Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Really Counts

Saturday evening, I officiated Jeanne and Ronen’s wedding ceremony at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, in San Antonio, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that strike us, Israelis, about Texas is its sheer size. Everything IS bigger in Texas, including, well, Texas. Texans, in turn, are struck by how tiny Israel is. 

I have personally confirmed this story with our former governor and president, which illustrates this fact. George went on the obligatory visit to Israel in 1998, when he was planning his eventually successful run for the presidency. In those days, then future prime minister, Ariel Sharon, would take each prospective candidate on a helicopter ride. He would specifically show them the distance between the Green Line, the border of Israel Proper and the sea, which is just a few miles long. Seeing this #43 exclaimed, "We have driveways longer than that in Texas!" Humor aside, if you have been to a large Texas ranch, you know he was not lying!

Now, there are not that many American states that Israel can lord over due to their small size. Israel is often compared to New Jersey. It's not just because our politicians are usually also indicted shortly after they take the oath of office, just like in New Jersey; their size is similar. And New Jersey is much bigger than Rhode Island, where Jeanne is from. In fact, you could fit seven Rhode Islands inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Fortunately, size isn't everything. Mark Twain lived his latter days in a tiny state not far from Rhode Island, and earlier in life he visited what is now Israel, which was quite a feat at his time. He reminds us of a fact, that Texans would be wise to keep in mind, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog." 

That aphorism is very relevant to this couple. The special intimate ceremony we take part in today is not a Texas sized celebration. That would not fit the personality of this Rhode Island native or this sabra. However, if you know Jeanne and Ronen, you know this: The care they show for one another is great; the commitment they bring to their relationship is vast, and the mutual love they share is without end. And that, my friends, is what really counts. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

With Hearts Open

Saturday evening, I officiated Becca and Daniel’s wedding ceremony at the Wedgewood at the Brittany Hill, in Thornton, Colorado. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Friends, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning, and learning from everyone. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what are they, consciously or maybe even unconsciously, teaching me, and indeed us?

Here is the secret to this exercise, which might sound easier than it is: Shut up and listen. I ask some open ended questions, and I listen to people, as they tell me about their lives. Do you realize how difficult that can be for a rabbi? After all, you don't become a rabbi if you don't really like the sound of your own voice! 
Now, in Becca and Daniel's case, in particular, this really paid off. The way they describe what each of them has been to the other is like poetry. Listen to what Becca says:

"Daniel has been a really large rock in my life. He has challenged me and has pushed me to strive for something better. He's taught me what meaning something to someone actually stands for. He watched my heart break, then helped put it back together. Together... I think we are at a pivotal point in not only our relationship, but our lives as individual people, and we will need the strength we lend to each other in order to make it the best (time) of our... life."

Wow. It's raw, it's honest, and you can tell what an affect Daniel has had on her life. Now listen to Daniel:

"As I look into the future, I can finally see my goals and wants. Becca is a big part of that. Before I met her, I never thought I would have gotten married or have kids. Not because I didn't think I would find someone but because I thought it just wasn't me. Then I met her, and all that changed. She was sweet and caring. She saw good in people, and always thought the best of the world. I tend to be more cynical and rough around the edges. She makes me a better person and man. Where I want to be in life, my dreams and plans have all changed. I can't imagine it any differently."

Again, the raw honesty really comes through. The affect has not only been profound, it has been fully mutual. 

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, we imagine and strive towards a perfect life. But, have you ever met that person who believes that he or she is perfect? Not great marriage material. Counterintuitively, in marriage and in life, in general, the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk ring true: "There is nothing more whole than a broken heart." 

The great Quaker thinker, Parker Palmer, explains this idea. He says that the heart as it is, is closed. It is only when it breaks, that it truly opens up. He cites Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master, who says, God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open. 

That is the lesson Becca and Daniel teach us today too. With hearts open, they now write the next chapter of their life, together. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Next Adventure

Saturday, I officiated Michelle and Matt’s wedding ceremony at the Omni Dallas Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. These are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I truly love Michelle and Matt's approach to life. I believe it may be the perfect vehicle to not only survive (which is kind of boring) but to truly thrive (which is way more exciting) in the world we live in. 
The post WWII era begot a way of life, where for a short period of three to six decades, depending how you measure it, the Horatio Alger myth of American life seemed to become a reality. If you worked hard and played by the rules, you could, regardless of your station in life upon birth, achieve the American Dream. That American Dream was based largely on working for one corporation for most of your adult life, buying a home, and earning a pension. These structures would grant you stability throughout your life. 

Now, this never really was true, but it was not till the late 2000s that this really hit home, just as Michelle and Matt's generation was coming if age, and entering the workforce. They and we discovered that the structures that had defined our lives were truly gone. The question was, what now?

Michelle and Matt have the answer, and I love it. While some saw the tidal wave approaching, and could or would not act, this couple (with a twinkle in their eyes) said, "What if we surf that bad boy?! Now that might be scary, but it would be fun!" That is the secret to their success. 

I couldn't help laughing out loud at Michelle's description of the beginning of their relationship: "During our first few dates I liked Matt a lot but wasn’t sure how much. (Well now! - DSG) I got the impression that he liked me a lot and I loved how open and honest he was. Well, eventually, I was all in!" Lucky for Matt, huh?!

Michelle and Matt's relationship budded, deepened and cemented, as they rode the waves of their professional lives, and traveled the world together. It was on a European trip between jobs for Matt, that he says, "We truly became each other's adventure buddies. I had known Michelle was awesome before, but spending time together in tiny rooms with no A/C and long days of travel helped me realize how much of a perfect fit we were. We... totally clicked."

That sense of adventure was one they honed in their professional lives, their travel, and even in just relaxing together. As Michelle says, "I loved how easy our relationship was, we always had fun even when we were doing nothing. (One) summer, we... (traveled) to Belize. It was then that I realized how little Matt likes to sit still... I loved that Matt was so adventurous and helped me break out of my comfort zone too! We now call each other 'adventure buddies'."

Now, it's important to understand that leading an adventurous life takes some bravery and some sacrifice. Matt appreciates that, when he says, "That's what I absolutely love about Michelle. She is willing to make extreme sacrifices for me, and I can't imagine anyone being in love with me as much as she is." 

It is this love that causes Michelle to say, "He doesn’t know this but sometimes when we snuggle at night silent tears of joy roll down my cheeks, because I cannot believe how lucky I am to be marrying the man of my dreams." It is this love that causes Matt to say, "I am always on the lookout for our next adventure together." Well, Michelle and Matt, how about we start that next adventure right now?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Power Couple

Today, I officiated Mandy and Paul’s wedding ceremony, at Reflections on Spring Creek in Plano, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I officiate for, to write an autobiographical essay, and I ask them to touch upon a few specific points in the essay. Among other things, I ask them to tell me why they want to get married and why now. After all, these are important questions to consider, and no one else, aside from me, can ask them without seeming quite rude!
Mandy showed she was a true Jewess with her answer to, “Why now?” What do I mean by that? Well, they say that Jews often answer a question with a question. Do you know why? Simple: Why not?

That is Mandy’s answer to why she wants to marry now, “Why not?” Fortunately, she does elaborate on that: “I love this man with every ounce of my being, and I cannot be complete without him… Everything in my existence is better because I have him in my life. We are stronger and better together. We often refer to ourselves as a ‘power couple’. There’s nothing we can’t do together, nothing we can’t achieve, nothing we can’t overcome…”

A “power couple” is an interesting phrase. I looked up what it meant in the Urban Dictionary, and here is the top definition, which (once you hear it) I think you will admit, fits Mandy and Paul, like a glove:

“A relationship between two people who are equally as cool as each other. They are as individually awesome and fun to be around as they are when they are together. Neither one depends on the other for their feelings of self-worth – they know in their heart that they are just as valuable to the world as the other. Good looking, optimistic, and sparks a light in the world that people recognize that goes beyond a normal relationship. In a power couple, if one person is flawed, the other person makes up for their weaknesses in strength. Together they are the epitome of what anyone would desire in a relationship. They encourage goodness in the world and make it a better place by being together.”

That final point is the one that stood out to me the most about Mandy and Paul. In my discussions with them, it was very clear that in their professional endeavors, as well as in their personal lives, encouraging goodness and making the world a better place, was of paramount importance to both of them. This is why they work with kids; this is why Paul chose to serve our country in uniform in peacetime and wartime; this why in said essay, Mandy added a whole paragraph just to tell me about their family of seven, the two of them and five members of their furry brood (her word, not mine).

This might seem like a trivial, matter of fact point, but it is not. In a world that seems to have grown colder and less caring, in a world where the fictional Gordon Gecko’s, “Greed is good,” is seen as a positive statement, in a world that mistakes the ownership of things for actual accomplishments, this is very very serious.

The world needs more people like Mandy and Paul, the world need more couples like Mandy and Paul, to encourage goodness and to make the world a better place.

Touch the Face of God

Saturday afternoon, I co-officiated Rosalind and Gillis’s wedding ceremony, with Monsignor Roger Smith, at Nina’s Chapel in Leakey, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:
I was entirely fascinated with something Rosalind had mentioned about finding a mate. Listen to this: “When I was in college, I had this long checklist [of what] I was looking for in a significant other. The list had quite a few superficial characteristics that I realized really didn’t amount to anything, if the guy I was dating didn’t make me feel like I wanted to be a better person every day. So, finding someone who challenged me to do better, to treat others better, to be that better person went to the top of the list.”

Now, Rosalind, I hope you understand that even where you started is far ahead of where most guys are in college. It’s usually not a checklist, certainly not a long one, and it is 100% superficial. Seriously, though, I love that idea of the most important attribute in a mate, being one that would make you a better person, specifically in your interpersonal relations with others.

Now, friends, it probably won’t surprise you that someone who says that this is what she is looking for in a guy, already has this attribute (in spades) herself. Listen to how Gillis describes her: “Rosalind is the kindest, friendliest, smartest, most fun, most level headed, non-judgmental and beautiful person I know.  She is always willing to go out of her way to make other people feel better or more at ease.”

This is not something that happened by accident. This is where Rosalind’s heritage led her. As she says, “While participation at church was at the forefront in my life as a child, perhaps most important to my spiritual growth was the example my parents and grandparents set for me. They express their love not only verbally but also through acts of service, whether it be volunteering in the community or taking care of loved ones who have fallen ill… This expression of love and understanding is one of the family traditions that has helped shape my spirituality, which is constantly evolving and growing today.”

Rosalind vividly describes how she met Gillis, through an acquaintance. When he described Gillis she says, “None of the superficial characteristics on my ‘checklist’ were listed… Instead, he described Gillis as one of the most considerate people he knew. It made me realize that Gillis was someone I wanted to meet even before he arrived that night… He is one of the most compassionate, loving, and considerate people I know. Gillis has a way of helping and teaching people that leaves them feeling that he truly supports and cares for them, and he does…”

In Gillis’s case, this was no accident either. As he says, “While I was raised as and identified as being a Jew, I was always taught [that] being a good person is more important than practicing any single religion… I think being a different religion than those around me, while growing up, played a significant role in my religious beliefs today. I still feel and think God cares infinitely more about what we do than what we believe.”

Well, Rosalind and Gillis, though a rabbi I am, I cannot contend that I speak for God. That said, my studies lead me to not only feel and think that God would care more about what we do, than what we specifically believe; they lead me to know it is so. Continue, therefore, to build your relationship with this understanding in mind, and through your kindness and compassion, as individuals and as a couple, you will, in the words of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., “touch the face of God.”

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Worthy Code to Live By

Saturday evening, I officiated Ashley and Aaron’s wedding ceremony at the Boot Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The way Ashley and Aaron's relationship began is indicative of how the Mars and Venus dynamic between men and women is, shall we say, interesting...
Aaron recounts how he got the ball rolling: "I thought joining an organization would give me the opportunity to make some new friends. At this one particular meeting, the committee chairmen were trying to get some volunteers for different events. Ashley was the head of the Construction Student Association Banquet committee. I thought she was cute, so I decided to volunteer for this particular event. After a few gatherings and me talking to her casually, I mustered up the courage to ask her out on a date.  Our first date lasted four hours, so I would say it went pretty well."

Ashley describes her initial perceptions a little differently: "We had a couple of classes together… until he volunteered for a banquet fundraiser that I was heading up for our department. There he volunteered for about everything I needed help with. Being naive I thought he was just an eager student volunteering for everything to build his professional resume. After a couple fundraiser meetings he mustered up the courage to ask me out on a date." From there they dated for the rest of college, went their separate ways after it was over, reconnected in Dallas, and brought us to this joyous day.

So, what is it that caused that initial volunteering gig there turn into a lifelong commitment? Aaron explains it simply and beautifully, "I believe the reason that we decided to take this life journey together is simply because we are in love with each other.  I believe that we both make each other better people. We both have each other's back no matter what the situation is, and we push each other on many different levels."

Ashley agrees, but she elaborates and adds something fascinating: "I want to marry Aaron because he is not only my best friend but he is my person. I feel that he makes up for my shortcomings, and together I feel that we complement each other and push each other to do our very best. "When I think of how to describe him to others, the very first thing that comes to mind is that he is a good man. He will always stands up for what is right, be truthful even when it’s not the easiest thing to do, and when he cares about someone, he puts their needs before his own and he protects them like family..."

My friends, that would be a worthy code to live by, a code that both Ashley and Aaron have shown they are committed too:
• Stand up for what is right;
• Be truthful even when it’s not the easiest thing to do;
• Put the needs of others before your own.
Let us all strive to live up these ideals.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Sunday morning, Rev. Randy Dicken and I co-officiated Eve and Derek’s wedding, at the Stonegate Mansion, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Eve and Derek might just have chosen the best week for an interfaith Jewish-Christian marriage. On top of that, this might just be the best week for a wedding that unites not just two individuals, but two young families. Why do I say that? Well, this week, our faiths celebrate two holidays, Passover and Easter.

What are Passover and Easter all about? I don't mean the minute details of the stories we tell. I mean what overarching themes are embedded within these celebrations? What is at the core of these holidays that are not just central to our religions, but critical to their founding myths?

Simple; they are all about renewal. They are, after all, Spring holidays. As such they draw on aspects of the human experience that have their roots deeply embedded in the human psyche, that precede the dawn of our great faiths.

Let's think about that word for a moment, renewal. What does it imply? Renew is different from just new. It implies both something new, but also a continuation of something that existed before. Spring, after all, does not, if you will, spring out of nowhere. It emerges from Winter, as the physical world renews itself.

That is what bringing two families together, as we do here today, is all about. That is why earlier in this ceremony, we took a moment to acknowledge the three important individuals that share the stage with Eve and Derek here today. That is why later this week both Christians and Jews will incorporate eggs into their rituals. Because, regardless of the philosophical abstract question regarding what came first, the Easter egg and the egg on the Seder plate were both definitely preceded by the chicken.

This spirit of renewal is what Eve draws on when she says, "Our love and commitment (will) allow us to build a solid foundation and a happy home for our children... It is important to us to show our children what a happy, healthy marriage is." And it is what Derek draws on when he says, "My desire to marry is because I would like to share my life with Eve... I love Eve and want her to know that I want to spend my life with her. It is time... to officially tie the knot."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Keeping It Real

Friday afternoon I officiated Carol and Elliott’s wedding ceremony at the Marty Leonard Chapel, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Carol and Elliott have each spent time exploring their own identity, and searching for their place in the world. The depth to which they have engaged in such contemplation strikes me as something that is beyond their chronological ages. Carol says: “I took to church strongly and was soon heavily involved with the children’s special needs ministry, found the lord and was baptized in the Guadalupe River… Spirituality did a lot for me…” And Elliott says: “As a young teen… I struggled to find my own real spiritual identity… I more or less had to find my own spirituality and beliefs. What I was left with best resembles Reform Judaism, yet not strictly Reform.”

Now, one of the perils of being such a searcher, is that you might take yourself and your beliefs too seriously, to the exclusion of others' beliefs. Not Carol and Elliott. As Carol says, “I wholeheartedly believe that spirituality is a journey that you are never done with, despite the religion one identifies with.” And, Elliott adds a humorous tone, or at least that is how I took it, when he says, “I rarely eat pork.” This reminds of the groom years ago, who shared with me that his grandmother was so religious, that she never ate pork, but would eat bacon, because bacon is just so good!

It is this "keeping it real" approach that made such an impression on Carol. She recounts their first date: We... walked around downtown for around ten or eleven hours. It was amazing. We talked about everything. The conversation was real, unfiltered, and sincere. He acted goofy, told bad jokes, sang and even skipped. It was a breath of fresh air being around someone so real with their opinions and able to be themselves without worrying of judgment."

And, in his recounting of it, Elliott once again emphasizes the depth of thought he found they shared, and the humorous side of it too: "We walked for miles all over town, just talking about everything and anything. Our past, the things we'd been through, the things we wanted in life. There was also an incredible amount of silliness involved as well, with a lot of laughter, I still remember that date vividly."

Carol and Elliott are able to continue to preserve that sense of depth, openness and humor to this very day, and they believe that that is the source of their ongoing bond. As Carol says, "My favorite thing about our relationship is that it mimics everything our first date was." This is why Elliott says, "We're choosing this time to marry because we think it's time, we love each other and we know nothing is going to change that."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Our Better Selves

Saturday morning I officiated Parker and John’s wedding ceremony at the Ashton Depot in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The idea of constantly seeking to learn from every person and every situation is one that has the potential to tremendously enrich your life. This idea was central to Parker and John's upbringings, and they brought this approach to their relationship.

The very birth of that relationship came from the desire to learn. Parker emphasizes the unique setting for that special learning, that led us all here today:

"John and I met the same way my parents met: In an emergency room. Very romantic. I was a first year resident and he a first year medical student. He was working with one of the senior doctors in the ER who did not seem interested in actually teaching him. I wanted to be a teacher longer than I wanted to be a doctor, so I invited him to see patients with me, and we stayed there all night together talking about physiology and taking care of people. I later found out that he stayed hours later than he was supposed to have gone home."

Now, John agrees that that fateful night, "I was eager to learn, and Parker was eager to teach what she knew." However, in addition to that, a plan hatched in his mind, one, notably, Parker does not admit to having shared at the time, "I was attracted to her enthusiasm and kindness, and that night I made it an eventuality that I would ask her on a date in the future. 'Now' intuitively did not feel right. Having decided that, I spent the rest of the night trying to focus on learning medicine from her."

So, about two years later they reconnected, and John was ready to move forward. Parker was hesitant, "Not knowing whether I could get in trouble for any romantic entanglements with a student, I turned him down three times when he asked me out for really fun sounding dates. However, over the following months we kept in touch, and I fell for him." Once again, this man's patience paid off, "Once we started, there was no stopping, and despite her upcoming departure from Seattle back to Texas, we decided a life temporarily apart would be better than a life without each other at all."

Lifelong learning is not just about discovering new things. It is about bettering yourself, becoming the best person you can be, and creating a virtuous cycle where you want to learn more.

This is what Parker and John have found in each other. As Parker says, "I have been looking for John my whole life. He is obviously an impressive man: he is smart, kind, thoughtful, and incredibly capable, he surrounds himself with wonderful people, and I love and fit well with his family. But our relationship brings me so much more than just having a good man in my life. I feel the most myself when I’m with him. He brings out my best qualities. He encourages me to try new things and to rely on myself and to have confidence that together we can accomplish anything we set our minds to."

This is exactly why John wanted this day to hasten and arrive. As he says, "She and I are our best selves and strive to develop into our better selves when we are together... we have learned and will learn from each other and about each other... I want to continue to fulfill her life. (and) I can no longer imagine my own life without Parker."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Age-Old Lesson of the San-San-Kudo

Saturday evening, I officiated Leah and Daniel’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Museum of Art. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests, which drew on an aspect of Daniel’s heritage:

One of the oldest Japanese wedding traditions is the San-San-Kudo. In this ritual the bride and groom take turns sipping saki three times from three different cups for a total of nine sips. Hence the name of the ritual, which literally means "three-three-nine." Odd numbers, specifically three and nine, are considered very lucky in Japanese culture. This ritual's symbolism is simple, yet profound. The hope is that the couple will find good fortune in life, but as all couples also have challenging moments, it contains an implied prayer that they be blessed with a spirit of understanding and cooperation.

When you first meet Leah and Daniel, you might notice, that they are a little different. I mean, for one thing, with Daniel, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, and Leah, well, I hope she eventually comes out of her shell. (Not really…)
Seriously, though, what Leah and Daniel exhibit is really no different than any other couple. If you think about, if you didn’t know better, the idea that two people, from different households, with different backgrounds and having had different life experiences could come together and become one unified unit, might seem preposterous. So, how do you make it work?

Well, you do what Leah and Daniel did. You learn. You put some elbow grease into your relationship. You talk, you listen, you work on yourself, and you learn together. Why? Because, as Leah and Daniel will tell you, that makes you both better for it, as individuals and as a couple. In this context, I love how Leah describes Daniel’s effect on her. Listen to this; it’s like poetry. “Daniel is grounded and calming. He keeps me based solidly in reality… He validates me… He clarifies my world view and does it with infinite patience, humor, and love. I'm lucky. And now I'm crying. Damn it.”

Years ago, one of my mentors shared an insight with me: The ideal marriage does not really create anything new. It validates what is already there. It makes it official. This is what Daniel says, “Marriage… declares… a partnership which already exists... We’ve been together long enough that I know that I love Leah…” Ah, but listen to the rest of what he says; this is the kicker. What is marriage, in fact, if it is not creating something new? It is, in Daniel’s words, “making a promise to Leah in front of friends and family to continually work on and nurture our relationship…”

Leah and Daniel understand that the work they engaged in before, does not end today. They make a public promise to nurture everyday what they began creating seven years ago. That, my friends, is the age-old lesson of the San-San-Kudo. That is the lesson of Leah and Daniel to all of us here today.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Man Plans and God Laughs

Saturday evening, Deacon Keith Boswell and I co-officiated Jordana and Eric's wedding ceremony at Villa Siena in Gilbert, Arizona. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One approach to interfaith relations, between spouses, between friends, even between communities, is to gloss over differences. There are even couples that choose to strip their wedding ceremony of any religious traditions, and have an officiant who is not identified with any religious tradition. Now, if you know anything about Jordana and Eric, you know that is not them.

One fascinating but easy to overlook difference between them is how they each speak of their coming together in relation to any preconceived planning they had in finding a soulmate. Eric, as a staid Midwestern Catholic, simply says that falling in love with Jordana was God's plan for him. The red headed New York Jew standing here beside him, with a twinkle in her eye, does not necessarily dispute this. She does, however, invoke an old Yiddish aphorism, der mentsh trakht un got lakhtדער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט, man plans and God laughs.
Seriously, though, recognizing that planning for your relationship is necessary is one of the best lessons that Jordana and Eric teach us. As Eric says, "We needed some extra time due to our different religious backgrounds to make sure we could have a happy and fulfilled life together." Now, once you don't gloss over your religious differences, and instead acknowledge them, that has the potential of helping you plan for and deal with the host of other differences EVERY couple will (not may, WILL) have. As Jordana say, "I think our pre-marriage differences have helped prepare us for all the unpredictabilities before us in marriage."

Now even if you don't gloss over your differences, religious or otherwise, you can still think of differences as obstacles to overcome. Some view differences in many types of relationships, personal and professional, in just that way. Not Jordana and Eric, though. They see their differences as tools they can use for growth, as individuals and as a couple. As Jordana says, "We have grown to have a deeper appreciation of our differences, and instead of letting those differences divide us, they have only enriched (us)..."

And a funny thing happens when you follow this approach. The very recognition and embracing of our differences often shows us that in their essence, the cores of our ideas are actually closer than we thought. As Eric says, "We came to realize there are many similarities in the foundations of the two religions in regards to how they teach you to lead your life and... treat others." 
This allows us to form bonds much closer than we could ever have, as Jordana says, "My relationship with Eric has grown to be quite different from (the) early days. Today, I feel that I have a lifelong partner, a friend, a silly fool who can always make me laugh, right by my side." And it allows us to recognize the very core of those we love. As Eric says, "Jordana has such a big heart and has so much love to give... She’s... thoughtful and compassionate… She’s beautiful inside and out. I know she will make a great wife and a great mother... This is exactly the kind of person I want to be with for the rest of my life and I feel blessed to have found her!"

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Amazing Grace

Saturday afternoon Father Bruce Nieli and I co-officiated Jacqueline and James’ wedding at the Chapel of St. Basil on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Marriage is about two people, in this case Jacqueline and James, coming together. However, as mentioned before, in this case, as in many, there is that additional, shall we say, "element", grace. Grace is central to this union. 

One of my favorite hymns is John Newton's Amazing Grace. Now, I realize, that due to its popularity in modern culture, that is somewhat like saying that I like chocolate. Still, you must admit that a rabbi saying that a song rooted so deeply in Christian theology, is his favorite, is more man bites dog, than dog bites man. And when you do listen carefully to the words, you not only understand the deep Anglican roots of the hymn, in general, you realize that as it was written, it speaks to the concept of grace, as understood in Christianity to be one of its most central theological ideas. 

So, why does this rabbi, along with many non-Anglicans, and for that matter non-Christians, so love this hymn? I believe that this may be attributed to the malleable nature of the words, and specifically the concept of grace. It may have been written by John Newton with specific theological connotations, but even those of us who differ from Newton in our theology can still identify with the words and the broader meaning of grace in our lives. 

That broader meaning could be defined roughly as an ineffable sense of hope. Grace, in that sense means to us that even when we think all is lost, we need not give up. Hope can pull us through. And the hymn tells me, that that is not a one time occurrence. Life is not easy, it includes struggles along the way, and grace, hope, the triumph of the human spirit, are there to pull us through it all. 

You see that quiet resolute triumph in what Jacqueline says, "We come from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, different educations and religions. We (still) work because our souls (I have truly come to believe) are bound to one another... You are my soul mate, my other half, my best friend – anyway you cut it, you are my person."

You see that hope in what James says, "She is truly everything I have ever wanted in a partner. Her kindness, passion, heart, selflessness, beauty and unwavering love are just the beginning of all that she brings to our relationship and I am as happy as I have ever been and so incredibly excited for our future together."

Poignantly, the hymn speaks of the need for grace as a constant:

'twas Grace that taught,
my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
'tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.

Why does it speak of the need for grace as ongoing? Because life's challenges and triumphs are ongoing, are often intertwined. They stretch across time. 

You can hear this in how Jacqueline speaks of the genesis of their relationship, but also in her ongoing devotion to it, "You met me when I was at many crossroads – I was ready and lost all at the same time. As you have discussed with me before – you were too... Whether you believe it or not – you are one of the most amazing men. I would redo every sacrifice and exception that I ever made for you – time and time again."

James also echoes the idea of the ongoing need for and power of grace in his words about Jacqueline and her mom as ongoing forces in his life, "Her daughter... brings tremendous love and passion to our relationship and is a guiding force behind many of our most important decisions and plans. They both have brought incredible joy and happiness to my life and I cannot imagine a life without them."

Indeed, grace unearths in us feelings of hope, love and strength, just like it did in the soul of John Newton. As James says, "I have never felt the way that I do now and I always want to continue and further this feeling of undying and unwavering love and happiness." Or, as Newton might put it, "Unending love, Amazing Grace."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How Lucky They Are

Saturday evening I officiated Rachel and Drew’s wedding ceremony at the Historic 512 Building, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first questions I, and many others, ask Rachel, when they first meet her is if she is related to "those" Rothschilds. For a question she constantly has to answer, she is surprisingly good humored about it. She told me that though the answer is no, that name can still help you get a good table at a restaurant...

Now, interestingly, that idea touches on in an important concept in all our lives, one we are sometimes loathe to think about, the power of luck. Because, if you think about it, really the only difference between the heiress, Charlotte Henriette de Rothschild, and Rachel Rothschild is just that, luck. And paradoxically, research shows that the Charlottes of the world are less likely to recognize this, and more likely to see themselves as self-made.

I believe that discounting the power of luck is not only factually wrong, but you can really miss out on a lot, if that is your approach. This might sound unAmerican, but attributing what you get to your own careful planning and hard work can lead you astray, if you think that is the WHOLE story. Recognizing your good fortune makes you humbler in character, and more grateful for what you have.
The origin story of Rachel and Drew's relationship is illustrative in that sense. Rachel tells the story well: "Drew and I met the first week of our freshman year of college at Oklahoma State University. OSU has one of the largest Homecomings in the nation that the Greek community is heavily involved in. Each sorority gets paired with a fraternity. I rushed Alpha Delta Pi (ADPi), and we were paired with Farm House my freshman year... We were handed a tie, and as we walked to the front, the tie’s owner would be our ‘Buddy’.  Well my tie’s owner just happened to be Drew. I remember thinking how cute he was when he walked up, and I was pretty excited that he would be forced to be with me for the next few months." Some people flip coins, other draw sticks, this couple ended up here because of a lucky tie!

That lucky break led to a long relationship. Though still fairly young, Rachel and Drew have been together for a long time. And they have put in the hard work necessary to form a lasting foundation, and it shows. As Drew says, "I know everything about her and she about me. We have been best friends since our freshman year. We have had our ups and downs but no matter what we both truly love each other. I get to be my goofy self, make stupid jokes and she still laughs... (We) just have a good time.... When I have a bad or stressful day at work I know that the second I see her face everything else won’t matter."

Rachel feels the same, when she says, "Drew is my best friend and better half... He tells me I’m beautiful everyday, even when I’m not feeling my best. He’s the only person that I can be goofy and act like a kid with. Everything is fun with him around. Sitting on the couch doing nothing is 100% better if we do it together. I know that there will never be a dull moment with him."

But they never forget how lucky they are, and this makes them so much more grateful for what they have. As Rachel says, "He is the type of man I always dreamed about." And as Drew say, "She is the love of my life and I am extremely lucky to have her."

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Conspiracy of Love

Saturday evening I officiated Shana and Lane’s wedding ceremony at the Dreams Riviera Cancun, on the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

If you know Lane, you know one thing is true: You can't get this guy to shut up. (Not really.) Seriously, though, it's quite common, especially when it comes to talking about matters of the heart, for us to be less verbose than our female counterparts.

Listen, for instance, to how Lane describes the beginning of his relationship with Shana: "We met at the hospital when I was on the ambulance transporting patients. We went on several dates and decided to make it official." Yea, that's how it went... Nope.

Just listen to Shana describe the exact same thing, and I am actually leaving some of this out: "I had NEVER been someone that got "googly eyed" over a good lookin' man before; HOWEVER, let me just tell you that the first time I saw him, another nurse and I had to stop giving shift change report to stare at this most handsome man... We never really talked to each other when he came around. Just some smiles and 'Hey how's it goin?' My coworkers had enough of this unspoken flirting going on. While I wasn't around, they asked Lane what he thought about me and if he ever planned on asking me out. They gave him my number, and he contacted me a couple days later." Wow! Where Lane's description reads like a corporate press release, Shana's description could be taken out of a John Le Carre novel!
Around the time I was writing this, I was listening to Cory Booker read his audiobook, and he introduced me to a term that describes what Shana's friends did behind her back, a "conspiracy of love". In a world awash with imagined conspiracies, not many of them positive, a "conspiracy of love" is a beautiful thing.

This is not the first "conspiracy" to be "perpetrated" on this couple. Both of them describe what wonderful, loving, caring and close families they grew up in. This is the original meaning of Booker's "conspiracy of love". And, this "conspiracy" went further. After all, you don't join the most intimate of the helping professions, nursing, if your parents have not raised you to deeply care, not just for your family and friends, but for others in need. This same approach is what caused Lane to join his dad in a regular rather novel Sunday morning activity, feeding the homeless.

Having been raised this way, today is special and meaningful, because it marks the formalizing of the creation of their new family, where they can continue this "conspiracy of love." As Shana says, "I have never been 'that girl' that dreams of the big wedding day, with the big dress... What I have dreamed of is FAMILY. I desire to be married so we can try to start a family that is as close and wonderful as the families we were raised in. I want to marry because I have been blessed with a man that also values the importance and closeness of family."

Shana further underlines the significance and context of today in their lives, "The actual wedding day will be wonderful, but what I desire most is to start living the day after the wedding." What does she mean by "living"? I suspect that one simple sentence from Lane explains this: "She has the biggest heart I've ever seen in someone." That big heart means that Shana and Lane's "conspiracy of love" only starts with their family, but spreads far beyond it, to their friends, their patients and beyond. We and the rest of the world are and will be better for it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Oriented towards Action

Saturday evening I officiated Jennifer and Alex’s wedding ceremony at the Nizuc Resort and Spa, in Cancun, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Jennifer and Alex's shared traditions put an emphasis on action. Thoughts are important, words are important, but action reigns supreme. This is an idea both Jennifer and Alex wholeheartedly endorse.

In fact, when Jennifer tells of her early life and how she was raised, this idea is central: "My childhood was filled with a lot of love and some challenges but through it all, we made it together as a family. My parents through their actions, hard work and dedication, really taught me the meaning of gratitude, generosity and love."
It is fitting, therefore, that their relationship was born (excuse the pun) through action. No, I don't mean through an actual birthing process. (Why would you think that?!) No, through actually working together. Listen to Alex: "Jennifer approached me with an idea to help me market my practice... She... is very socially connected in the community and it was a great opportunity... So we started working together doing educational and marketing events. As time passed we developed a chemistry that was very strong and undeniable. It felt as if we had been together for 30 years and I quickly realized this was meant to be.”

The Ancient Rabbis, being so oriented towards action, actually ask a fascinating question about marriage: What mitzvah or commandment does one fulfill in the course of being married? Their answer is, the commandment to love your fellow human as yourself. Now, at first blush, that might seem perplexing. Love is an emotion, not an action, isn't it? Well, yes, but it is very connected to action, as in order to last it requires work.

Actually, one of the pleasures of working with couples who are more seasoned (don't call us old) is that they have some experience in life. They have been around the block once or twice. And so, many of them not only know that marriage needs work; they celebrate that! That is what makes marriage worth it. As Jennifer says, "We work at our relationship everyday through the great and not so great and we always end up with a great amount of love for each other."

Now, the commandment to love your fellow human as yourself is very apt for marriage in another sense too. When I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch two TV programs, Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. I can't remember which of these programs explained true love, but the explanation itself stuck with me. They explained that you know you are truly in love, when the other person's happiness is more important to you than your own. Wow. Profound, yet simple.

Now, admittedly, sometimes we need life's events to cause us to reflect and remind us to act. As Alex wisely says, "Certain events in our lives put things into perspective... (and help us) do (the) right thing..." Unfortunately, we are not always able to drive, so we can act on that perspective. That was Alex's particular predicament a few months ago.

"So," he continues, "I had my cousin secretly pick me up and asked her to take me to buy Jennifer's ring... I chose to simply have the entire family over to our place on her birthday to celebrate not only her birthday but to be witness to my proposal to her... I think she appreciated it more than the traditional romantic dinner for two... I can only hope our wedding day and our future is as happy, joyous and enjoyable." Well, Jennifer and Alex, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we not only share what that hope. We are confident it will come to fruition.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Truly Divine

On the day after New Year's Day, I officiated my first wedding ceremony of the year for Andy and Larry, at their home in Frisco, Texas. It was just me and them! Here the remarks I shared with them:

What an absolutely fabulous life story you have had! From your oral telling of it, and even more your written stories, one senses and can almost touch the rich fabric of the life you built together over 35 years. Thinking about your relationship, I was reminded of a fascinating rabbinic interpretation. The Bible tells us of an artifact shrouded in mystery, the Ark of the Covenant, well known to your generation, because of fellow Jew, Steven Spielberg.

Now, with all the special effects, Indiana Jones never really discusses what is inside the Ark, but the ancient rabbis do. They note that amongst the objects in there, the two most prominent were the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. But wait, did I say two, or perhaps four… Because they note that both sets of tablets, the ones Moses breaks, and the replacement set God gave him, were put inside the Ark. (As an aside here Moses teaches us, that like every smart Jew, you should always take out a warranty. You never know!)
Rembrandt’s Moses with the Ten Commandments
And it is this idea of the Ark containing both sets of tablets, that the rabbis really make a "meal out of". Their explanation for this is an interesting one, but forget their answer for a second, let's dwell on the question for a moment, as well as an alternative explanation. Inside the most holy container in the world, sit the most holy artifacts in the world. Fair enough, but why both the broken AND whole sets?

And then I remember my own father's teaching on a different passage. He has taught that the biblical concept of man being created in the Image of God was never properly understood, until now. It is only through archeology that we are able to understand that this concept is one the Bible contrasts with an ancient custom. You see, we have found a number of ancient temples, where the king erected a statue of himself in prayer. That way, whatever he was doing, “he” would still be in the temple, praying to his god.  

The Image of God idea flips this practice on its head. The Bible says that having an image of YOU in a temple is useless and meaningless. Instead the Biblical God creates little images of HIM to go out into the world and live life to their fullest potential. These little divine images, i.e. you and I, unlike statues of clay or stone, experience wonder, adventure, love, pleasure and joy. Invariably, they also experience disappointment, disillusionment, sadness, pain and even regret.

Here is where the tablets come in. The message of the tablets, like the message of your beautiful life together, Andy and Larry, is that renewal is possible. A new set of tablets is handed down, and with it renewed happiness, the finding of peace and the experience of comfort. And why are both placed in the Ark? It is to teach us that embracing renewal does not mean that we discard the wear, tear and breakage of the past. Living life to the fullest, like you have, is not just about the whole tablets; it's about the broken tablets too. Because the whole tablets and the broken tablets both rest in the Ark. The beauty of lives well lived and richly experienced is only built from the sum total of all our human experiences. It is THAT that makes a story like yours, Andy and Larry, not only beautiful, but truly divine.