Sunday, July 31, 2022

Yes, And.

On Friday, July 22nd, I officiated Lauren and Joshua’s wedding ceremony at Lauren’s parents’ home in Coppell, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Unlike Lauren and Joshua, my understanding of improv is that of a layperson. I am sure, therefore, that I am oversimplifying, when I say that the essence of improv is “yes, and”. The reason, “yes, and” is vital to improv comedy is that improv comedy, like jazz or any other improvisational art form, is iterative. So, your answer need not be “no” for the iterative process to break down; it could be just “yes, period”. 

I do believe, though, that this is not only a great prescription for successful comedy, but also a great prescription for life. Of course, success in life does demand some degree of planning and follow through on those plans, but the best lived life is iterative. Have you met someone who just followed their carefully conceived life plan without deviating from it? If you did, they probably didn’t make a huge impression, because, BORING. Likely they are not lifelong learners, at least not yet.

Living your iteratively requires an important prerequisite. You must be willing to ask questions. This is very Jewish. As Lauren says, “To me, living a meaningful Jewish life… [is] about interrogating oneself on what living a Jewish life means to you and the lifelong journey to figure that out… Judaism is centered on the idea of questioning, whether it be a rabbi, the Torah, your family, yourself, or even God… Being Jewish is about questioning things, always, even when you think you already have all the answers, or it feels difficult to ask.”

Lauren and Joshua’s love story is replete with asking questions, and answering with, “yes, and.” Their relationship began with Joshua saying, “Hey, nice bracelets! Do you like electronic music too?” Yes, and. Though, Lauren argues that it started before that when someone said to her, “Hey, do you want to see this random improv comedy show, in a random guy’s backyard, in a random house in Denton, Texas?” Yes, and. Eventually, she says, they moved on to other questions: “Do you want to move to Chicago with me? Do you want to write a sketch show together? Do you want to get an apartment together? Do you want try and start a comedy club with me?” Yes, and, yes, and.  

Living your life iteratively means that you can reach heights and distances that cannot be reached without improvisation, and the benefits can influence not only your life, but the lives of many others. Joshua gets this. He says, “I want to marry Lauren because she is everything I could ask for in a life partner. Together, I truly believe we are an unstoppable team. We picked up our lives in Texas and started over in a new place. If we can build something from nothing this effectively, imagine what we can do as life partners! I believe the family we are starting together will not only continue to bring us joy, but also has the potential to create good in the world as a whole.”

Deep Connections

On Sunday, July 17th, I officiated Jackie and Larry’s wedding ceremony at The Press Room in Knoxville, Tennessee. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I gotta tell you: The love story these two share is almost too much for a rabbi. I mean it starts on a Birthright trip to Israel, for crying out loud. Their first kiss followed a day that included visits to such romantic spots as Mount Herzl, the Western Wall, and Yad Vashem. 

Seriously, though, picture this: That evening, they walked the streets of Jerusalem, just the two of them, and engaged in very deep and honest discussion about themselves. Then they shared that first kiss in the shadow of the walls of the Old City, in front of the Jaffa Gate. There was no turning back now. From that moment, they were inseparable. 

Now, if you know Jackie and Larry, this will not surprise you in the least. They are not only deeply connected to their Jewish heritage; they are also deep thinkers. They have each contemplated their heritage, their spirituality, their place in the world. They have each played a positive influence on each other in deepening their connections to their heritage and their spirituality. 

To wit, Jackie shared one of the deepest descriptions of the various aspects of Judaism one encounters. The cherry on top is that she attributes it to something said in a sermon. By a rabbi. When she was a kid. I mean, as a rabbi myself, you had me at sermon:

“I remember a sermon our rabbi gave during the high holidays at some point when I was a child. He talked about the hand Jew, the head Jew, and the heart Jew. The hand Jew connects with Judaism by performing Jewish acts, the head Jew thinks through what it means to be Jewish, and the heart Jew finds ways to embrace the spiritual elements of Judaism. I would say that at various points in my life, I’ve been each.

During my upbringing… I was the hand Jew… when in college… I was the head Jew. Now as an adult… I’ve synthesized them into a practice that is uniquely mine but honors the tradition of my ancestors—a feeling that has only grown since reaping the benefit of Larry’s background. I’ve become a heart Jew.”

Now, about that background, Larry goes farther back than a sermon in his childhood in clarifying how seriously deep his Judaism went from day one. In fact, this is the first time in more than 500 weddings that a groom casually mentioned his Pidyon Haben, a unique ritual in which parents pay tribute to God for the birth of their first born son. His mother is Israeli, his parents met on a kibbutz, nuff said. 

Again, however, what really struck me with Larry is his deep thinking about his spirituality. He not only attended Jewish day schools, but he also pondered what God had wrought in the world and the existence of God in the first place. He pondered what Jung had to say about religion, what Christianity had to offer our world, and what Nietzsche had to say about what we have wrought in God’s world. 

Why? There might be no more Jewish answer than this: “I am a firm believer that human beings possess a responsibility to themselves to explore the answers presented to them, and to continually ask more questions.” 

Jackie and Larry’s contemplation of the essence of their relationship is in line with their deep deep thinking. Larry says: “I feel free to evolve as a man when I am with Jackie… she and I share many principles… a common philosophy [on]… relationships and expectations… I… am very excited to get to know her even better and [I] look forward to seeing where this voyage takes us.”

And Jackie says: “When I think about why [marry Larry] now, quite honestly, it’s because I trust him more than any other person to have my best interests at heart.” It doesn’t get any better than that.