Monday, December 31, 2018


Sunday evening, I officiated Jaime and Richard’s wedding ceremony, at Sixty Vines, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In modern, fast moving secular life it is easy to fail to see the beauty, mystery and wonder that are outside of our control, which must be experienced on their own terms, rather than ours. With that, one can miss out on the most important ingredient one needs to have in life, gratitude.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  

Gratitude allows us to see the best in those around us, and how they help us to do better and be better. And in my time with Jaime and Richard I have discovered that this lies at the core of their relationship.

You see this in what Jaime says regarding why she chooses today to marry Richard: “I have never known anyone in my life… that understands me like Richard does. He has recognized and pointed out so many little things that I do or act or say that I've never recognized in myself... and when I think about it, he's spot on. And I am the same person for him.” There’s no mathematical formula for making that happen. You just have marvel at the wonder of the thing, and like Jaime is, be profoundly grateful.  

You see this in what Richard says about why he chooses today to marry Jaime: “I find at this point of my life a deep sense of mystery, wonder and spirituality that ebbs and flows around daily life… (and) there is no one that I would rather spend my time with more than Jaime. She brings humor, joy, fun and non-judgmental honesty into my life everyday – and for that I am grateful.”

As we celebrate Jaime and Richard’s marriage – in Rumi’s immortal words – “Today, let us swim joyously with gratitude.” With that in mind, I recite the words of an ancient Jewish blessing: Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this joyous time.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Other 1%

Friday evening, I co-officiated Katie and Austin’s wedding ceremony, at Whaley Place, in Columbia, South Carolina, with Katie’s grandmother, Jere Long. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It would be odd for me to come to the city where my grandfather, who I am named for, served as the rabbi of the Tree of Life Congregation for 20 years, and not mention it. However, beyond that, I do believe there is a connection between that congregation’s longest serving rabbi, and Katie and Austin.

My grandfather’s life was defined by service, not just to his congregation, but to the larger community in South Carolina, both Jewish and non-Jewish. That is why he volunteered to serve as a civilian chaplain at Fort Jackson, the base that Katie’s mom served at, which caused Katie and Austin to celebrate their wedding in Columbia.

Katie and Austin’s life has also been defined by service, and like many of their comrades, they are very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Austin writes about how he met Katie, “When I was a junior in college, I met Katie through ROTC.” No big deal, right? And Katie’s, seemingly dry description also plays down any difference between how they met, and any other couple meeting through work, “I was a Platoon Sergeant and he was my First Sergeant, so we interacted daily.”

Of course, the lifestyle that Katie and Austin have chosen is very different, from other couples. They belong to what some call, “the other 1%,” in recognition of the fact, that so few of us, actually, serve in the military. There are good reasons behind this demographic fact. Those who command our modern armed forces rarely feel any nostalgia for the days of the draft. However, there are downsides to this, too. This is not only true in our lives as individuals, but in our lives as couples, too.

One of the greatest lessons you miss out on, if you do not serve, is one I cherish from my time serving, not in the U.S. Army, but in the Israel Defense Force. It is simple. Your success or failure is highly dependent on the success of your unit. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the success of the unit, and to make up for any individual weaknesses. Your life could, quite literally, depend on this.  

Now, I am not saying that that is why Austin, incorrigible romantic that he is, took Katie on their first date to (I am not making this up) a gun show. I certainly don’t think he got her into shooting, just so his partner could watch his back. However, it should be noted, that only after he got her into shooting, did they, actually, move in together. Just sayin…

Seriously, though, through the miracle of FaceTime, I have had the privilege of hanging out with these two, and having some deep discussions with them. And, I have had to remind myself of their age. There is a different more mature, quietly confident, air about them, that you don’t see in other American couples their age. There is a palpable sense that they embody what then Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno said, in 2012, when he was explaining the key word in the Army’s motto, “The pronoun ‘we’ reinforces our collective or team effort.”

You immediately understand from interacting with Katie and Austin, that they take this lesson to heart, not only in their professional lives, but in the relationship they have built. They understand the fallacy of the other, misguided, short lived motto of their employer, “Army of One,” for any relationship, particularly marriage.

You can see this in how they built this very ceremony and this entire wedding celebration, with an eye towards the happiness, enjoyment and good feeling of not only they, themselves, but their close and extended family too. You can see this in the tenderness and caring they exhibit towards each other, despite the daily, sometimes grueling, demands of their overseas posting.

The interesting thing you learn in living a life of service, like Katie and Austin do, is that, not surprisingly, it makes you a better individual. That is what the ideal marriage does for you too. Austin says this very well, in words you know reflect Katie’s outlook too, “I proposed to Katie because I truly believe she makes everything I do better… She just makes everything I already love more fun. She is amazing to be around, and she pushes me to be my best. I… truly found the person, that I want to be with… (to) continue to improve my life.” We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Friday evening, I officiated Ashley and Raphael’s wedding ceremony, at the White Room, in St. Augustine, Florida. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

So, this couple is different. Now, that might be a true statement at every wedding. In fact, when I am asked what my typical wedding ceremony looks like, I often say that I don’t know. I haven’t met a typical couple yet; every couple is different. Still, take it from me, THIS couple is different. 

I’ll prove it to you. When I asked Ashley to tell me her story, she started with something I have never heard from any of the 400+ couples I have married: “Since I was born on 8/8/88, one would think my lucky number is 8; however, that is not the case.  According to numerology and 2 different psychics, my lucky number is supposedly 6.” You can’t make this stuff up…

Humor aside (is it ever, though), one thing that stands out about Ashley and Raphael is that they are extremely independent thinkers. They both have not been willing to abide by received wisdom. They have, as individuals and as a couple, approached life rationally and sensibly. They have contemplated big questions, and they have not shied away from the answers they have found, even when this meant they have been outside of the mainstream.

Thinking about big questions can sometimes make you a more abstract person, one less attentive of the needs of actual people. Not Ashley and Raphael. You get the sense that this approach has actually made them more grounded, kinder and more understanding.

Raphael sees this in how Ashley has been willing to inconvenience herself for him and for them: “She was willing to take a leap of faith, and move with me to Lake Worth, so that I could attend FAU. For her (this was) a four year commitment, (which was)... surely daunting, considering we had only been together for roughly one and a half years.”

Perhaps she was willing to do this, because she already knew what a kind and understanding person he was. Here is what she says: ​“I will never forget the day I met Tamir (Raphael Tamir Benaksas)...  I was bored, lonely, and happened to google something that led me to the okcupid website. I decided to sign up. I started randomly looking and reading through profiles, and found Tamir. Tamir’s profile intrigued me. Tamir seemed like... a genuine, caring person. Tamir’s profile made him sound too good to be true, so I decided to put him through the ultimate test. 

I emailed him the word “hi” without a profile picture. I figured a truly caring, nice person would not ignore someone. A perfect person would not judge someone based on their looks. As I waited for a response, I said to myself “I am going to marry this man if he responds”. Tamir responded. We have been together over 5 years. I get to marry the most amazing man alive...”

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Love Language

On Saturday evening, I officiated Arielle and TJ’s wedding ceremony, at the Howell and Dragon, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Nice guys finish last. That doesn’t sound right or proper or just, does it? However, based on the world around us today you could be forgiven for taking this cynical view of the world to heart. 

That’s why Arielle and TJ, and their love story gives me hope. I love their shared philosophy of living. Arielle tells us: “We each need to contribute, be kind to one another, and do our small part to make the world a better place. When you are good to the world, the world is good to you. And not just because (of) karma... I believe that when you are a good person and in a good mindset, you attract and welcome other positive things into your life... Helping others and doing good deeds... being grateful and appreciative of life.” 

It helps to have been raised with a positive outlook regarding people, the world and your place in it, like Arielle and TJ were. As TJ says, “My childhood was surrounded by educated, liberal and kind people who were very spiritual... I... have fond memories growing up... and making lifelong friends.” My most spiritual place is in the wild outside in nature. It always has been.”

One thing that can really enhance this philosophy of life is being lucky enough to find the right partner, who loves you, challenges you, and with whom you can experience mutual growth. As TJ tells us, this is them: “We’ve grown as people, partners, pet parents, and have brought a unique perspective to one another's life. We have learned one another's love language and that partnership and love is much more than a honeymoon romance novel...” 

And part of that is recognizing how lucky you are to have found such a person, and how you need to value that good fortune, since in TJ’s words, “That’s not something that is easily learned or achieved in most relationships.” That’s why he emphasizes how much he, “cherish(es),” their, “relationship and love,” and how much it “has evolved and continues to get better.”

Arielle agrees: “I’ve always wanted to find... my other half, someone who gets me and loves my quirks but also pushes me and makes me be the best version of myself and I do the same for them... I sought a deeper connection, one that will last a lifetime...”

That’s the kind of relationship that is worth waiting for. That’s why Arielle says, “Because it was so important for me to find the right person... I wasn’t in a rush... I wanted to wait until the right person came into my life... It took a while to find him but I did...”

Finally, when you have this outlook, waiting doesn’t even feel like waiting. As TJ says, “We didn’t decide to get married now... it felt natural to get married now.”