Although the world of psychology has made huge strides, I was concerned that we, as kallah teachers, hadn’t yet caught up
Name: Mindy Wiesner
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Dream: Enhance kallah training
My parents’ home in Melbourne was open to everyone, be it a meshulach from Tzfas or a mechutan from New York. My parents’ patience with their guests, whether agreeable or not, was my first lesson in recognizing the precious soul within each person.
While we’re Belzer chassidim, the school I attended was a cross section of every stripe of Yid, from chassidish to unaffiliated. That’s where I learned to connect to anyone, because it’s not what we wear that defines us but what’s inside — we all have the same fears, hopes, and desires.
Ever since I was a teen, the idea of marriage intrigued me. How could two disparate people, each with their own worldview, build a successful partnership? What made one marriage thrive and another flounder?
I married the boy across the street, literally, and soon my earlier interest morphed into a specific ambition to become a kallah teacher. My opportunity came when a kallah teacher friend of mine, who was moving abroad, trained me in.
The halachos were the relatively easy part of what I needed to learn. Today’s kallahs face different challenges than my friends and I did. Technology’s constant bombardment of stimulation and faux friendship discourage introspection and genuine connection. Additionally, boundaries have become blurred as topics that were once considered taboo are now freely discussed. I knew that reaching these girls would require a deep understanding of their challenges, founded on a bedrock of solid Torah wisdom.
My first stop was the local Torah center’s library. I read every single sefer and book on the topic of marriage. Anything I’ve learned since is held up against the Torah framework to see if it passes muster. Only then do I integrate it into my toolbox.
I then trained as a life coach via the Twerski Institute’s remote learning program. I continued, training as a clinical mental health counselor. PATH, where I studied, has a goal of educating kallah teachers, rabbanim, and dayanim in mental health as it relates to shalom bayis.
As I studied, I began to understand why marriage therapists used to get a bad rap. A generation ago, therapists would approach couples’ counseling as a double dose of individual counseling, not realizing that a couple is far more complex than the sum of two individuals. Although the world of psychology has made huge strides, I was concerned that we, as kallah teachers, hadn’t yet caught up.
Although my journey began as a kallah teacher, I moved on to teaching about shalom bayis, and then teaching kallah teachers. I cover women’s spiritual, emotional, and physical health, from halachah to communication skills to childbirth.
I use my clinical experience to give kallah teachers a thorough grounding in the mental health concepts they need to be familiar with. I teach them signs of addiction, red flags for abuse, and which issues warrant professional help as opposed to guidance from a warm mentor.
Combining my background in classical Jewish sources and up-to-date psychological knowledge, I’m often able to help even veteran kallah teachers understand relationships in new ways.
One kallah teacher who took my class later confided that she’d been in a disconnected marriage. She and her husband are both fine, upstanding people, raising a beautiful family, but it was an empty partnership, something was missing.
One day in class, I explored Dr. J. Resnick’s concept of couples therapy based on strengths and vulnerabilities. When we say Hashem is mezaveg zivugin, I explained, we don’t mean a fairy-tale happily-ever-after marriage, but a marriage in which each spouse encourages the other to explore and heal their own weaknesses.
This kallah teacher initiated a conversation with her husband one night about her vulnerabilities, which progressed to discussing his. They gave themselves couples’ therapy all night! By dawn, they’d transformed their marriage from a polite business relationship to their greatest source of joy, a connection surely blessed with Chazal’s promise of “Shechinah sheruyah beineihem.”
The core of my message is that the real root of most shalom bayis problems is disconnection. If we can use our inner wisdom to build connection, so many other things will resolve themselves.
I once had a client call me up excitedly to tell me how her marriage was improving: “We’re fighting!” she joyfully exclaimed.
She’d been a critical spouse, and her husband had just frozen and tuned out, with the result that there was zero communication. Once she’d learned to create a safe space for discussion, they could both express their real feelings, creating connection — albeit somewhat direct and dramatic — and pave the way for real healing.
Because my topic is a delicate one, constant communication with rabbanim is key. Australia is a quiet little place, so rabbanim and dayanim, both local and those who come visit, are more available for consultations.
On one memorable trip, two dayanim had invited me to Montreal to speak to the women in their kehillah, I was informed that the senior dayan wanted to review my notes — but they weren’t comprehensive enough to hand over. Nervously, I met him in person and gave him my whole spiel. He listened intently, then asked, “When will you come speak for my shul?”
Eventually I did write up my notes comprehensively. One day a kallah teacher borrowed them to complete some information she was missing, and loved their clarity and organization. Her positive reaction encouraged me to consider creating a manual for kallah teachers.
Publishing a book was a leap of faith. It was a nine-month-long process, replete with editing, proofreading, working with a graphic designer, and late-night calls to my printer in Canada, which is literally on the other side of the globe from Australia.
Proud as I am of my book, I hope that soon it will be only one minor tool at the kallah teacher’s disposal.
I’d love to see a worldwide curriculum for kallah teachers, and a global institute for ongoing professional development, so we can constantly upgrade our skills and network with others. I’d love to see us working as a team, sharing our unique wisdom, woman to woman, forging new links in the chain of our mesorah.
An early love: As a child, I loved acting, which is great training for public speaking. It also helped me practice entering another’s mind and seeing the world from a fresh perspective, an invaluable asset in helping me understand my clients.
My mantra: To guide myself, I ask, “What does Hashem want from me now?” To keep my clients and students grounded, I remind them: “Normal is a setting on a washing machine.” (At least the European machines.)
My mentor: My cousin and fellow Melbourne native, Dina Friedman of Chanoch L’naar and Mastery Program fame, encouraged me to pursue my vision.
A distant dream: My mother is a doula, and on rare occasions I’ve had the zechus to help her, which I’d love to do when I grow up. Helping clients with their struggles is a similar process to assisting a birth. My role is simply to support my client, because the wisdom for healing ourselves is in each of us. At one point, we always hit what I call transition. Just like during labor, at that point the client will usually resist, protesting that it’s too hard. Once they accept and go along with the process, you hear the relief in their voice as they welcome a new aspect of their neshamah into the world. Mazel tov!
.(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 709)
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