Following the Garden Shul’s 50th Friday Night Live initiative, during which ‘Golden Globes’ were awarded to couples who had reached over 50 years of marriage, Rabbi Osher Feldman interviewed several of them to reflect on their memories.
These recollections were video-taped for the Simcha TV show, and for this wisdom to be shared in this Chronicle article! Many of the couples were married by Rabbi Israel Abrahams in the 1960s, and they shared poignant memories of the Gardens Shul; in some cases, dating back to the days of their grandparents’ weddings. While their lives together have had ups and downs, the most common source of dispute seemed to be over mistakes their partners had made across the bridge table!
That being said, their marriages have been suffused with an overwhelming sense of care, respect and kindness and a mutual joy was expressed at having been blessed with a perfect lifelong companion. Most of the couples met and started dating in their late teens. Julie and Herschel Peires, who have been married the longest, 64 years, commented: “It doesn’t seem anything like that, as the time has gone by so quickly.” One view was unanimously expressed — the highlight of their lives together was the birth of their children and all the simchas that followed.
In response to the question, “How would you like your grandchildren to remember you?” their answers ranged from “remembering granny’s fudge” to “grandpa’s jokes”, but most importantly, “as always being there for them as a bedrock of stability, sound family values and love.” Issa and Henry Werb spoke of “the memories we’ve created over the years, who and what we are, our shared holidays and celebrations together and our affinity and respect for Yiddishkeit.”
Secrets of success
As to the issue of who the boss is around the house, most of the men pointed to their wives immediately! But upon further questioning, it emerged that there was generally a good balance and fair division of roles, as both spouses found ways to draw on their respective partner’s strengths, rather than focussing on one another’s weaknesses.
Interestingly, most couples noted that very few of their friends had suffered broken marriages, possibly attributable to the fact that their generation was more committed to making things work, as divorce was uncommon and not regarded as an option. Whereas divorce was frowned upon years ago, today it’s commonly accepted. Shirley Nurick, who was a librarian at Herzlia School, commented, “Children today want everything to happen on the first page — if it didn’t all happen on the first page, they weren’t interested. They’ve grown up believing that if it doesn’t work out straight away, then you toss it!”
“People have little patience with one another, and it’s become too easy to give up too quickly,” added Jill Lazard. Furthermore, the art of face-to-face conversation seems to be dwindling as people are far too wrapped up in their cellphones and acquiring material possessions, which are all disposable. Rabbi Feldman added wryly “we live in an ‘I demand’ society — iPhones, iPads and the Wii — it’s got two i’s!”
Most importantly, what are their secrets to success? “We laugh at ourselves and laugh with one another — humour is essential. After a disagreement, I take a deep breath, and when things simmer down, we manage to talk things through calmly, and either agree or agree to disagree,” said one participant. “We’ve learnt to give and take and apologise when we’re in the wrong. We give one another space to grow, pursue our own interests and we enjoy being together when we can. It’s not about changing the other person, but about actualising their potential. We’ve tried to take the best of what we’ve learnt from both our families, and build on that with tolerance and respect.”
The following advice can be offered to young couples today: “First of all find a good person, and be a mensch. Don’t give up when the going gets tough. Enjoy one another — nothing is so serious that you can’t make compromises or try and settle your differences. Of course there will be clashes, but one can’t always do what one wants. Listen to each other, learn to give and take, and give in too.”
Marcia Raymond quoted a ‘saying’ that’s always remained true for her, “It takes two to make an argument and one to make a marriage. If one is working hard at it, it has a chance to succeed, but if both of you are working at it, there you go!”
“Every now and then, something sparks the romance off again, although it takes on a different form.” Indeed, there is romance after 50 years! After notching up 1000 happily married years between the twenty ‘golden couples’, there is clearly a wellspring of rich experience from which we can all draw inspiration.