below on a participant-led gathering they organized last month in the Bay Area. The retreat was designed specifically for couples! 

As the sun reduced to a solitary dot on the horizon as it met the Pacific Ocean, stars blanketed the heads of 30 couples who had come to discuss their values and the community they hoped to build in their relationship…

The Schusterman Foundation had done it again -- taking ideas and helping members of their network turn it into reality. The Schusterman Family Foundation has funded REALITY in a number of forms since 2009. The initial trip and the largest subset of participants from all of the trips over the past five years are composed of young people who have worked in education. REALITY has helped these individuals lead values-based lives and reflect on their practice, but what happens when those people meet other people and begin their next phase of life as a couple?

We charged ourselves to figure that out in the first-ever participant-led Couples Retreat where 30 couples from across the United States flew to San Francisco, CA on Veteran’s Day weekend to spend time talking with each other and with their partner about the types of lives they hoped to lead and the values that would drive them. 24 of the 60 participants had no previous engagement with the Schusterman Family Foundation and trusted their partner in joining a weekend of self-reflection. Couples varied in age (mid 20s to mid 30s) and relationship status (dating, recently moved in together, engaged, married, expecting parents, parents). 

In this participant-led gathering the attendees were the experts, facilitating sessions on communication styles, integrating Judaism and rituals into the home, creating a Couples Mission Statement, blending different family cultural and religious backgrounds, Chevruta discussion, family planning, leading hikes, etc. The objective stated for the weekend was to get out of the sessions and interactions with your peers what you needed. If you wanted to make lots of other couple friends, hear from others about family planning, get help on wedding planning or just take the weekend to talk with your partner about your own relationship, all were encouraged. To hear participants describe the weekend in their own words, people saw the goals as:

  • For my husband and I to align our values to ensure we have the home we want. For this open communication to result in tikkun olam as we allow our values to drive our decisions and actions throughout our relationship.
  • To give us time together to re-connect to our priorities for our relationship.
  • To align with your partners on relationship values and goals while learning what it means to be a part of the REALITY family.
  • To bond with your partner and to create a vision for your relationship and ways to act towards that vision.
  • The goal of the retreat, for me, was to spend time away from our day-to-day lives to focus on our relationship in terms of communication, our vision as a couple and also about how Judaism plays into our relationship.
  • To help us determine who we are in our relationships and begin a dialogue that allows each couple to bring their values, both religious and non-religious, into their relationship in a purposeful way. The retreat was also meant to help us incorporate ritual into our relationship to build meaning in our lives and family.
  • I think the goal of the retreat was to help two people grow as a couple. A side goal was to have purposeful conversations about how best to integrate Judaism or social justice into our lives. Another goal was to create a community of couples that can continue to support one another.
  • I think that the goal of the retreat was to bring couples closer together by having them define and create a vision for how to live their values together as well as create a community amongst couples.
  • To share the REALITY experience with our partners and to align our collective values and strengthen our relationship.
  • To bring together REALITY alums and their partners to reflect on how values-based leadership (that we started on the REALITY trip) intersects with your life partner. Your partner is a huge part of your life and it is hard to fully reflect on those life and leadership values without that person there. Also to reflect on Jewish values and how those play out in the growing families present.

Participants were deeply appreciative of Rabbi Will Berkovitz and his wife Lelach Rave from Seattle and Rabbi Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz who came from Jerusalem to share their own experiences. In addition to leading or co-leading sessions, they were able to host consultancies one-on-one with participants of the retreat or as couples.

Couples were able to not only reflect on their own relationships but also meet other couples from the communities where they live. Going forward, this is a promising future for REALITY -- not only growing as individuals, but growing together with a network of values-based couples in our communities. While there were skills learned at this retreat, the most important component was taking the time to listen and learn from our peers and talk about the topics we are often too busy to focus on.

As the stars came out they were met with the Havdallah flame. Many of the couples were celebrating their first Shabbat together and as they sang the niggun they thought about what they would take into the next week and the next phase of their relationships...together.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.