Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It is No Dream

On Monday I officiated Lillian and Yaniv's wedding ceremony at a villa in Malaga, Spain. Here are the remarks I shared with their guests from across the globe:

If you ever visit Mount Rushmore in Wyoming, you will see the faces of four presidents carved into the mountain. Only one of them lived into the 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt. His daughter, Alice, the Kim Kardashian of her day, if Kim had brains and wit, in addition to her other, ahem, assets, knew her father better than most. She said of him, that he was the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral...

I am always conscious of Alice's witty criticism, and if I have one absolute, it is that the wedding is about the couple. So, I am always hesitant to talk about myself, because honestly who cares? It is only when I have a personal story that can help flesh out something about the couple that I include it.

Like Yaniv, I grew up in Israel, and I spent my high school years in Jerusalem. In tenth grade, pretty much on a whim, I competed in my high school's Bible contest, the first stage of the International Bible Contest, and won. That meant I advanced to the district level contest.

Now those from Israel know what the contest is, but for the non-Israelis, you need to understand what a big deal it is. The final stage, the international contest itself involves youth from all over the world, and is broadcast on live TV, on Israel Independence Day. Everyone watches it, and the final question is asked by the Prime Minister, who speaks at the event, and who personally hands the first place award to the winner.

I had very little idea what I was doing, once I got to the district level. And Jerusalem was the most competitive district, but I studied as best I could. When the morning of the competition came, I got on the bus, and headed downtown. On the bus, a song written by the great Naomi Shemer, Israel's greatest song writer, and performed by the great, Yehoram Gaon, started to play. The name of the song is best translated, "You will not beat me", but not beat in the sense of hit, rather in the sense of winning a struggle, a game or, yes, a contest. The chorus is, "You won't beat me, I can't be beat that fast!" It is not clear who the singer is talking to. Is it a specific rival, is it the enemies of Israel, is it just life's circumstances? I sense it might be all three. Regardless, I felt like Gaon was talking to me.

I got off the bus, participated in the contest, and took third place. I advanced to the national level, where I took sixth place, so I did not make it to the international contest. That day, I decided that in eleventh grade, I would advance to the international level and win it, I mapped out a strategy, and started a learning regimen the next day.

To make a long story short, I failed... I only got second place in the world! I remained involved with the contest. Two years later a young lady I knew took second place, which is good, because she might not have dated me if she had won... Two years later, we were married. Twenty-three years later still, we are still going strong. So, I got the grand prize, after all.
I was reminded of this personal narrative, because if you know anything about Lillian and Yaniv, you know that they are resilient. You know that they have had their struggles along the way. They don't shy away from them. As Yaniv states simply, "We are two adults, both... with kids, going through life's struggles." And Lillian says, in words I feel Yaniv might say too, "I do not take commitments lightly... When I want to do something... I do it without hesitation."

Both Lillian and Yaniv understand that in order to be successful, to come out of your struggle the better for it, you have to be willing to learn. And so, learning has been a large part of their lives. As Yaniv says, "I always liked learning and kept an open mind." And Lillian's learning and her exploration, specifically, of her spirituality was so rigorous, it is almost unmatched. As she says, "I've been actively exploring religion for as long as I can remember. I asked for a bible when I was six... In kindergarten I explored local Protestant churches... I spent a fair amount of time in Catholic Church... I read copious amounts of literature on as many world religions as I could... You name it; I've probably considered it to varying degrees."

Most importantly, they have tried to learn from their struggles, and they have used this learning to better themselves. They have not only not let themselves be beat by their circumstances; they have forged their struggles into tools for self-improvement. In this they have developed an understanding vital to life: It is all about the journey, not the destination.

And together, they have embarked on a journey, guided by their mutual love, and informed by our ancient faith, in which Lillian found that spiritual home she had been searching for all these years. Yaniv puts it beautifully, when he says, "My love for Lillian is on a steady growth curve and I am honored that she has chosen me to be her partner in this life journey."

And this life journey led them to this day, to share that journey they are on together, with you. As they state, "Sharing a religion... its practices, and... symbolism... meant that we also wanted to share the symbolism of marriage... before our families and God by a purposeful act."

It also led them specifically to this place. They are mindful not only of their personal journey, but that of our people too. We have flourished in, and had to leave many lands behind, with the most memorable departure the one from this land. This eventually led to our people finding their way to promised lands across the ocean, and later back to THE Promised Land across the sea. And eventually, when this land embraced democracy, they also welcomed our people back. And our people survived long enough to be welcomed back, because we constantly kept in mind the spirit of Naomi Shemer's words. To our circumstances and our enemies, we said, "We will overcome and we will win."

And we managed to do that, because we never stopped dreaming of a better day, a brighter future. Israel is the only country that reveres a secular saint, who we call the Seer of the State, another giant named Theodore, whose face may not be etched into a mountain, but whose presence all Israelis feel, Theodore Herzl. In fact, on that bus ride I described, we drove by the mountain named for him, and on which he is entombed, mere steps away from my high school. Herzl, who organized the Zionist movement in the late 1800s, which led to the founding of the state, envisioned it 50 years before anyone could, and was thought a fool for it. He insisted that all you needed was will, and said, in his native German, “Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen,” "If you will it, it is no dream."

Yaniv sounds a little like Herzl, speaking of our people, when he speaks of his and Lillian's journey, "We have created so many memories together that these days... (we) have (much to) dream about. I am looking forward to our future together and to the happiness it will bring to us."