When someone asks me to officiate their wedding, I first ask the person to tell me about him or herself, and his or her partner. Second, I ask the person to tell me about their vision for their wedding. Third, I ask why it is important to them that a rabbi officiate their wedding. I get many different answers to this last question. Many times the Jewish partner will tell me that there is no way it could be different for them; it just feels natural. This was the answer that Renee gave me, right after she told me that technically she was not really Jewish since she never converted! She definitely piqued my curiosity. I had to hear more!
Last week I officiated Renee and Brian’s wedding at a very special location, the Jewish wing of the historic Main Post Chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. This building was dedicated in 1909 by then President Howard Taft. It has plaques commemorating chaplains, officers, and servicemen and women of the recent and not so recent past. You really feel a sense of the past of our armed forces in the building. Renee and Brian, veteran and current service member respectively, felt just right in this hallowed building, as they are a very special couple. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:
Once you hear Renee’s story in detail and Renee and Brian’s story together, it all makes sense, and has a deeper lesson imbedded in it too. Renee was attracted to the Jewish scene in her youth, and felt very comfortable and supported there. She felt so welcome, that when she joined the army she put down her religion as Jewish. Once again, she felt welcome and supported by fellow Jewish soldiers. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury early on, and had to do a fitness test to move to a different unit. She was very fearful that she would fail the test, or even reinjure herself. Then the Jewish chaplain showed up unannounced, took the test with her, and cheered her on the whole way, till she passed. Obviously, this event made its mark on Renee, and deepened her sense of connection to the Jewish People. This is what brought Renee and Brian to attending their local synagogue today together. They both feel very much at home there. So, of course, it was going to be a rabbi, who would marry them!
In their story Renee and Brian highlight an aspect that is tremendously important for every faith community. Before we think about theology, before we talk about religious practice, before we even mention worship, we must bring comfort. Our most important function as faith communities is to make people comfortable, to bring comfort, to support others. The cool thing about Renee and Brian, is that this is the way they both live their lives. You may not hear them say it, because these are two very modest people. However, if we were able to talk to that chaplain, who ran with her, and her fellow Jewish soldiers, you just know that they would say that Renee is one of the most supportive people they knew. If you would ask Brian’s airmen, and for that matter, if you could ask his canine colleagues over the last 15 years, you just know they would say that this is a guy, who just puts people and animals at ease, and makes them feel comfortable. This is a guy, who will have your back.
Renee and Brian, we are blessed as a community to have you as part of it. We encourage you, as individuals and as a couple to continue growing, to continue setting a great example, and to continue to provide aid, comfort and support to each other and to those around you.