Friday, March 31, 2023

Such Kindness

Saturday evening, March 25, 2023, Padre Miguel Castaneda and I co-officiated Ale and Steven’s wedding ceremony at Casa Xipe in Mexico City, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Ale and Steven met at Tufts University; a school that, according to the bot that wrote the article I consulted on the internet, is comparable to the Ivies. You wouldn’t know that from the way they met, though, from Steven’s telling of the story. 

Alejandra transferred to Tufts her sophomore year, and “for some inexplicable reason,” he says, “Tufts decided to put all the new transfer girls in a large house across the street from the fraternity house where I was living. Upon learning of this stroke of fortune bestowed upon us by the Tufts administration, my friends and I sent over several bottles of (cheap) champagne to make sure these new students felt welcome!” Such kindness, Steven!

The proximity and knowing the same people eventually brought them together at a friend’s birthday party, where they hit it off. Ale made a fascinating discovery: “Steven and I… were in the same Economics class.” Steven’s kindness was revealed again, and this time it didn’t even involve the provision of alcohol! He suggested that Ale and he do their homework together. “I was so impressed by how smart he was,” says Ale. “What Alejandra did not know until many years later,” though, reveals Steven, “is that I had taken the same course the previous year before dropping it – so I already knew half of the course material!” All is fair in love and war, I suppose…

OK, now I didn’t just come here to poke fun at the bride and groom. Love and kindness in a true serious sense ARE central to Ale and Steven as individuals and as a couple. You see this in what they say about themselves, their upbringings, and each other. 

Ale speaks of her family’s strong connection, growing up, to the Brothers of St. John, the religious order Padre Miguel is part of. “Going to the Brothers of St. John was a formative experience,” Ale says. She cherishes the message of the Brothers, which in her words, is, “loving and accepting everyone, treating others with kindness and as you would want to be treated, and serving others in need.”

Steven cites the deep influences of his parents and grandparents. “Family is an important part of who I am and also informs why I am the way that I am,” he says. In that context, the emphasis of his religious upbringing, just as Ale’s was, was on values as paramount, with learning, ethical behavior, and being a good person taking center stage. 

It is no surprise, therefore, that they each see in each other a common trait. So, while Steven says that “Alejandra is incomparably beautiful… absurdly smart... hard-working and driven,” what stood out to me is that he also says that “she is kind. She cares about others more than herself.”

And while Ale says, “Together we are playful, we are adventurous, we are curious… we encourage each other in our careers,” what stood out to me is that she also says that “Steven is kind and attentive and he puts his loved ones above all else.”

Care about others more than yourself. Put your loved ones above all else. What a great maxim for a successful marriage.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Cheesy But True

Saturday evening, March 18, 2023, I officiated Nicole and David’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center in Plano, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

You really can’t beat the story of Nicole and David’s first date in late 2018. David seems to be damning with faint praise when he says, “Nicole made me laugh and didn't ghost me after meeting IRL, so that was a good start.” 

When you hear Nicole's description of that first date, David’s comment makes sense. I will try to get through the entire quote without laughing: “David suggested the bar, Twin Peaks, and I didn’t know what kind of establishment it was, AND he wore sweatpants… but somehow I looked past it and liked him.” 

Ladies, if any of YOU are unfamiliar with this eatery, it makes Hooters look respectable. Nicole may be the first person to refer to it as an “establishment”. If you wrote a first date scene like this in a screenplay, you would get a note back saying, “Not believable enough.” Incidentally, without overemphasizing the tired Mars/Venus dichotomy, no guy, even one unfamiliar with this specific chain, would have any doubt about its nature. I mean, the Tilted Kilt is ambiguous, but here the name kind of gives away the game…

Nicole says that from the beginning she found that they both shared a slightly inappropriate sense of humor. So, naturally, when I asked them to articulate why they want to get married, specifically now, I was unsurprised that Nicole said, “We’ve been together four years, it’s time to lock it in… Biological clock is ticking.” Nor was I surprised that David said, “We aren't getting any younger, and why not?” 

Now I know this is like my third aside, but David’s quote indicates that though he is not Jewish, he is definitely Jew-ish because he answers a question with a question. Why do Jews answer questions with questions? Why not?

Of course, as someone whose sense of humor could be categorized as having the potential to ruin a family gathering myself, I know that such humor usually hides within itself a deeper meaning. 

Nicole says, “I have always been excited about finding the love of my life and getting married… [However] until I met David, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted in a husband or even marriage. Thanks to David, I realize I am excited about a partner – someone who is there beside me each day, lifting me up when I need it, and there for me to lift up when he needs it. Together, we are 100% - always filling in the other person’s missing percentage. I am an extremely independent woman who fears having anyone do anything for me, but David has taught me I don’t have to be and that he is there without me even needing to ask.”

And here is the larger context of the quote from David I mentioned before: “I want to get married to Nicole because she is the person I want to spend my life with. Yes, it's cheesy, but it's true. She loves children and will make a great mother. We aren't getting any younger and why not… Nicole is the person I want to spend my life with as well as create a new life with… Life is precious and not as long as you think. I want to make the most of the limited time we have left on this rock, and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.”

Breaking the Rules

Thursday evening, March 16, 2023, I officiated Jade and Niv’s wedding ceremony at The Milestone in Krum, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

There are just so many fun facts about Jade and Niv’s relationship, that I don’t know where to start. The one that might most surprise you, though, is that they both hail from a Lone Star State. 

Now, if you really know Jade and Niv, you’ve just done a doubletake. Is this one of those officiants that just walks in to perform a wedding ceremony without knowing the couple? How could he miss the fact that though Jade is from Texas, Niv is from Israel? Did he think that Niv’s accent indicated he was from Amarillo or something?

Rest assured, the answer to all of those three questions is no. I know Niv is not from Texas. I didn’t say Jade and Niv both hail from THE Lone Star State. I said they both hail from A Lone Star State. 

You may not have ever thought of this, but there is another Lone Star State, the one that Niv comes from. That’s right, Israel. (Think of the flag. Get it?) Incidentally, I didn’t make that up. Credit goes to one of the most colorful political figures in recent Texas political history, and we have quite a few of those, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, known by the moniker “One Tough Grandma.”

Now, there are many differences between our Lone Star States, and I say that as someone who grew up in Israel and lives in Texas. However, there are many commonalities too. Both states on the community and individual levels exhibit a certain “devil may care” attitude that disregards the rules.

This is why I was unsurprised that the way Jade and Niv met was through violating the rules. Nowadays, most of the couples I marry meet online through apps. So did Jade and Niv. However, all the other couples meet on apps – try this one on for size – meant for dating. Not Jade and Niv. They met on a language study app. 

Now, you might think that that language study app knows this thing is bound to happen and that they are OK with it, indifferent to it., or maybe even encourage it. No, the terms of use of this app state that you may NOT use the app for dating. Now, you might be charitable and think that perhaps Jade and Niv didn’t know this. Nobody really reads those terms of use, right? Nah, they knew it. But in the Lone Star States, rules are meant to be broken.

You might not yet be convinced of my point. Sure, that app has a rule against what they did, but who cares. It’s just an app. What really matters is that you abide by societal conventions in what really matters. You know, and I’m just randomly spitballing here, like with marriage proposals.

Here is a huge difference between not so much Texas and Israel but the U.S. and Israel. They say everything is bigger in Texas, but with regard to marriage proposals, everything is bigger in America. 

If Becky shows up in the office on Monday with a new rock on her finger, and the proposal does not involve a literal three-ring circus, by the time her girlfriends are done working her over, she is rethinking not just her engagement but all of her life’s choices.

In Israel (and a huge caveat to this is that America has infected the rest of the world with our ways, so by now even in foreign countries the circus is expected) we are a little more low-key on the proposals. 

And, so, again, I am unsurprised by where Niv proposed. Niv gazed into the distance, no doubt wistfully thinking of Bobby Kennedy’s quote, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not.” He then stiffened his spine with the resolve Israelis are known for, got down on one knee, and proposed… at Dallas Love Field, right next to the baggage claim carousel. 

All kidding aside, the words of that Boston Brahmin, who by the way was assassinated precisely because he was seen as too supportive of Israel, truly explain the essence of our rules-breaking Lone Star States, as well as the essence of Jade and Niv’s relationship. We don’t break the rules for the sake of breaking the rules. We simply don’t automatically accept that things have to be the way they are.

“That is the way we do things here” is never a great explanation, but other places and other couples just roll with it anyway. Thankfully, Jade and Niv know better. They ask why not, and in that question, they impart to us a great lesson, which we would be all wise to heed.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Sacrificial Love

Saturday evening, March 11, 2023, Reverend Jerry Smith and I co-officiated Shayna and Harrison’s wedding ceremony at Pineland Place in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Coming back to South Carolina is like coming home. I am named for my grandfather, the longest-serving rabbi of Congregation Tree of Life in Columbia and an important figure in Columbia’s civic life in his day. Fun fact: Reverend Jerry’s ministry in Charleston and my grandfather’s ministry in Columbia overlapped by four years.

Here’s what you won’t hear from most people when you say you are going to South Carolina, “Oh, you mean the state that is super prominent in American Jewish History?” And yet South Carolina is way more prominent in American Jewish history than most Jews or South Carolinians realize. 

This state holds the distinction of having been home to Francis Salvador, who was both the first Jewish legislator of the New World as well as the first Jew to die fighting for American Independence. 

This twenty-nine-year-old apparently had ice in his veins. After he was shot, he took the time to (a) inquire if they had won the battle, (b) shake hands with his commander, and (c) bid him farewell. Basically, he was a Jewish badass. 

Now, I’m not saying that the beginning of Shayna and Harrison’s relationship was akin to a firefight. It was way worse. 

Shayna describes it thus: “Harrison and I met in our junior year of high school in honors English, and it was definitely not love at first sight. I actually didn’t like him at all. I thought he was a rude southern boy that had no home training. When we first met, he asked me for a pen to do his classwork, and I told him I only had a pencil. He said that just wasn’t going to work and then proceeded to put his work on my desk and tell me I had to do it for him because I didn’t have a pen for him.” 

Not to make light of a martyr of the Revolution, but as Francis Salvador might have said, “Shots fired.”

Now, if you have figured out that Harrison managed to turn this around, congratulations, Sherlock. We are at their wedding, after all. What intrigued me was the turning point. What is it that began the journey from there to here?

Shayna tells us that it was one very specific thing Harrison did: “One day, he messaged me about another guy I was dating and made sure he was treating me right. That relationship didn’t work out, and Harrison and I started talking and hitting it off.”

He didn’t message her to ask how much she liked the guy she was dating. He didn’t message her to ask if maybe she wanted to look into dating someone else, maybe a guy that lacked writing implements, for instance. He messaged her to make sure that the other guy was treating her right. 

I don’t remember where I learned this; it definitely wasn’t scripture or rabbinic teachings. I think it was Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street. They asked how one could distinguish true love from what was obviously not. The answer? If you care about the other person’s happiness more than your own. That is true love. We might even call this, in a spiritual context, sacrificial love. 

This is true, not just between individuals. One could argue that what was special about Francis Salvador wasn’t that he was a Jewish badass but that what enabled his badassery was love for his country and a belief that it was worthy of his sacrificial love. 

Harrison showed the inkling of that in that interaction, and from there, there was no turning back. This is what exemplifies their relationship today; Shayna and Harrison continue to embody this very idea. They share a true love, a sacrificial love, in which they care about their partner’s happiness more than their own, and that is what marriage is all about.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Only Way to Grow

Friday evening, February 24, 2023, I officiated Shelby and Sam’s wedding ceremony at the Frisco Heritage Depot in Frisco, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I am privileged to have a son who is now attending the school at which Shelby and Sam’s romantic adventure began, the University of Texas at Dallas. Last year, said child and I attended a mandatory orientation for transfer students like him. We learned a fascinating and almost hard-to-believe factoid about UTD. 

The head honcho present shared with great relish that UTD, as of this last season, remains undefeated in football. Now, if you are laughing already, you get it. If you are not familiar with UTD, allow me to explain. The reason they remain undefeated in football, Texas’ official state religion, is that UTD, which until 1994 didn’t even have undergraduates, never has and will likely never have a football team. Thus, they remain undefeated in football. 

Now, a joke is never funnier when you analyze it, but that has never stopped me before. The reason this joke is funny is that we all understand that remaining undefeated is not that impressive if you have never competed in the first place. Sure, competing is hard, and losing, which necessarily you will, is painful, but that is the only way you grow. 

That is the part that rom-coms usually leave out. They tell you the story of the couple meeting, the sparks flying, the couple’s feelings, and even saying they are soulmates. And then they end. They remain undefeated in their relationship, if you will, but only because they never really compete in the field of real life.  

Shelby gets this. She says, “I want to marry Sam because he makes me want to be a better person. He spends every day loving me, even on bad days. He always tries to make me happy even when it is impossible.” Sam gets this. He says, “We desire to marry because we believe we have truly found our soulmates in each other.” 

Dr. Michael Tobin explains, “To find your soulmate, you must first understand that humans are not meant to be alone and that the purpose of a relationship is not merely to get our individual needs met—but rather as a challenge to grow—and to help our partners reach their potential.”

Shelby and Sam, may you continue to make each other better as true soulmates do, and may you continue to grow as individuals and as a couple for all the days of your lives.