Sunday, July 4, 2021

That One Person We Can Be Vulnerable With

Saturday evening, Reverend Kyle McNeely and I co-officiated Hillary and Justin’s wedding ceremony at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple, nay every person, to tell me why they want to get married and why now. Sometimes the answer is simple yet profound and beautiful. This is one of those cases. 

Hillary, in explaining why she wants to marry Justin, invokes a deep concept introduced by not a great philosopher or religious text, but a fictional TV character, Dr. Cristina Yang. She says, “I desire to marry Justin, because he is my person.”

Much has been written about this concept, how popular it has become among Hillary and Justin’s age cohort, and how, as in the case of fictional character that uttered it, it need not be synonymous with romantic partner.

I find that one of the most important aspects of this concept is sociologist Bella DePaulo’s observation that “having just one person who completes you [is] a ticket to vulnerability.” That is so important for our wellbeing. We all need that one person we can shed all our masks with, that one person we can be vulnerable with.

Hillary elaborates on this: “He is the person who makes me the happiest, the person I can turn to when in need, when I am frustrated with work, need an ear to listen to me vent about work or life, who makes me laugh, who gets me, who I can be myself with, and who loves me unconditionally just as much as I love him.”

When you can be vulnerable with your person, you are able to personally grow in ways you could not without that relationship. Justin reflects this when he too invokes a fictional character, Melvin Udall, who says, “You make me want to be a better man”.

Justin elaborates, “She challenges me to live up to her love and respect every day. To earn it every day. That’s the kind of partner I want to be with for the rest of my life. The fact that she’s hot with a killer smile doesn’t hurt either!!!”

My friends, it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Child of Love

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Libby and Larry’s wedding ceremony at the Four Seasons, on the Peninsula Papagayo, in Costa Rica. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Why on earth would a rabbi base his personal remarks at a wedding on a song that proclaims, “I found a friend in Jesus,” seems like a fair question. You might say what Ricky said to Lucy, “You got some splainin to do.”

When I was thinking of Libby and Larry’s love story, I just happened to be listening to Child of Love an extraordinary song from the contemporary Christian music band, We the Kingdom. And the truth is that listening to Christian music for inspiration was historically quite common. Famous rabbis and cantors would even visit churches to listen to worship and then adapt the tunes for Jewish prayers.

What really captivated me, though, beyond the superb music, IS the message in the song. Obviously, the lyrics are written in a specific Christian context, but there is a universal message embedded in it too.

Listen to some of the words, “I was walking the wayside, lost on a lonely road, I was chasing the high life, tryna satisfy my soul… Then I saw lightning from Heaven, and I’ve never been the same. I’m gonna climb a mountain, I’m gonna shout about it, I am a child of love... I found a world of freedom, I am a child of love”

Franni Rae Cash Cain, the main female vocalist, explains what is behind these words and the name of the song being Child of Love, rather than what we might expect, Child of God, “I think sometimes I tend to think of God as an angry God who wants me to do everything perfectly all the time; and that’s been my tendency growing up to view God, the Father, that way. This song has helped renew my understanding of who He really is as such a loving Father, and so I’m just excited about how this song is going to speak to other people and hopefully communicate God’s love to them.”

This tendency to think of God as angry is deeply embedded in our American culture. One of the first works you will study in American Literature 101 in college is Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hand of Angry God. This puritanical strain of American religion has been tremendously harmful to generations of Americans and has separated us from one another.

What Libby and Larry’s marriage and the presence of her brother and I up here together show us is that we are better off with Franni Rae’s spiritual convictions. Connection is better than separation. Forgiving our differences and inadequacies and reflecting the divine love that all around us is the best path.

That to me is the message of this beautiful song. That to me is the message of this beautiful couple. We are all children of love.  

Friday, June 11, 2021

A Tropical Contact High

Sunday morning (6/6), I officiated Katie and Mason’s wedding ceremony at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I love how Katie describes her spirituality: “I always felt more in tune with God (spiritually) when I was in nature… I find significance in small details or coincidences. I believe they are signs that help me follow and choose the right path.”

Mason, being extremely attuned to this side of Katie, says that though their first date was on the mini golf course, and unnatural sport if there ever was one, he shrewdly asked her to be his “girlfriend in an official capacity,” (his words, not mine), on a mountain having “lugged an entire cooler and picnic set up,” (again, his words, not mine).

Maybe that’s why when they were to move in together, he took her to live with him on an island. Somebody should have told him that Rhode Island is not really an island. Ah, well.

Ok, seriously, though, the reason we are here today does have to do with a real island, specifically a small country, which admittedly, in the words of the eponymous character in the movie Arthur, would likely have been defeated by the almighty armies of Rhode Island. I speak of course of that constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba.

Mason says, “After five months of living in Rhode Island, we took a much-needed vacation to Aruba. It was Katie’s first time out of the country. I decided to propose on the last day of our trip on the beach… I took the initiative to propose as I believe we were both looking for something more and knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with each other.”

Now, everyone knows that it is patently illegal in about 27 states to mention the words Aruba and beach, without acknowledging that Beach Boys song. You know which one I speak of, their final big hit and one the greatest earworms ever composed, Kokomo.

I think that is quite fitting, because though the song invokes an imaginary place, it describes the refuge that marriage should be, the place you may escape from the quotidian worries of life, “That's where you wanna go to get away from it all.”

It describes the state of mind marriage should embody, not just that you have once fallen in love, in the past, but perpetually in present and future tense, “falling in love to the rhythm of a steel drum band.”

Most importantly, it describes what every marriage should aspire to, “We'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow.” Go the distance, and methodically perfect “your chemistry,” so for many years to come you can indeed “defy a little bit of gravity,” as, “that dreamy look” in each other’s eyes really does give you “a tropical contact high.”

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Timing is Everything

Saturday evening, I officiated Toni and Phillip’s wedding ceremony at the Renaissance Dallas Hotel, on the City View Terrace, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I always ask every couple not only why they want to get married, but why now? These are related but distinct questions. I found Toni and Phillip’s answer both instructive and insightful.

Toni writes, “The timing on everything in our relationship has pretty much worked out perfectly. From our timeframe of introducing our kids, to the timing of us moving in together. The timing of Phillip’s decision to propose on Christmas Eve not knowing it was Toni’s parents’ wedding anniversary ended up making the proposal even more special. Even our schedules worked out perfectly so on our first holiday season as a couple we were able to spend an entire week together.”

I love that. I will venture to say that the younger we are, the less we think about time and timing; we just live in the moment. There is a beauty in that carefree existence. However, as we grow older, and life seasons us a little, time and timing become a more important part of who we are, in good times and in bad. This has the potential to make the relationships we build, especially those of the romantic variety so much richer.

This idea and specifically Toni’s phrasing naturally made me think of that hauntingly beautiful and meaningful song by Garrett Hedlund, Timing is Everything. When you listen to the words, it really speaks to the essence of how Toni and Phillip each view the other, and their good fortune in having swiped right when they did:

When the stars line up

And you catch a break

People think you're lucky

But you know its grace

It can happen so fast

Or a little bit late

Timing is everything…

I remember that day

When our eyes first met

You ran into the building to get out of the rain

Cause you were soaking wet

And as I held the door

You wanted to know my name

Timing is everything


And I could've been another minute late

And you'd never would've crossed my path that day

And when it seems true love is hard to find

That's when love comes along

Just in time

You can call it fate

Or destiny

Sometimes it really seems like its a mystery

Cause you can be hurt by love

Or healed by the same

Timing is everything

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Surprise Rabbi and Good People

Saturday evening, I officiated Allison and Michael’s wedding ceremony at the Stroudsmoor Country Inn, in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. This ceremony featured an interesting twist. I only revealed I was a rabbi a few minutes in. Here is the explanation for that, taken from the ceremony:

As you may know, like many folks on Staten Island, Allison and Michael were brought up Catholic. It seemed only natural that they would get a Catholic priest to officiate their wedding, and that like all Catholic weddings, it would include the Lord’s Prayer, the Prayers of the Faithful, and the Nuptial Blessing, as I just did.

However, Michael was actually brought up in two traditions. His father is Catholic and his mother is Jewish. So, Allison and Michael thought it would be nice to honor Michael’s heritage and Michael’s father by having a rabbi co-officiate with the priest, and include various Jewish traditions.

Wouldn’t it be cool, though, thought Michael, if they kept this a secret, had the priest begin the ceremony, and then had the rabbi make a dramatic surprise entrance, a few minutes in? They even found a rabbi who was just crazy enough to agree to this hairbrained scheme.

You may wonder why I have not mentioned the priest’s name. Well, that is because, oddly, he pulled out once he heard he would be co-officiating with a rabbi, and they hadn’t even shared Michael’s idea with him. His loss, if you ask me.

So, your average couple would have given up on the “pull the rabbi out of a hat scheme,” but not this couple. They asked me if I would take the place of the priest and just start off the wedding until the rabbi makes his entrance.

Now, you may be asking yourself, why did I ruin the surprise with that explanation. Well, there is one detail that I did leave out. I am the rabbi.

And here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Over the past few months, I have been privileged to get to know Allison and Michael. I quite deliberately use that word. Because though I have only known them for a short while, I feel like each of them, is the kind of person that you might use this grammatically odd colloquialism to define: Oh, Michael? He’s good people. Oh, Allison? She’s good people.

And I believe that even if you happened to crash this wedding, you would get a feel for that. I mean, not everyone can get this many people to cross state lines in a pandemic to come to a wedding. Some of you even had to go through New Jersey. Yikes!

So, what does it take to be “good people”? You may think that I would cite an answer from the Torah or the Talmud. Nope. Here is the basic answer from Kyle Robbins, the founder of – I swear I am not making this up, Michael – “Branding Beard”: “Being a good person is not hard, but it doesn’t just happen. As much as anything else, you have to want to be a good person and make choices that correspond with your beliefs… Here are 15 simple traits of a truly good person.”

Now, I am not going to list all 15. I’m not even 100% sold on all 15, and like I said this is not holy writ. However, some of these really define Allison and Michael:

They are honest in relationships.

They compliment others when deserved.

They are kind to everyone.

They think of others.

They go the extra mile.

They are kind to loved ones.

They smile.

They make the best out of every situation.

They don’t take things for granted.

Here’s the fascinating thing: This is not only a good answer to what makes you good people. If you were to ask what might make you successful in marriage, you couldn’t go that wrong if you were to use the same list.

This is why I agree with Michael when he says, again, I swear I am not making this up, “I feel like we pair together better then peanut butter and jelly, or butter on popcorn.” This is why I believe Allison when she sums up their ten years together, so far, saying, “I wouldn’t change anything in the way it played out.” These good people will definitely make not a good, but a great marriage.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

YOLO, Epic

Saturday evening, I officiated Jillian and Lev’s wedding ceremony at Legends Hall at the Marq, in Southlake, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lev begins the story of how he met Jillian, “It was just another night out with my boys going to see a DJ perform at a concert hall called The Pageant. I had a few friends over at my place before we went to the concert and we were planning on having an epic night as usual.” For those of you over 30, according to the popular slang site, Rachel’s English, epic is “a much-used term, added as an adjective before anything, to mean ‘great’, ‘huge’, ‘awesome’, ‘the best!’” Little did Lev know how epic this night would be…

Now, Jillian’s description starts a little weak but stay with it, “I wasn’t a huge fan of this particular DJ (yikes!) and I rarely went out on Thursday nights, but when you’re single, why not go? Back in 2016, I would have probably said this was a ‘YOLO’ moment for me. (YOLO – You only live once.) I knew the night would be fun regardless.”

Again, for those of you who were not teenagers in 2012, that same year Buzzfeed News defined YOLO, a term popularized by the most famous Canadian Jew, Drake, thus: “YOLO is to recklessly pursue fun while throwing long-term consequences to the wind. YOLO is the worry-free rallying cry of youth shaking off the hairshirt of the pressures of the current times.” As Drake’s ancestors would have said, “Mann tracht, un gott lacht.”

That is one of the only phrases I know in Yiddish, the High-German derived language, spoken by Lev’s and my forebears. It means man plans and God laughs, and if you know even a little about European, especially Eastern European, Jewish history, you know that this simple phrase contains much more depth and nuance than might be present in your average assortment of five words.

I have been thinking about this phrase because this period in which Jillian and Lev have been planning their wedding has given new meaning to this phrase. There are lessons this period is teaching us if we choose to heed them.

One of those central lessons is that we have been fooling ourselves if we think that life abides by some mathematical formula; work hard, play by the rules, and success will automatically follow, was always a bit of a ridiculous proposition. We in the American middle and certainly upper classes, though, if we squinted just a little, could imagine that it was true, and it sometimes made us judge those that did not seem to fit into to that neat formula.

These last 13 months, however, have disabused of this pretentious understanding, so alien to the Abrahamic tradition. It has made many of us kinder, more understanding, more forgiving of others and of ourselves. We have understood that we all need to be extended just a little grace, or maybe more than a little.

A true partnership in life becomes so much more important when you view the world in this light. It makes what Jillian says about Lev’s role in her life so much more poignant: “I’ve finally found someone special that I’m ready to share a life with. I’ve found someone who I love deeply and also have a great relationship with. I’ve learned from past experiences that these two things do not always go hand in hand, so when you find it, you need to cherish it… We have… a true understanding for one another. We laugh together, cry together, agree, disagree. I can truly be myself around him. He loves me and accepts me just as I am, and I love and accept him in return…”

And Lev echoes this sentiment: “I think life is meant to be spent with a person you love and can grow with for the rest of your life. I believe finding a partner that supports you, encourages you, and brings you happiness is very important… Jillian… met all of those characteristics… that made me fall in love with her even more… She is the person who consoles me… the person I look forward to seeing every day, and the person who puts the biggest smile on my face… I want to build a life together filled with lots of memories and adventures that we can call our own.”

Thursday, April 15, 2021

What is Love?

Sunday evening, Reverend Kenneth Meadows and I co-officiated Bethany and Scott’s wedding ceremony at the Hickory Street Annex, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

What is love? It’s a question asked by that early 90s pop song by Haddaway that deserves to be forgotten, and by that 2015 R&B song by V. Bozeman that tugs at your heartstrings. Above all, it’s a question that every couple really needs to answer for themselves. It’s also a question to which there is necessarily more than one answer.

How do I know? No, not from seven years of intense yeshiva study. Rather because I watched Sesame Street. As a child. (I had to clarify that one!) I remember watching Sesame Street, back in the late 70s, when one of the humans explained to one of the puppets that love existed in different forms. There was love of your romantic partner, love of your family members, love of your friends. I don’t remember if it was implicit or explicit, but it was clear that there was also love of other humans and animals too. And right before or after Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers definitely drove this home, along with his clear message of love of self.

Bethany and Scott clearly exhibit this understanding of love in their lives. Bethany tells us that her parents met in ministry, and that consequently, through word and deed “the importance of contributing to the world around you,” was clearly instilled in her. And, though, while the only acceptable professions we as Jewish parents see for our children are doctor, lawyer, and accountant, Scott’s choice to become not only a doctor, but an otolaryngologist (I had to practice that word!) makes it clear that he approaches his life with that same sense of mission Bethany had instilled in her.

Now, it goes without saying that these two are madly in love with each other. However, Bethany and Scott also understand one more very important aspect of love I learned from those iconic children’s shows. I love how Bethany put it. “It’s not loving the person when it’s easy,” she says, “Anyone can do that. It’s loving the person even when it’s hard. That is real commitment.”