Sunday, February 17, 2019

You are IT

Saturday evening, Father Milt Raybould and I co-officiated Veronica and Michael’s wedding ceremony, in the Crystal Ballroom, at the Rice Hotel, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first things I ask each couple is how they met. Here is an atypical answer to this question, given to me by Michael here, “Veronica and I disagree as to when we first met.” Oh, well… He continues, “My first memory is her sitting right behind me in our property exam first semester of law school. She was having computer issues and I was trying to lighten the mood. Apparently, I failed as she does not remember this interaction.” Ouch!

Now, especially, in light of Michael failing to make that memory stick in Veronica’s mind, what she says next might surprise you, “I knew I wanted to marry Michael very early into our relationship. About 4.5 months after we started dating and after a few too many drinks out with friends, I was at his apartment and I remember telling him over and over again, ‘You are IT Michael Gross. You are it for me.’ I knew THEN that he was special, what we had was special, and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.” Michael also says, “I have wanted to marry Veronica for years.”

What was it that brought these two together, and caused them to know so early on that they were destined to be together? Surprisingly (not really), Veronica puts this into words a little better than Michael does, but I believe that she speaks for both of them. From interacting with them, you can see that the feeling is mutual:

“He is an incredible person. He is kind, smart, funny, caring, selfless, giving, thoughtful, intelligent, confident, energetic, and incredibly attractive. He has an infectious energy. He is always putting the needs of others before his own. He is the first to offer help if he sees someone needs it, and goes above and beyond without thinking twice about it… He respects me, he listens to me, and he supports me. He makes me want to be the best version of myself, and he helps me be just that. I have never had to question the love he feels for me and his commitment to me. He is truly my partner and I know that I am his.”

When you feel so strongly about someone, when you know that this feeling is based on the caring and devotion that person shows not just you, but other people, when that person makes you want to be the best version of yourself, is it any surprise that you know early on, that they are the one? Not at all. With that said, let’s catch up to where they were 4.5 months in, and make that law school dream a reality…

Saturday, February 2, 2019

We Fit Together

Saturday morning, Father Tony O’Donovan and I co-officiated Jenny and Dan’s wedding ceremony, at Wildwood Inn, in Denton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

There was something mysterious about the first time Jenny and Dan met. Here is what Jenny says about that encounter: “When I, actually, first saw Dan and he smiled at me, I felt like I had known him before, and my heart was happy that he had come back to me.” This is what Yogi Berra would call “déjà vu all over again.”

There is, in fact, a Jewish tradition, that likely stems from an earlier Greek tradition, that contends that meeting that special someone is not meeting someone new, but returning to an original partner. The Ancient Rabbis argued, based on specific linguistic choices in the creation stories in Genesis, that the original human was created as one being, both male and female. Then, God put this being to sleep, and separated it into two beings, one male and one female.

Dan tells a story that illustrates this complementary wholeness Jenny and he bring to one another: “Jen and I would often have conversations about the future and I would tell her how important I think math and science are for kids especially in the current digital age. I jokingly told Jen that instead of teaching our kid letters and numbers we should teach them the binary system.” Now, Jenny does, actually, work with kids; she has for her entire career, in one way or another. The binary system, I suspect, did not come up often, in that work. She could not have been blamed for gently pointing this out to Dan. That is not what she did. Here’s what she did do: “One day, I discovered that Jen had created a Pinterest board for me and our future child, complete with science and math books for our future child to read.”

In this Jenny illustrated the proper understanding of the ancient tradition. It does not contend that the two parts of this original being were identical or even symmetrical. That would actually be rather boring, and would contain it very little potential for mutual enrichment. It tells us something very different. When we find that true partner, the one we were separated from, we realize what Jenny did, “I had never felt anything like that before… It just seemed that we fit together, and that he was the one that I had been waiting for, for so long.” 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Where One Ends and the Other Begins

Saturday evening, I officiated Brittany and Joe’s wedding ceremony, at the Westin Stonebriar Hotel and Golf Club, in Frisco, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One thing that fascinated me about this young couple is that they reminded me of something that I read about an old couple, a couple that has been married for more than 70 years, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter.

Friends of the Carters say their bond is so strong that it's, "difficult to know where one ends and the other begins." I got that feeling from spending time with Brittany and Joe, too. It was palpable in how they spoke of each other, looked at each other, acted together, and even in how they cared for their dog together. Not to be too cliché about it, they seemed perfect for each other.

Listen to how Brittany speaks of Joe, “He is my knight in shining armor, the hero of my fairy tales, the dragon tamer, the dog whisperer, and the man of my heart, my best friend. We elevate each other… He is kind… He chooses to be a positive, giving force…”

There is a second reason this couple reminded me of the Carters. Here is what Jimmy told Oprah Winfrey a few years ago, “We decided fairly early in our life to give each other plenty of space. Rosalynn has her own ideas, her own ambitions, her own goals in life, which, in some ways, are different from mine. I let her do her thing; she lets me do my thing.” Joe, too, says that there was no one he dated, with whom he liked spending time like he did with Brittany, and one of the things that most attracted him to her was her self-sufficiency.

Now, that would seem to contradict what the Carters’ friends say. Which is it: Are they one, or do they do their own thing?

When you consider these two aspects of a relationship just a little more deeply, you see that there really is no contradiction. In fact, the healthiest love is the love of two persons, who are fully developed as their own selves, each self-sufficient, each with their own goals, that they are able to give of themselves to that relationship, loving each other so deeply, that it is hard to know where one ends and the other one starts.

It’s not all that common, for sure, however, when you find that in another person, you don’t want to let go. Joe recognizes this. He says that, “To find all of these traits in the same person was unprecedented (to me), and after a few months I knew that I did not want to stop dating this person, ever.”

Not only that, when you find this type of person with whom you can share a love that straddles these two aspects of an ideal relationship, you know that you are in for a life of learning. As Brittany says, “Marriage is one more way Joe and I can grow together.” That is why she says, There is no one else I would rather be celebrating life’s challenges and joys with than Joe, my almost husband.”

With that said, let’s not wait one more moment, before we remove that “almost” modifier…

Monday, December 31, 2018


Sunday evening, I officiated Jaime and Richard’s wedding ceremony, at Sixty Vines, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In modern, fast moving secular life it is easy to fail to see the beauty, mystery and wonder that are outside of our control, which must be experienced on their own terms, rather than ours. With that, one can miss out on the most important ingredient one needs to have in life, gratitude.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  

Gratitude allows us to see the best in those around us, and how they help us to do better and be better. And in my time with Jaime and Richard I have discovered that this lies at the core of their relationship.

You see this in what Jaime says regarding why she chooses today to marry Richard: “I have never known anyone in my life… that understands me like Richard does. He has recognized and pointed out so many little things that I do or act or say that I've never recognized in myself... and when I think about it, he's spot on. And I am the same person for him.” There’s no mathematical formula for making that happen. You just have marvel at the wonder of the thing, and like Jaime is, be profoundly grateful.  

You see this in what Richard says about why he chooses today to marry Jaime: “I find at this point of my life a deep sense of mystery, wonder and spirituality that ebbs and flows around daily life… (and) there is no one that I would rather spend my time with more than Jaime. She brings humor, joy, fun and non-judgmental honesty into my life everyday – and for that I am grateful.”

As we celebrate Jaime and Richard’s marriage – in Rumi’s immortal words – “Today, let us swim joyously with gratitude.” With that in mind, I recite the words of an ancient Jewish blessing: Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this joyous time.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Other 1%

Friday evening, I co-officiated Katie and Austin’s wedding ceremony, at Whaley Place, in Columbia, South Carolina, with Katie’s grandmother, Jere Long. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It would be odd for me to come to the city where my grandfather, who I am named for, served as the rabbi of the Tree of Life Congregation for 20 years, and not mention it. However, beyond that, I do believe there is a connection between that congregation’s longest serving rabbi, and Katie and Austin.

My grandfather’s life was defined by service, not just to his congregation, but to the larger community in South Carolina, both Jewish and non-Jewish. That is why he volunteered to serve as a civilian chaplain at Fort Jackson, the base that Katie’s mom served at, which caused Katie and Austin to celebrate their wedding in Columbia.

Katie and Austin’s life has also been defined by service, and like many of their comrades, they are very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Austin writes about how he met Katie, “When I was a junior in college, I met Katie through ROTC.” No big deal, right? And Katie’s, seemingly dry description also plays down any difference between how they met, and any other couple meeting through work, “I was a Platoon Sergeant and he was my First Sergeant, so we interacted daily.”

Of course, the lifestyle that Katie and Austin have chosen is very different, from other couples. They belong to what some call, “the other 1%,” in recognition of the fact, that so few of us, actually, serve in the military. There are good reasons behind this demographic fact. Those who command our modern armed forces rarely feel any nostalgia for the days of the draft. However, there are downsides to this, too. This is not only true in our lives as individuals, but in our lives as couples, too.

One of the greatest lessons you miss out on, if you do not serve, is one I cherish from my time serving, not in the U.S. Army, but in the Israel Defense Force. It is simple. Your success or failure is highly dependent on the success of your unit. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the success of the unit, and to make up for any individual weaknesses. Your life could, quite literally, depend on this.  

Now, I am not saying that that is why Austin, incorrigible romantic that he is, took Katie on their first date to (I am not making this up) a gun show. I certainly don’t think he got her into shooting, just so his partner could watch his back. However, it should be noted, that only after he got her into shooting, did they, actually, move in together. Just sayin…

Seriously, though, through the miracle of FaceTime, I have had the privilege of hanging out with these two, and having some deep discussions with them. And, I have had to remind myself of their age. There is a different more mature, quietly confident, air about them, that you don’t see in other American couples their age. There is a palpable sense that they embody what then Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno said, in 2012, when he was explaining the key word in the Army’s motto, “The pronoun ‘we’ reinforces our collective or team effort.”

You immediately understand from interacting with Katie and Austin, that they take this lesson to heart, not only in their professional lives, but in the relationship they have built. They understand the fallacy of the other, misguided, short lived motto of their employer, “Army of One,” for any relationship, particularly marriage.

You can see this in how they built this very ceremony and this entire wedding celebration, with an eye towards the happiness, enjoyment and good feeling of not only they, themselves, but their close and extended family too. You can see this in the tenderness and caring they exhibit towards each other, despite the daily, sometimes grueling, demands of their overseas posting.

The interesting thing you learn in living a life of service, like Katie and Austin do, is that, not surprisingly, it makes you a better individual. That is what the ideal marriage does for you too. Austin says this very well, in words you know reflect Katie’s outlook too, “I proposed to Katie because I truly believe she makes everything I do better… She just makes everything I already love more fun. She is amazing to be around, and she pushes me to be my best. I… truly found the person, that I want to be with… (to) continue to improve my life.” We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Friday evening, I officiated Ashley and Raphael’s wedding ceremony, at the White Room, in St. Augustine, Florida. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

So, this couple is different. Now, that might be a true statement at every wedding. In fact, when I am asked what my typical wedding ceremony looks like, I often say that I don’t know. I haven’t met a typical couple yet; every couple is different. Still, take it from me, THIS couple is different. 

I’ll prove it to you. When I asked Ashley to tell me her story, she started with something I have never heard from any of the 400+ couples I have married: “Since I was born on 8/8/88, one would think my lucky number is 8; however, that is not the case.  According to numerology and 2 different psychics, my lucky number is supposedly 6.” You can’t make this stuff up…

Humor aside (is it ever, though), one thing that stands out about Ashley and Raphael is that they are extremely independent thinkers. They both have not been willing to abide by received wisdom. They have, as individuals and as a couple, approached life rationally and sensibly. They have contemplated big questions, and they have not shied away from the answers they have found, even when this meant they have been outside of the mainstream.

Thinking about big questions can sometimes make you a more abstract person, one less attentive of the needs of actual people. Not Ashley and Raphael. You get the sense that this approach has actually made them more grounded, kinder and more understanding.

Raphael sees this in how Ashley has been willing to inconvenience herself for him and for them: “She was willing to take a leap of faith, and move with me to Lake Worth, so that I could attend FAU. For her (this was) a four year commitment, (which was)... surely daunting, considering we had only been together for roughly one and a half years.”

Perhaps she was willing to do this, because she already knew what a kind and understanding person he was. Here is what she says: ​“I will never forget the day I met Tamir (Raphael Tamir Benaksas)...  I was bored, lonely, and happened to google something that led me to the okcupid website. I decided to sign up. I started randomly looking and reading through profiles, and found Tamir. Tamir’s profile intrigued me. Tamir seemed like... a genuine, caring person. Tamir’s profile made him sound too good to be true, so I decided to put him through the ultimate test. 

I emailed him the word “hi” without a profile picture. I figured a truly caring, nice person would not ignore someone. A perfect person would not judge someone based on their looks. As I waited for a response, I said to myself “I am going to marry this man if he responds”. Tamir responded. We have been together over 5 years. I get to marry the most amazing man alive...”

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Love Language

On Saturday evening, I officiated Arielle and TJ’s wedding ceremony, at the Howell and Dragon, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Nice guys finish last. That doesn’t sound right or proper or just, does it? However, based on the world around us today you could be forgiven for taking this cynical view of the world to heart. 

That’s why Arielle and TJ, and their love story gives me hope. I love their shared philosophy of living. Arielle tells us: “We each need to contribute, be kind to one another, and do our small part to make the world a better place. When you are good to the world, the world is good to you. And not just because (of) karma... I believe that when you are a good person and in a good mindset, you attract and welcome other positive things into your life... Helping others and doing good deeds... being grateful and appreciative of life.” 

It helps to have been raised with a positive outlook regarding people, the world and your place in it, like Arielle and TJ were. As TJ says, “My childhood was surrounded by educated, liberal and kind people who were very spiritual... I... have fond memories growing up... and making lifelong friends.” My most spiritual place is in the wild outside in nature. It always has been.”

One thing that can really enhance this philosophy of life is being lucky enough to find the right partner, who loves you, challenges you, and with whom you can experience mutual growth. As TJ tells us, this is them: “We’ve grown as people, partners, pet parents, and have brought a unique perspective to one another's life. We have learned one another's love language and that partnership and love is much more than a honeymoon romance novel...” 

And part of that is recognizing how lucky you are to have found such a person, and how you need to value that good fortune, since in TJ’s words, “That’s not something that is easily learned or achieved in most relationships.” That’s why he emphasizes how much he, “cherish(es),” their, “relationship and love,” and how much it “has evolved and continues to get better.”

Arielle agrees: “I’ve always wanted to find... my other half, someone who gets me and loves my quirks but also pushes me and makes me be the best version of myself and I do the same for them... I sought a deeper connection, one that will last a lifetime...”

That’s the kind of relationship that is worth waiting for. That’s why Arielle says, “Because it was so important for me to find the right person... I wasn’t in a rush... I wanted to wait until the right person came into my life... It took a while to find him but I did...”

Finally, when you have this outlook, waiting doesn’t even feel like waiting. As TJ says, “We didn’t decide to get married now... it felt natural to get married now.”