Phil and Helen Kornick

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Once a struggling Jewish couple, Phil and Helen Kornick healed their broken marriage through a program designed for those married in the Catholic faith. No similar Jewish program existed when they researched avenues for personal help within the Jewish community.

The Kornicks legally borrowed the techniques and strategies to develop their own marriage enrichment program based on Jewish values and teachings.

Their program, Tikkun HaBriet (Healing the Covenant), begins with a weekend retreat on June 28-30 at the Marriott Suites Deerfield. Six Sundays of workshops follow that delve deeper into the concepts and strategies. What follows are monthly check ins. The cost is $1,800 per couple including meals and hotel stay. Scholarships have been donated to the cause.

Retired Rabbi Steven Peskind offers spiritual direction during the program, which is led by the Kornicks and two other couples. The couples will share their experiences with recovering their marriages.

Gratitude for the tools they acquired to help their own marriage guided them to develop ways to help Jewish people open the lines of communication in marriages that need recovery.  “There is always an opportunity to reawaken a marriage by improving communication and having the tools to work on that,” Helen Kornick said. “We saw a real need for bringing this to the Jewish community.”

There was support for divorced couples and widows within the Jewish community, “but nothing to say there would be hope for a struggling marriage.”

Phil Kornick, who is an IT project manager, said he was depressed for several years and not communicating with his wife and family.

“That disconnect led to a lot of assumptions on my part that it was my fault and I was doing something wrong,” said Helen Kornick, a special education teacher. “We kept it a very deep secret that we were having these difficulties and had already been married for 21 years.”

She went to two therapists to try to save her marriage and the  therapists tried to prepare her for divorce. “My rabbi didn’t know what to tell me,” she said of additional outreach.

The program the Kornicks adapted is a seminar during which the couples hear 13 presentations over the weekend. They don’t talk or share as a group. They only talk about what they hear and think about with their spouse in the privacy of their hotel room.

“It’s a very important part of our program,” Helen Kornick said. “There is no group sharing. Every couple has to start learning how to focus on their own marriage. It’s very important for couples not to be distracted by other people’s stories. Distractions are maybe why they haven’t addressed some of their own concerns.”

Although a proponent of therapy, she said therapy sessions take a long period of time whereas the group program accelerates the healing in 70 hours of programming over six weeks. “It will bring the couple along to the point of communication faster than they can in individual therapy.”

The Kornicks belong to Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates. The weekend will include the lighting of Shabbat candles, Kabbalat Shabbat and a Havdalah service.

Much focus will be on the concept of forgiveness found in the Torah and Midrash. The biggest challenge in adapting the Catholic program was in the understanding of the concept of sacrament, Helen Kornick said. “In the Catholic faith, a lot of things are referred to as a sacrament. It’s like how Judaism uses the word mitzvah to mean many things. What we did with it is view marriage as a sacred moment in your life and a blessing in your life. We took the word sacrament and we replaced it with covenant—the sacred covenant of marriage that was promised between two people and G-d at the beginning of the marriage. We want to rediscover that and find a connection back to each other.”

“Couples will share and communicate at a feeling level,” Phil Kornick said. “You’re not going to start problem solving immediately.”

“We don’t want anything to be a win-lose,” Helen Kornick said about one of the concepts. “If you have conflict, you can have a win-learn mentality.”

“It is common with couples to let things go, thinking ‘Oh, he’ll get over it or it will work itself out,’” Helen Kornick said. “In many cases it becomes a snowball that gets bigger and precipitates other feelings, frustrations and arguments.

“What you learn in this program is you can stop that snowball, you can come back to the basis of your relationship, the decision to love each other. You have to learn more about where that person is coming from.”

Phil Kornick said through the program he has learned to express his feelings. “I had three colors of feelings: good, bad and hungry. Now I have 200 feeling words. If I can’t quite identify the feeling I will by looking at that list.”

Said Helen Kornick: “And that helps me to understand and listen so I can hear what he has to say.”

This is needed in the larger Jewish community because couples that don’t know how to resolve conflict become unhappy and break their connection to the rest of the community, the Kornicks said. The Pew Report of 2010 stated in a Jewish demographic study that divorce leads couples to unaffiliate with their congregation.

To prevent that outcome, Helen Kornick said, “We feel driven in our passion to nurture healthier marriages.”

For more information about Tikkun HaBriet and to register for the marriage program, visit To connect by phone, call 847-845-1589.

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