Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Really Counts

Saturday evening, I officiated Jeanne and Ronen’s wedding ceremony at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, in San Antonio, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that strike us, Israelis, about Texas is its sheer size. Everything IS bigger in Texas, including, well, Texas. Texans, in turn, are struck by how tiny Israel is. 

I have personally confirmed this story with our former governor and president, which illustrates this fact. George went on the obligatory visit to Israel in 1998, when he was planning his eventually successful run for the presidency. In those days, then future prime minister, Ariel Sharon, would take each prospective candidate on a helicopter ride. He would specifically show them the distance between the Green Line, the border of Israel Proper and the sea, which is just a few miles long. Seeing this #43 exclaimed, "We have driveways longer than that in Texas!" Humor aside, if you have been to a large Texas ranch, you know he was not lying!

Now, there are not that many American states that Israel can lord over due to their small size. Israel is often compared to New Jersey. It's not just because our politicians are usually also indicted shortly after they take the oath of office, just like in New Jersey; their size is similar. And New Jersey is much bigger than Rhode Island, where Jeanne is from. In fact, you could fit seven Rhode Islands inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Fortunately, size isn't everything. Mark Twain lived his latter days in a tiny state not far from Rhode Island, and earlier in life he visited what is now Israel, which was quite a feat at his time. He reminds us of a fact, that Texans would be wise to keep in mind, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog." 

That aphorism is very relevant to this couple. The special intimate ceremony we take part in today is not a Texas sized celebration. That would not fit the personality of this Rhode Island native or this sabra. However, if you know Jeanne and Ronen, you know this: The care they show for one another is great; the commitment they bring to their relationship is vast, and the mutual love they share is without end. And that, my friends, is what really counts. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

With Hearts Open

Saturday evening, I officiated Becca and Daniel’s wedding ceremony at the Wedgewood at the Brittany Hill, in Thornton, Colorado. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Friends, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning, and learning from everyone. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what are they, consciously or maybe even unconsciously, teaching me, and indeed us?

Here is the secret to this exercise, which might sound easier than it is: Shut up and listen. I ask some open ended questions, and I listen to people, as they tell me about their lives. Do you realize how difficult that can be for a rabbi? After all, you don't become a rabbi if you don't really like the sound of your own voice! 
Now, in Becca and Daniel's case, in particular, this really paid off. The way they describe what each of them has been to the other is like poetry. Listen to what Becca says:

"Daniel has been a really large rock in my life. He has challenged me and has pushed me to strive for something better. He's taught me what meaning something to someone actually stands for. He watched my heart break, then helped put it back together. Together... I think we are at a pivotal point in not only our relationship, but our lives as individual people, and we will need the strength we lend to each other in order to make it the best (time) of our... life."

Wow. It's raw, it's honest, and you can tell what an affect Daniel has had on her life. Now listen to Daniel:

"As I look into the future, I can finally see my goals and wants. Becca is a big part of that. Before I met her, I never thought I would have gotten married or have kids. Not because I didn't think I would find someone but because I thought it just wasn't me. Then I met her, and all that changed. She was sweet and caring. She saw good in people, and always thought the best of the world. I tend to be more cynical and rough around the edges. She makes me a better person and man. Where I want to be in life, my dreams and plans have all changed. I can't imagine it any differently."

Again, the raw honesty really comes through. The affect has not only been profound, it has been fully mutual. 

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, we imagine and strive towards a perfect life. But, have you ever met that person who believes that he or she is perfect? Not great marriage material. Counterintuitively, in marriage and in life, in general, the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk ring true: "There is nothing more whole than a broken heart." 

The great Quaker thinker, Parker Palmer, explains this idea. He says that the heart as it is, is closed. It is only when it breaks, that it truly opens up. He cites Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master, who says, God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open. 

That is the lesson Becca and Daniel teach us today too. With hearts open, they now write the next chapter of their life, together. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Next Adventure

Saturday, I officiated Michelle and Matt’s wedding ceremony at the Omni Dallas Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. These are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I truly love Michelle and Matt's approach to life. I believe it may be the perfect vehicle to not only survive (which is kind of boring) but to truly thrive (which is way more exciting) in the world we live in. 
The post WWII era begot a way of life, where for a short period of three to six decades, depending how you measure it, the Horatio Alger myth of American life seemed to become a reality. If you worked hard and played by the rules, you could, regardless of your station in life upon birth, achieve the American Dream. That American Dream was based largely on working for one corporation for most of your adult life, buying a home, and earning a pension. These structures would grant you stability throughout your life. 

Now, this never really was true, but it was not till the late 2000s that this really hit home, just as Michelle and Matt's generation was coming if age, and entering the workforce. They and we discovered that the structures that had defined our lives were truly gone. The question was, what now?

Michelle and Matt have the answer, and I love it. While some saw the tidal wave approaching, and could or would not act, this couple (with a twinkle in their eyes) said, "What if we surf that bad boy?! Now that might be scary, but it would be fun!" That is the secret to their success. 

I couldn't help laughing out loud at Michelle's description of the beginning of their relationship: "During our first few dates I liked Matt a lot but wasn’t sure how much. (Well now! - DSG) I got the impression that he liked me a lot and I loved how open and honest he was. Well, eventually, I was all in!" Lucky for Matt, huh?!

Michelle and Matt's relationship budded, deepened and cemented, as they rode the waves of their professional lives, and traveled the world together. It was on a European trip between jobs for Matt, that he says, "We truly became each other's adventure buddies. I had known Michelle was awesome before, but spending time together in tiny rooms with no A/C and long days of travel helped me realize how much of a perfect fit we were. We... totally clicked."

That sense of adventure was one they honed in their professional lives, their travel, and even in just relaxing together. As Michelle says, "I loved how easy our relationship was, we always had fun even when we were doing nothing. (One) summer, we... (traveled) to Belize. It was then that I realized how little Matt likes to sit still... I loved that Matt was so adventurous and helped me break out of my comfort zone too! We now call each other 'adventure buddies'."

Now, it's important to understand that leading an adventurous life takes some bravery and some sacrifice. Matt appreciates that, when he says, "That's what I absolutely love about Michelle. She is willing to make extreme sacrifices for me, and I can't imagine anyone being in love with me as much as she is." 

It is this love that causes Michelle to say, "He doesn’t know this but sometimes when we snuggle at night silent tears of joy roll down my cheeks, because I cannot believe how lucky I am to be marrying the man of my dreams." It is this love that causes Matt to say, "I am always on the lookout for our next adventure together." Well, Michelle and Matt, how about we start that next adventure right now?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Power Couple

Today, I officiated Mandy and Paul’s wedding ceremony, at Reflections on Spring Creek in Plano, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I officiate for, to write an autobiographical essay, and I ask them to touch upon a few specific points in the essay. Among other things, I ask them to tell me why they want to get married and why now. After all, these are important questions to consider, and no one else, aside from me, can ask them without seeming quite rude!
Mandy showed she was a true Jewess with her answer to, “Why now?” What do I mean by that? Well, they say that Jews often answer a question with a question. Do you know why? Simple: Why not?

That is Mandy’s answer to why she wants to marry now, “Why not?” Fortunately, she does elaborate on that: “I love this man with every ounce of my being, and I cannot be complete without him… Everything in my existence is better because I have him in my life. We are stronger and better together. We often refer to ourselves as a ‘power couple’. There’s nothing we can’t do together, nothing we can’t achieve, nothing we can’t overcome…”

A “power couple” is an interesting phrase. I looked up what it meant in the Urban Dictionary, and here is the top definition, which (once you hear it) I think you will admit, fits Mandy and Paul, like a glove:

“A relationship between two people who are equally as cool as each other. They are as individually awesome and fun to be around as they are when they are together. Neither one depends on the other for their feelings of self-worth – they know in their heart that they are just as valuable to the world as the other. Good looking, optimistic, and sparks a light in the world that people recognize that goes beyond a normal relationship. In a power couple, if one person is flawed, the other person makes up for their weaknesses in strength. Together they are the epitome of what anyone would desire in a relationship. They encourage goodness in the world and make it a better place by being together.”

That final point is the one that stood out to me the most about Mandy and Paul. In my discussions with them, it was very clear that in their professional endeavors, as well as in their personal lives, encouraging goodness and making the world a better place, was of paramount importance to both of them. This is why they work with kids; this is why Paul chose to serve our country in uniform in peacetime and wartime; this why in said essay, Mandy added a whole paragraph just to tell me about their family of seven, the two of them and five members of their furry brood (her word, not mine).

This might seem like a trivial, matter of fact point, but it is not. In a world that seems to have grown colder and less caring, in a world where the fictional Gordon Gecko’s, “Greed is good,” is seen as a positive statement, in a world that mistakes the ownership of things for actual accomplishments, this is very very serious.

The world needs more people like Mandy and Paul, the world need more couples like Mandy and Paul, to encourage goodness and to make the world a better place.

Touch the Face of God

Saturday afternoon, I co-officiated Rosalind and Gillis’s wedding ceremony, with Monsignor Roger Smith, at Nina’s Chapel in Leakey, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:
I was entirely fascinated with something Rosalind had mentioned about finding a mate. Listen to this: “When I was in college, I had this long checklist [of what] I was looking for in a significant other. The list had quite a few superficial characteristics that I realized really didn’t amount to anything, if the guy I was dating didn’t make me feel like I wanted to be a better person every day. So, finding someone who challenged me to do better, to treat others better, to be that better person went to the top of the list.”

Now, Rosalind, I hope you understand that even where you started is far ahead of where most guys are in college. It’s usually not a checklist, certainly not a long one, and it is 100% superficial. Seriously, though, I love that idea of the most important attribute in a mate, being one that would make you a better person, specifically in your interpersonal relations with others.

Now, friends, it probably won’t surprise you that someone who says that this is what she is looking for in a guy, already has this attribute (in spades) herself. Listen to how Gillis describes her: “Rosalind is the kindest, friendliest, smartest, most fun, most level headed, non-judgmental and beautiful person I know.  She is always willing to go out of her way to make other people feel better or more at ease.”

This is not something that happened by accident. This is where Rosalind’s heritage led her. As she says, “While participation at church was at the forefront in my life as a child, perhaps most important to my spiritual growth was the example my parents and grandparents set for me. They express their love not only verbally but also through acts of service, whether it be volunteering in the community or taking care of loved ones who have fallen ill… This expression of love and understanding is one of the family traditions that has helped shape my spirituality, which is constantly evolving and growing today.”

Rosalind vividly describes how she met Gillis, through an acquaintance. When he described Gillis she says, “None of the superficial characteristics on my ‘checklist’ were listed… Instead, he described Gillis as one of the most considerate people he knew. It made me realize that Gillis was someone I wanted to meet even before he arrived that night… He is one of the most compassionate, loving, and considerate people I know. Gillis has a way of helping and teaching people that leaves them feeling that he truly supports and cares for them, and he does…”

In Gillis’s case, this was no accident either. As he says, “While I was raised as and identified as being a Jew, I was always taught [that] being a good person is more important than practicing any single religion… I think being a different religion than those around me, while growing up, played a significant role in my religious beliefs today. I still feel and think God cares infinitely more about what we do than what we believe.”

Well, Rosalind and Gillis, though a rabbi I am, I cannot contend that I speak for God. That said, my studies lead me to not only feel and think that God would care more about what we do, than what we specifically believe; they lead me to know it is so. Continue, therefore, to build your relationship with this understanding in mind, and through your kindness and compassion, as individuals and as a couple, you will, in the words of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., “touch the face of God.”

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Worthy Code to Live By

Saturday evening, I officiated Ashley and Aaron’s wedding ceremony at the Boot Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The way Ashley and Aaron's relationship began is indicative of how the Mars and Venus dynamic between men and women is, shall we say, interesting...
Aaron recounts how he got the ball rolling: "I thought joining an organization would give me the opportunity to make some new friends. At this one particular meeting, the committee chairmen were trying to get some volunteers for different events. Ashley was the head of the Construction Student Association Banquet committee. I thought she was cute, so I decided to volunteer for this particular event. After a few gatherings and me talking to her casually, I mustered up the courage to ask her out on a date.  Our first date lasted four hours, so I would say it went pretty well."

Ashley describes her initial perceptions a little differently: "We had a couple of classes together… until he volunteered for a banquet fundraiser that I was heading up for our department. There he volunteered for about everything I needed help with. Being naive I thought he was just an eager student volunteering for everything to build his professional resume. After a couple fundraiser meetings he mustered up the courage to ask me out on a date." From there they dated for the rest of college, went their separate ways after it was over, reconnected in Dallas, and brought us to this joyous day.

So, what is it that caused that initial volunteering gig there turn into a lifelong commitment? Aaron explains it simply and beautifully, "I believe the reason that we decided to take this life journey together is simply because we are in love with each other.  I believe that we both make each other better people. We both have each other's back no matter what the situation is, and we push each other on many different levels."

Ashley agrees, but she elaborates and adds something fascinating: "I want to marry Aaron because he is not only my best friend but he is my person. I feel that he makes up for my shortcomings, and together I feel that we complement each other and push each other to do our very best. "When I think of how to describe him to others, the very first thing that comes to mind is that he is a good man. He will always stands up for what is right, be truthful even when it’s not the easiest thing to do, and when he cares about someone, he puts their needs before his own and he protects them like family..."

My friends, that would be a worthy code to live by, a code that both Ashley and Aaron have shown they are committed too:
• Stand up for what is right;
• Be truthful even when it’s not the easiest thing to do;
• Put the needs of others before your own.
Let us all strive to live up these ideals.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Sunday morning, Rev. Randy Dicken and I co-officiated Eve and Derek’s wedding, at the Stonegate Mansion, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Eve and Derek might just have chosen the best week for an interfaith Jewish-Christian marriage. On top of that, this might just be the best week for a wedding that unites not just two individuals, but two young families. Why do I say that? Well, this week, our faiths celebrate two holidays, Passover and Easter.

What are Passover and Easter all about? I don't mean the minute details of the stories we tell. I mean what overarching themes are embedded within these celebrations? What is at the core of these holidays that are not just central to our religions, but critical to their founding myths?

Simple; they are all about renewal. They are, after all, Spring holidays. As such they draw on aspects of the human experience that have their roots deeply embedded in the human psyche, that precede the dawn of our great faiths.

Let's think about that word for a moment, renewal. What does it imply? Renew is different from just new. It implies both something new, but also a continuation of something that existed before. Spring, after all, does not, if you will, spring out of nowhere. It emerges from Winter, as the physical world renews itself.

That is what bringing two families together, as we do here today, is all about. That is why earlier in this ceremony, we took a moment to acknowledge the three important individuals that share the stage with Eve and Derek here today. That is why later this week both Christians and Jews will incorporate eggs into their rituals. Because, regardless of the philosophical abstract question regarding what came first, the Easter egg and the egg on the Seder plate were both definitely preceded by the chicken.

This spirit of renewal is what Eve draws on when she says, "Our love and commitment (will) allow us to build a solid foundation and a happy home for our children... It is important to us to show our children what a happy, healthy marriage is." And it is what Derek draws on when he says, "My desire to marry is because I would like to share my life with Eve... I love Eve and want her to know that I want to spend my life with her. It is time... to officially tie the knot."