Monday, December 25, 2023

My Life

On Friday, December 22nd, I officiated Lindsey and JD’s wedding ceremony at the Chapel at Gruene in New Braunfels, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lindsey and JD met earlier than most couples. Lindsey elaborates: “JD and I met in elementary school. He lived down the street from me so we would always be around each other. His mom was a teacher at our elementary school, and I would be in her hallway most days after school, and I would see JD in her room. Or rather he would be around me and I would try to ignore him and talk to my friends. We were better friends in middle school, because we rode the same bus and we would sit next to each other in the same group of friends every day.”

JD picks up the story from there: “One day in my sophomore year of high school, I received a text that said, ‘When did you get cute?’ To my surprise, it was from Lindsey. Naturally we couldn’t stop texting each other and even facetimed through the night… For homecoming, we had already been asked by separate people, but we spent the entire football game and dance together, even though our dates were probably annoyed. We dated for a short time, but ended up parting ways because I was young and foolish. I… never quite got over… Lindsey.”

When I asked Lindsey why she wanted to marry JD, she said, “He's the best roommate I've ever had.” That is high praise from a woman, JD. I have been married for 30 years, and I am not sure my wife would say that about me! She continues, “I want to marry Junior because he is thoughtful, kind, adventurous, and complements me well. If there are things I find lacking in myself, like being extroverted, he is the opposite in a way that supports me and makes me better. He is also supportive in all things I do, sometimes playing devil’s advocate when I’d rather he just agreed with me but keeping me honest and realistic about things is also a great thing. I love him for who he is and how he makes me feel equally loved.” 

JD is effusive about why he wants to marry Lindsey: “Whenever I am stressed or worried, being around Lindsey is my comfort, my friend to talk to, my north star. I don’t care where life leads me, as long as she’s by my side, I know I’ll be okay. She’s caring, giving, beautiful, sweet, and above all loving to all things. She lights up any room she’s in, with her magnetic personality making everyone feel welcome. Her smile and laugh are contagious and addicting.”

JD adds one thing. He says that Lindsey is Chayim Sheli. Now literally, that means “my life”. However, it is also the title of a 2018 Hebrew song by Eden Ben Zaken.

Now, I don’t usually assign homework during a wedding ceremony, but you do owe to yourself to both watch the song on Youtube and Google the lyrics in English, but here is the snippet that I think JD was aiming for and which we should all aim for in our loving relationships. Listen carefully (to the English, at least):

אוי, אתה החיים שלי

איך שיש לי אותך

,מזל שיש לי אותך לידי

אוי, אתה החיים שלי

אני צועקת מול כולם

אתה האושר בעולם בשבילי

ואיך זה איתך כל בוקר הוא אושר

הלוואי שהזמן יעצור לתמיד

ואיך שבאת לרגע

ונשארת לנצח

אהבה לכל החיים

Oh, you are my life
How is it that I have you
I’m so lucky to have you
Oh, you are my life
I cry out before everyone
You are the world’s greatest happiness

And how is it that with you every morning is happiness
If only time could stop forever
And how is that you came for one moment
And have stayed for eternity
A love for the rest of my life


On Saturday, December 2nd, I officiated Anita and Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox-Muslim wedding ceremony at Anita’s parents’ home in Plano, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

What stands out to me the most about Anita and Anthony is that they embody the opposite of one of the deepest ideas of Henry David Thoreau. In Walden, Thoreau contends that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Mike Turitzin explains this idea thus: “We feel a void in our lives, and we attempt to fill it with things like money, possessions, and accolades. We think these things will make us happy.”

Tutritzin adds: “We lead lives of quiet desperation when we resign ourselves to dissatisfaction. Quiet desperation is acceptance of–and surrendering to–circumstances. Quietly desperate lives are frustrated, passive, and apathetic. They’re unfulfilled and unrealized.” Why do I say that Anita and Anthony embody the opposite of this idea? Because they are both seekers. 

Anita recounts her seeker journey growing up: “I plunged into prayer and reflection to understand God and the whys of life. My older brother and I purchased the best English-translated Qur’an we could and studied to understand our place… It was eye-opening to me that my non-Muslim friends believed in the same Higher Power but simply understood this Supreme Being differently. This shared, innate, and unifying belief in so many of my friends from different walks of life was so powerful and comforting through my college and young adult years. Continuing to delve into different philosophies, visiting various houses of worship, and learning more and more has humbled me so much but also brought me to connect to so many others!”

Anthony recounts his seeker journey, which began a little later in life: “I began investigating other religions… I began visiting Orthodox Christian Churches… Despite my oscillating I was always drawn back to the… Orthodox Church… Psalm 143 and G-d’s “unfailing love” has been an obsessive curiosity of mine for many years… I have continued to grow in the Church… I am… always learning new things about Church traditions. Even though I have grown firm in my belief I continue to enjoy learning about other religions and listening to religious debates and lectures from a wide variety of scholars and speakers.”

In this Anita and Anthony embody the mythical common father of our religions, Abraham, who the Bible and the Quran describe as the ultimate seeker, who through his seeking came to know God. Anita and Anthony, what we wish for you is that you continue your seeking journey, as individuals and as a couple, and that through your seeking you continue to grow in your understanding of the divine and its manifestation in your lives. 

Friday, December 1, 2023

That’s What I Want

On Saturday, November 18th, I officiated Aryn and Miles’ wedding ceremony at Shelton's Place in Lufkin, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

Aryn and Miles’ relationship almost never started. As Aryn says, “We had mutual friends, one is a nurse who worked with me, and her fiancé at the time (now husband) is a police officer who worked with Miles. She was constantly telling me that I needed to meet Miles. The goofy, life of the party, reptile enthusiast, Miles. At the time I truly was not interested in meeting him.” Womp, womp, one might say…

“She does add, though, “Of course, I did meet him through work-related events. He would bring patients to the ER, and then take them to jail.” How romantic! It was, however, this type of interaction that brought them together. Miles brought in a patient, it wasn’t clear that he belonged there, and Aryn was going to give him a piece of her mind, or as Miles puts it, “Aryn took it upon herself to reach out to me and share some kind words about how she felt in regards to receiving said patient.”

Now, you may have heard that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. You are wrong. Miles says, “What’s often the best way to cheer up somebody who is quite vocally upset? Food. So, I thought I would try it on her. But not just any food, power rings (donuts) and kolaches. It worked and the rest is history.”

Aryn agrees: “From that day forward, Miles and I had a natural attraction and to my surprise had a lot in common. He was so easy to be myself around, we could carry on a conversation, we could be quiet and enjoy each other's presence, and best of all we could laugh. Laughing and being silly happens on a daily basis with us.”

Then Aryn invokes a very important concept: “You ask why I want to marry him and why now. It's simple, he’s my person!” What does that mean? Lisa Bonos writes, “The term was coined… on “Grey’s Anatomy” — to describe the deep bond between best friends Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo)… It’s someone who understands what you’re thinking or feeling, no explanation required… Advocating for you and cheering you on — while also delivering tough love when needed.”

Someone’s person need not be their romantic partner, necessarily. But how beautiful it is when they are. They then fit this wonderful description from the movie Frances Ha: “It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it… but it’s a party… and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual… but because… that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.” Aryn and Miles, may you always be each other’s persons.

Living a Meaningful Life

On Saturday, November 4th, I officiated Tracey and Doug’s wedding ceremony at the Room on Main in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

Here is an interesting exercise for you. We all know our parents’ names, most of us know our grandparents’ names, but very few of us can name all eight great-grandparents. Think forward a few decades, and this means that our very blood might not remember us, not to mention those who are not descended from us.

Now, this could cause you to despair, or it could cause you to recognize that life is short, and we must make the most of it. What does making the most of it entail, you might ask? I contend that it is living a meaningful life, in which we help others and enjoy what life has to offer. In that, even if you are not remembered by name, your heritage will pass on and be felt by those in the future.

Incidentally, this type of heritage is embedded in what brought Tracey and Doug together. They were introduced by Debbie Freed, a very dear friend of Tracey’s, who later passed away from pancreatic cancer. Her wonderful husband, Howard, honors us tonight with his presence. Debbie will always be in Tracey and Doug’s hearts.

Tracey and Doug, what we hope for you is that you will continue to live a meaningful life, enjoy what life has to offer, and always help others, and that that life will be further enhanced by your true mutual love and companionship.

A Lifetime of Happiness Together

On Saturday, October 28, 2023, Reverend Kelly Ingersoll and I co-officiated Aimee and Jason’s wedding ceremony at the Omni Oklahoma City Hotel in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

One of the things that stands out about how Aimee and Jason live their lives as individuals and as a couple is that they believe that their differences not only don’t stand between them but serve to enhance their relationship. 

Jason says: “We do not see eye-to-eye on everything about life. From small to big things, we agree on some and yet disagree on others… I find that these moments have made us stronger and realize just how much we love each other. I love Aimee for who she is. She is very passionate about her beliefs… She is very sympathetic and kind-hearted. You see this with her love for all things: animals (especially our 12lb weenie dog Rocco), people, and life… I don’t want to change her. I want to embrace all of who she is.” 

Aimee highlights the interfaith aspect of their love story, specifically: “There can be many questions around how you co-mingle a marriage and raise families with different faiths, and I’d be lying if I said I knew all the answers. For us, it’s about respecting each other’s beliefs and traditions and willing to participate and celebrate our faiths in whichever way we feel comfortable.”

In fact, have you ever met someone who does have all the answers? They are usually not that pleasant to be around. I much prefer people like Aimee and Jason, who continue to wrestle with the questions. 

In that spirit Jason says, “When people ask, ‘When did you know you were ready to marry her?” in all honesty I don’t have an exact answer. All I know is that at some point in time, it hit me that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. It may be the cliché but marrying her is my way of showing both her and God just that.” And Aimee shows she is clearly ready when she says, “Jason and I have had the best four and a half years as a couple and I look forward to a lifetime of happiness together.”

Still the One

On Saturday, October 21, 2023, I officiated Layla and Ben’s wedding ceremony at the Westin Galleria in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

When I think about Layla and Ben’s love story, one idea stands out. They have the best kind of love, a mature love. They have been together for twelve years but it’s not just an issue of time. Their love story evokes one of the best songs ever written about mature love, Still the One. No, not the one by Shania Twain, the one by the Orleans all the way back in 1976:

We've been together since way back when…

I want you to know, after all these years

You're still the one I want whisperin' in my ear…

You're still the one that makes me laugh

Still the one that's my better half

We're still having fun and you're still the one

You're still the one that makes me strong

Still the one I wanna take along

We're still having fun and you're still the one… 

You're still the one who can scratch my itch

You're still the one that I wouldn't switch

We're still having fun and you're still the one

You are still the one that makes me shout

Still the one that I dream about

We're still having fun and you're still the one…

Don’t take it from me or from the Orleans. Listen to Layla and Ben. Ben says, “Over the past 5 years living together, we organized a move over 1200 miles, persevered through job losses, supported one another through family deaths and hardship, survived Covid lockdown, and built our own little world for ourselves. We… have grown together to support each other. We are closer now than ever. The original foundations of our relationship through shared interests (primarily music and art) have expanded to include all aspects of life. We take care of each other as a whole person and are committed to each other forever. “Our wedding shall act as a public confirmation, not initiation of this commitment.”

And Layla say: “Bluntly and simply, I love him and he loves me. But obviously it goes deeper than that. He is my best friend; he knows everything about me and still takes me for who and what I am. I am not perfect, and neither is he…. However, we have chosen to work through any issues and grow together instead of letting them tear us apart. This relationship has lasted over 12 years, and we have certainly run the gamut in that time. In all honesty, I feel like we are married already. We share responsibilities… talk about our futures and where we see ourselves in the coming years… I don’t have a scenario without Ben in it; he is my everything.”

Pick One Another Up

On Saturday, October 14, 2023, I officiated Jamie and Colby’s wedding ceremony at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

The beginning of Jamie and Colby’s story is somewhat dramatic but straightforward. As Jamie says, writing in the third person, because of course she does: “Their love story begins like a scene from a movie. Red plastic cups strewn along the bar, the latest top 40s song playing in the background as string lights highlight the center of the basement, a beer pong table.” They proceeded to talk, play beer pong, and people watch. Colby asked for and got her number, and they lived happily ever after. 

No, that is not how it happened. As Jamie admits, “Colby asked if she would like to continue the tour and Jamie told him she should check on her roommate first. Turns out, her floormates were ready to head back to the dorm within a couple of minutes, meaning Jamie left Colby with no wave goodbye, no number, and no goodnight kiss.” Womp womp, as one might say.

A lesser man would have given up, but not Colby. In true Churchillian fashion he said to himself, “Never, never, never give up.” What followed was a detective story worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle. Interestingly enough, it is not Jamie, the professional storyteller that relates it; it is Colby who does.

“The next day, I logged onto Facebook… After some digging, I found her and sought to further a relationship by friending her. Unfortunately, her privacy settings were beefed up and didn’t allow me to do so… Fast-forward a few weeks later as Theta Chi’s first date night was approaching. With zero real prospects past or present to consider, I thought back to the girl I’d met the month before… How can I get in touch… Heading up to my room for the night, I heard a familiar voice from down the hall. A fellow Mah-Kee-Nac camper, who I recalled seeing talk to Jamie’s roommate on that August night, is hanging out with one of my pledge brothers. Wheels start to turn in my head… I… asked if he wouldn’t mind reaching out to his friend to ask if by some stroke of luck he happened to have Jamie’s roommate’s phone number. And if he somehow did, if he would be willing to ask her for Jamie’s number. My pledge brother happily obliged and set the chain of telephone in motion.” 

Jamie picks up the story and says, “It took Jamie a moment to realize Colby had to be the cute fraternity guy she met the first weekend at school. A quick Facebook search confirmed that yes, he was very cute, so Jamie told her to pass the number along… While she was slightly annoyed Colby misspelled her name (one of Jamie’s biggest pet-peeves) upon first reaching out, the moment she walked into Theta Chi the following weekend and he mixed her a cranberry vodka with lime, she knew the rest was history.”

Now, there is definitely an important lesson there regarding persistence, but I wanted to highlight another lesson Jamie and Colby teach us. Colby says: “My relationship with Jamie has taught me the power of partnership – this in a much deeper sense than what I’ve experienced for 6+ years negotiating, managing and evaluating sports marketing partnerships for work. As we have matured individually and together as a couple, I feel we have both begun to view our relationship from the lens of a partnership and being more than the emotional and physical connections that initially brought us together… To me, marriage and marrying Jamie is a commitment to a lifetime of partnership.” 

And Jamie says: “We’re both ready to spend our lives together. As hard as long distance was, we both used that time to focus on our careers and to grow individually. Now is the time for us to grow together. We make great roommates and puppy parents and are overall a good team, always finding a way to balance the other out, or pick one another up when they are down… We look forward to being married.”

Embrace of the Future

On Thursday, October 12, 2023, I officiated Diana and Ariel’s wedding ceremony at the Chapel at Palacios in Westlake, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

I ask every person I marry to tell me why they want to marry the other person. It’s kind of an important question, and no one aside from me can get away with asking it. I mean, imagine telling your bestie that you have become engaged. They are supposed to say congratulations, not why. 

I love Diana and Ariel’s answers. They are short, direct, and to the point, like Israelis and Venezuelans are, and they are at the same time deep, again, as Israelis and Venezuelans are.

Diana says that being with Ariel, “feels right, it feels like home. As an immigrant it’s very hard to genuinely feel at home. With Ariel, every time I return from work, ‘together’ is just the best place. I feel peace, I feel loved.”

And Ariel says, “When I met Diana, I was in the most unexpected place in my life. Meeting her and being with her has made life make more sense. It has increased my trust in the universe, God, and the process.”

Wow. What an optimistic sense of love and hope, what a beautiful embrace of the future. Of course, this reminded me of one of the most famous poems of that other Tchernichovsky, Shaul:

“Laugh at all my dreams, my dearest; laugh, and I repeat anew

That I still believe in mankind as I still believe in you.

For my soul is not yet unsold to the golden calf of scorn

And I still believe in man and the spirit in him born.

By the passion of his spirit shall his ancient bonds be shed

Let the soul be given freedom, let the body have its bread!

Laugh, for I believe in friendship, and in one I still believe,

One whose heart shall beat with my heart and with mine rejoice and grieve. 

Let the time be dark with hatred, I believe in years beyond.

Love at last shall bind the peoples in an everlasting bond.

In that day shall my own people rooted in its soil arise,

Shake the yoke from off its shoulders and the darkness from its eyes.

Life and love and strength and action in their heart and blood shall beat

And their hopes shall be both heaven and the earth beneath their feet.

Then a new song shall be lifted to the young, the free, the brave

And the wreath to crown the singer shall be gathered from my grave.”

Diana and Ariel, thank you for embracing and sharing your love and optimism with us. May they continue to carry you into a loving marriage for many years to come.

Fight Together

On Tuesday, October 10, 2023, I officiated Hannah and Justin’s wedding ceremony in Spicewood, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

Hannah and Justin’s story reminded me of one of the most misunderstood episodes in American political history. It occurred in the 1992 presidential campaign, specifically, during the vice-presidential debate. That year, our fellow Texan, Ross Perot, ran for president and he chose James Stockdale, as his running mate. Stockdale, with a shock of white hair, proceeded to introduce himself to the crowd at the debate with these words, “Who am I? Why am I here?” He was greeted with laughter, and the assumption of the public was that he was a confused old man.

Far from it, though. Stockdale was the most decorated Vietnam era POW. He provided leadership in the unfathomable Hanoi Hilton. He was and remains revered as one of the most important military philosophers of our time. The Stockdale Paradox is named for him. He was trying to answer a question he thought needed answering, why was a man of his caliber there. However, on a deeper level, he was asking questions we all need to answer, who am I, why am I here? Hannah and Justin know the need to ask those questions and not shy away from where the answers take them.

There is a story in the Talmud, the foundational book of Judaism (nope, it’s not the Bible), that sheds some light on maybe not the answer to that question but how one must answer it. We are told of a man named Elazar ben Durdaya, who deeply struggled with certain vices. There came a moment, when a close associate remarked that there was no way Elazar could ever get back on the right path.

The remark was a wake up call for Elazar, and the Talmud tells us of a discussion he had, likely in his head. He began begging the sun and the moon, the mountains and valleys, and other natural phenomena, one by one to help him. They each explain that they cannot. Then Elazar realized what many of us, including Hannah and Justin, come to realize at crucial moments in our lives, and he said, “Apparently, it is entirely up to me.” There are no shortcuts. I have to face the facts. I have to face reality. 

There is one important lesson, though, that Elazar overlooked. He overlooked the biblical maxim, “He who finds a wife, has found happiness, and has won the favor of the Lord.” And he didn’t have the opportunity to meet Hannah and Justin. Hannah and Justin’s inspiring story of redemption is proof that you don’t need to struggle alone. You can hold hands with that special someone and you can fight together. If that is the right person, together you can answer that double question, who am I, why am I here, just like Hannah and Justin have.

Widening the Circle of Concern

On Saturday, October 7, 2023, I officiated Emma and Matt’s wedding ceremony at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

Emma says that, “The story of how we met is a true modern day Jewish classic: blending the power of 21st century technology with the timeless persistence of a trifecta of Jewish mothers… I don’t remember where I was when I received a text from my mother saying, ‘Carol’s husband Warren, has a nephew that lives in San Francisco. He works in tech (yes mom, so does 99% percent of this city), and would you ever be open to meeting him?’” 

Once her positive response reaches Matt it turns out that they had matched already on Hinge, Matt had messaged her, and Emma had ignored him. Busted! 

Matt picks up the story from there and says: “Thankfully Emma decided to send her number back through the yenta chain. We had our first date in December 2018, and the rest is history. I continue to tell her we could have had another eight months together and been married already!”

Now, this is not the place to go into all the details, but if you know Emma and Matt and their families, you know they have experienced a greater share of challenges than what seems fair. How have they persevered? How have they not only survived but thrived? What is their secret?

I believe the answer may be found in something Emma says about Matt, but which is truly representative of both of them: “I loved the way Matt made me feel and made the people around him feel, from the CEO of his company, to Betty, the cleaning woman at his office, who he invited out to dinner with us one night for pupusas in the Mission. He invests in people, not because he thinks he can get something in return from them, but because he truly is fascinated by everyone’s story in a genuine and unpretentious way.”

The Ancient Rabbis, who were very concerned with action, and not so concerned with beliefs, ask what commandment one may best fulfill through marriage. Their answer is simple, yet profound, and reflects what I just told you: Love your neighbor, as yourself. Love your spouse as much as you love yourself. Then widen your circle of concern beyond that to include everyone else. And in the words of Viktor Frankl, quoting Nietzsche, once you have your why, you can withstand any what that is thrown at you. 

It is through the widening of that circle of concern that Emma and Matt and their families have overcome everything they have, it is through the widening of that circle of concern that they persevere. It is through the widening of that circle of concern that they will find everlasting happiness.