Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Team Working Together

Saturday evening, February 18, 2023, Dr. Holly Hull Miori and I co-officiated Breanna and Garrett’s wedding ceremony at the Hillside Estate in Cross Roads, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The day I wrote these remarks, indeed, this entire ceremony seemed extra appropriate. It was both Christmas and the seventh day of Chanukah; talk about interfaith! One of the funniest things that Breanna told me about growing up has to do with Chanukah: “I have to say that my favorite part about Chanukah was Grandma Sheila’s potato latkes. I would eat and eat and eat until I could no longer fit into my pants.” I think we call identify.

Though Breanna and Garrett come from different backgrounds, the way their parents raised them regarding religion was remarkably similar. Garrett says, “[My parents] thought it would be best that I authentically find or involve myself in… religion on my own. If I had questions or needed guidance… they would for sure help, but they felt that it was not their place to force any sort of faith upon me… I really enjoyed those conversations with my parents and appreciated their respect for my own decisions.” 

And Breanna says, “My parents never pushed me into learning or going to Sunday school; they had always told me that if I was interested in learning, they would help me seek it out.” This was well evident in the meeting I had with Breanna’s dad before I even met Breanna and Garrett. He was very clear about the fact that it was his and Breanna’s mom’s preference that they have a rabbi involved in their wedding, but that, ultimately, it was the couple’s decision.

This is not as easy as it sounds. I meet far too many couples whose parents do not take this approach. I have sympathy for these folks. I think we all are that person at some point. It’s a lot easier to tell your kids what to do than to give them the tools to make decisions and allow them to choose to develop themselves into the human beings they wish to become. 

The ability to raise your kids the latter way demands an acute recognition of who you are and where you come from. (I found this to be literally true regarding Breanna’s folks, and I sense that it is the same with Garrett’s folks.) 

Gary and I played a “game” familiar to all Jews, “Jewish geography.” He told me their family was from Ukraine. I shared that my grandfather, the late and longest-serving rabbi of Congregation Tree of Life in Columbia, South Carolina, was also from Ukraine. He asked where, and when I named the town, he took out his phone and showed me on his Google Maps where it was and how far it was from where they were from.

However, the most important thing you need to raise your kids this way is to operate well as a team. This is something that both Breanna and Garrett realize, again, likely, because they had good examples at home. 

Garrett says, “When I think of marriage, I think of a team working together through love and sacrifice. When I see Breanna, I see my best friend and my teammate… I desire the feeling of mutual love and connection which I feel with Breanna.”

And Breanna says, “He is my best friend, teammate, and right-hand man… When I see Garrett, I see a lifetime partner, a loving father (in the future, haha), a friend, and a husband. I can’t wait to start a lifelong future with my best friend.”

Saturday, February 18, 2023

This Is My Forever

Sunday afternoon, February 12, 2023, I officiated Shoshanna and Christian’s wedding ceremony at the Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa in Tulum, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The very beginning of Shoshanna and Christian’s relationship is so easily understandable today and, at the same time, would be utterly incomprehensible just a few years back. Shoshanna says. “I saw that Facebook had a widget for dating and didn’t want to go on the traditional apps people used.” Facebook? Widget? Apps? These words, in their current meaning, didn’t even exist a short few years ago. 

Indeed, our brains are still catching up with this very fact, as evidenced in what Christian says about what happened next, “She called me the next day on my way home from work and said she wanted to make sure I’m a real person.” Low bar, but again understandable. 

To say these two were mutually smitten would be an understatement. Christian says, “The first sight of her with her beautiful eyes, smile, and dimples, I knew I was not going to be single for long, LOL. We video-chatted for hours and realized that although we had very different upbringings, we are also so similar in what we were looking to get out of life. This was very eye-opening for me because I have never fully related to anyone as much as Shoshana. We scheduled a date, and I would argue we fell in love that night. Our date seemed to last for 5-6 hours, and we were just making each other laugh constantly and still do to this day.”

And Shoshanna says, “I was nervous but very excited to meet someone new and handsome… Christian showed up with a bouquet of flowers when he picked me up. No man has ever done that on a first date. He was the utmost gentleman in every way and kept me laughing all evening. Between our lives and our values, we were both shocked as we got to know each other because it was scary how much we had in common. I knew from that first date I was in trouble, this man is a unicorn, and I met my person. I had no need to go out with anyone else because I knew this is it, and it doesn’t matter who else is out there, this is my forever.”

Reflecting on these quotes and on Shoshanna and Christian’s lives, you can definitely sense that part of the reason they so well connect with each other is because to paraphrase Farmers Insurance, they know a thing or two because they have seen a thing or two. Not only does this not detract from their relationship, it strengthens it. That may be the most important lesson they teach us. 

Though the bride and groom hail from the coasts, they chose to have a Texas rabbi marry them. Naturally, I found that the special sauce of their relationship is best conveyed through a country song. You can’t beat Rascal Flatts:

“I set out on a narrow way many years ago, hoping I would find true love along the broken road, but I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow, and kept pushing through, I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you, that every long lost dream led me to where you are. 

Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars, pointing me on my way into your loving arms. This much I know is true, that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Pretty Jewish

Saturday afternoon (2/4), I officiated Sharada and Eric’s wedding ceremony at the Andaz Beach House on the Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

You must admit that much like this afternoon ceremony, Shar and Eric’s story is pretty Jewish. In their words they, “could be one of those couch couples from When Harry Met Sally.”  It happens entirely in New York. They meet in a bar in the East Village, they drift apart, and it is food that brings them back together. And – you can’t make this up – they have a dog named after an Eastern European Jewish pastry*. 

Of course, the American Jewish experience is more than the stuff of rom-com. It is defined by what Eric says about his Judaism, “I strongly identify as Jewish, and share the values that the religion and my parents instilled in me, the importance of family, tradition, education, kindness, empathy.” Guess what; that description, the importance of family, tradition, education, kindness, and empathy, fits Shar’s upbringing too.

Shar emphasizes that Eric’s description of his upbringing is not just words: “Eric is such a kind, empathetic person, who treated me so wonderfully, that my friends quickly named him ‘Prince Eric.’ I never fully understood where his sweet demeanor came from until I met his parents six months into dating. Howard and Judy were so warm and welcoming. I felt like I was already family. I always love seeing where people came from, and it was such a welcome surprise to know how wonderful his family was. Suddenly Eric Burnett made sense.”

No surprise: Eric fell in love with some of those same qualities in Sharada. He says, “Sharada is smart and hilarious, and tough, and kind. This clearly comes from the closeness she shares with her family. Her parents showed me nothing but warmth and kindness from day one, welcoming me into their home, calling me when I’m sick, and feeding me entirely too many dosas on every visit to California. Her cousins, who are so much more like siblings to her, have become brothers and sisters to me as well. I see characteristics of all of them in Sharada, and it is amazing.”

Family, tradition, education, kindness, and empathy. Not a bad prescription for a happy marriage.

*Their dog’s name is Babka.