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.