Sunday, December 30, 2012

Life is Self-Transformation

Last Friday night (12/28) I officiated Pat and Steve's wedding ceremony at the beautiful Harmony Chapel in Aubrey, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Pat and Steve are such a unique couple. You really sense a quiet wisdom emanating from both of them. They have been around the block. They have learned a thing or two. They have each transformed their lives as individuals and as a couple.

Now, sometimes, what comes with this type of wisdom is a feeling that an individual or a couple might be a little staid, or dare I say, stale, maybe even timid. But not Pat and Steve.

You sense that they are vibrant and young at heart. You know that they are at an exciting period in their lives. You see how being with each other makes them just giddy in anticipation of each and every day.

Ask them why, and they will tell you, modestly, because of him or because of her, depending on who you are talking to. And they each are emphatic that being together not only brings them happiness; it makes them better people. And so, their love, is seasoned and mature, and at the same time fresh and invigorating, even contagious.

Thinking about Pat and Steve, I was reminded of the words of the Bohemian poet and essayist, Ranier Maria Wilke. Listen to this; it is as if he was writing about Pat and Steve:

"Life is self-transformation, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, they rise and fall from minute to minute, and lovers are those for whom no moment is like any another. People between whom nothing habitual ever takes place, nothing that has already existed, but just what is new, unexpected, unprecedented."

Pat and Steve, continue to relish in your self-transformation. Continue to live life to the fullest. Continue to grow together, as individuals and as a couple, in ways that are new, unexpected, and unprecedented.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lifelong Learning in the Broadest Sense

On Saturday night (12/22) I officiated Florencia and Gustavo's wedding ceremony at Casona San Ignacio in Santiago, Chilé. This is the first wedding I officiated entirely in Spanish. Here is an English translation of the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Friends, one of the most fascinating things about the Jewish tradition is that a Jewish scholar, be he the greatest scholar of his generation, is referred to as a talmid chacham, literally a wise student. That is because Judaism so values the idea of lifelong learning. Whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple, being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what are they; consciously or perhaps unconsciously, teaching me, and indeed us?

In fact what I think we can learn from Florencia and Gustavo is just that - the importance of lifelong learning in the broadest sense. They are first and foremost learners. They relish learning. They look for opportunities to learn. They try to learn from every person and from every situation.

What qualities do these two exhibit that enable them to be the ultimate learners?

They are very self-aware and deeply self-reflective. They have never really been interested in conforming and doing something just because others do it. They highly value difference - be it different outlooks, different cultures and especially different people. They know that nothing worth having comes easy. They are thoroughly independent. Perhaps the most important thing is they care very deeply about others, and they realize that in almost any situation, the healthiest approach is to realize, that it is really not about you.

The really cool thing is that they live by this creed not only in their individual lives, but in their life as a couple. In fact that makes their relationship so strong, since the very qualities that make a person a lifelong learner are the qualities that will make a person an ideal lifelong partner.

Florencia and Gustavo, thank you for this vital lesson. May you continue to live your lives in this very fashion for many happy years to come.

And here they are, as I actually did them in Spanish:

Amigos, una de las cosas más fascinantes de la tradición Judía, es que un sabio Judío, aunque sea el mayor sabio de su generación, es llamado talmid chacham; literalmente, estudiante sabio. Esto es porque el Judaismo valora mucho la idea del aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida. Cada vez que oficio en un matrimonio, me pregunto; ¿De esta pareja, siendo individuos únicos, qué puedo aprender? ¿Qué es lo que ellos, consciente o tal vez inconscientemente, me enseñan a mí, y a todos nosotros?

En efecto, lo que creo que podemos aprender de Florencia y Gustavo, es precisamente eso – la importancia de un aprendizaje a lo largo de toda la vida, en el sentido más amplio. Ellos son, primero y ante todo, estudiantes. Aman el saber. Buscan oportunidades para aprender. Intentan aprender de cada persona y cada situación.

¿Qué cualidades tienen, que les permiten ser grandes aprendices?

Son muy conscientes de sí mismos, y profundamente auto-reflexivos. Nunca han estado interesados en conformarse, y hacer algo sólo porque otros lo hacen. Valoran mucho lo distinto – ya sea un aspecto distinto, una cultura distinta y, especialmente, personas distintas. Saben que nada que valga la pena se consigue sin esfuerzo. Son sumamente independientes. Tal vez lo más importante es que se preocupan profundamente de los demás, y se dan cuenta de que, en casi toda ocasión, lo mas sano es notar que la situación no gira en torno a ellos.

La cosa más increible es que viven bajo ese credo, no solo en sus vidas individuales, sino que también en su vida como pareja. De hecho, esto fortalece su relación, pues las cualidades que hacen de alguien un gran aprendiz, son las mismas cualidades que hacen de una persona una pareja de vida ideal.

Forencia y Gustavo, gracias por esta vital lección. Esperamos que continúen viviendo sus vidas de la misma forma, por todos los felices años que vendrán.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Thanksgiving Day Wedding

Thanksgiving Day I officiated Ginger and David’s wedding at their home in North Dallas, Texas. This was a really special. Many Jewish weddings are celebrated under a chuppah, which serves as a symbol of the home the couple builds together. Just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open on all sides to welcome guests, so too is the chuppah open to represent the hospitality and sense of community the couple hopes to create in their own home. With this wedding, we did one better. We had no need for a mere symbol of home and hospitality. We had the real thing, as we celebrated this wedding in the couple’s home, surrounded by their family and very close friends.

Ginger and David decided on November 22nd, Thanksgiving Day, as the day they wanted to get married for a number of reasons. It was Ginger's late father Bob's favorite holiday, and 22, as her cousin reminded her, has always been a significant number for Ginger. Thanksgiving has been important to David’s family, since they immigrated to the United States, as the quintessential American holiday.

Here are the remarks I shared with them:

Ginger and David are extraordinary together. Spend just a few moments with them, and you can sense not just their love, but their deep friendship. They are truly best friends.

They are both passionate about each other and passionate about life. They work hard and they play hard. They have formed not just a genuine partnership with each other, but a wonderful, loving, cohesive family with Sally and Peter.

So, one might ask the same question they each asked themselves and each other rhetorically many times over the last decade, why get married? I mean, if everything is working well, why is that last detail important?

Now, Ginger and David are very close with their families, and Ginger says the idea of marrying was crystallized for her by one of her many cousins. This cousin asked her why they did not get married, and Ginger, like any good Jew, answered the question with a question, and asked why they should? His answer was simple yet profound, "Because you love each other."

Now, I don't know how much longer that person thought about this short exchange, but it really resonated with these two. They resolved to marry, because they love each other. That's it. You can't really top that, so let's not try to, let's get these two lovebirds married!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sharing, Caring and Respecting

Yesterday (Saturday 11/24) I officiated Jessica and Micah's wedding at the Plaza in Durant, Oklahoma. Jessica loves the teachings of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, so my remarks centered on some of his words of wisdom:

I ask each couple I marry to write a short essay about themselves, and specifically to touch upon why they want to marry their soul mate. I loved reading what Jessica and Micah wrote. They talk about the deep sense of partnership they share as lovers and parents. They talk about how much they value and respect each other. They emphasize how much they care for each other, and how they each savor and treasure the caring they each get from the other. Jessica writes that Micah “is so loving and caring, often times putting the needs of Ariella and me before his own… Micah is an excellent father. He works tremendously hard to put food on our table… but most of all, so that I can stay at home to raise Ariella properly.” Micah writes in turn, “Jessica is always there for me, to help me, to listen, and to give me advice. She takes wonderful care of me at all times.”

This reminded me of the advice Jessica’s favorite rabbi, Rabbi Menchem Mendel Schneersohn, gave a young woman regarding finding true love. Here is what this sage told the young woman. Listen to this; these words are gold:

“Real love is an experience that intensifies throughout life. It is the small, everyday acts of being together that makes love flourish. It is sharing, caring, and respecting one another. It is building a life together, a family and a home. As two lives unite to form one, over time, there is a point where each partner feels they are a part of the other, where each partner can no longer visualize life without the other.”

Incredible. Having spent time with Jessica and Micah, it is as if the Rebbe is talking about them, and describing their relationship. Jessica and Micah, what is it we wish for you? That you continue to live your life in exactly this fashion, sharing, caring and respecting one another, united together as one.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Being Thankful, Happy and Content

Yesterday (Saturday 11/10) I officiated Harper and Israel's wedding at their home in San Antonio, Texas. Here are my personal remarks to this special couple and their guests:

When I was a kid, growing up in Israel, my late mom and I really enjoyed reading and discussing columns by a sharp and witty journalist, Tommy Lapid.

One of the reasons I so loved to read him is that though he was as astute as the next guy, and even somewhat of a cynic, from time to time he would take a break and write a very different column. In these different columns he would remind us, Israelis in the 1980s, that though we had our share of problems, with all of the challenges we had, frankly, we had never had it so good. He would remind us how thankful and happy and even content we should be due to that.

Getting to know Harper and Israel I found myself reminiscing about reading Tommy's columns with my mom. Harper and Israel have something quite enviable, something we should all strive for - a general state of mind of thankfulness for what they have in life, true happiness and genuine contentment.

That does not mean they have no problems. That does not mean they have no challenges. That does not mean they have no concerns. We all do, and they do too.

However, some of us, many of us, let those problems, challenges and concerns bog us down so much that we unalterably lose that thankfulness, happiness and contentment, but not Harper and Israel.

What I see in them is an ability to rise above it all, remain centered and come back to that place of thankfulness, happiness and contentment they have found individually and in each other arms.

So, let us resolve to join them. Let us resolve to be more thankful for all of the wonderful things we have. Let us resolve to be happier and more content, just like Harper and Israel.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Sense of Thanks, Dedication and Purpose

Yesterday (Saturday 11/3) I co-officiated Holly and Gary's wedding with Dr. Darin Wood at Centaur Arabian Farms in Flint, Texas. Holly and Gary met in Afghanistan, and I started with that in my personal remarks.

So, I think every kid, at some point, asks his or her parents how they met. I don't remember when I asked this question, but I know I did. I remember the response. They met at a party. My next question was where, and I don't remember much beyond the answer, "New York." I probably went right back to playing with my toy trucks, because "New York" to a little kid living in Chicago just does not provoke any further conversation.

Now, Holly and Gary's future children will at some point ask them the very same question, and their answers will be quite different. "We met at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball," they will say. Then when the kids ask where, the conversation will really start to get interesting, because "Kabul" just sounds really funny to the young American ear. (Well, to the older one too...) No doubt, their children will ask what on earth BOTH of them were doing in that funny sounding place.

Now, this might lead to a discussion regarding a fascinating concept we Jews call Bashert in Yiddish. Like many words in this Germanic-Jewish language spoken for hundreds of years by Jews across Central and Western Europe, it is so rich that it almost resists translation. Bashert means "meant to be," and also "made in heaven." It can describe a situation, as in, "It was bashert, that we were both at the same Marine Corps Birthday Ball." It can mean one's soul mate, as in, "She met her bashert at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball." You see, the ancient rabbis believed that while one is still in uteri, a heavenly voice proclaims who a fetus will marry. I imagine Holly and Gary will say that their meeting at that place with a funny name was bashert, and that it was also where they each met their bashert.

Now, with many other couples, the discussion might end there. With Holly and Gary, however, I think this will lead to discussions very early on, earlier than in many families, about the love we have for our country, about how lucky we are to have our freedoms, and how sometimes we need to go to funny sounding places to defend those freedoms.

Knowing Holly and Gary, they will probably relate all of this in a very matter of fact way. They won't make a big deal out of the fact that were part of the minute percentage of Americans who served in the military. They won't make a big deal out of the fact that they gave up some of their prime years. They won't make a big deal out of the fact that they are, well, a big deal.

Their children will understand that many in their generation owe their very existence to the fact that young men and women heeded the call to go to far places with funny names to protect our way of life. I believe that that fact alone will imbue them, and should imbue us with a sense of thanks, dedication and purpose.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Winning the Battle

Liza and Trent are really special. They exhibit how we can win the battle against our natures and make the world a better place. On Saturday (10/27) I officiated their wedding at the Petroleum Club in Houston, Texas. Here are my remarks:

The ancients were puzzled as to why the average person looks out for him or herself, first and foremost. To solve this riddle they posited forces of the mystic realm - the Devil or Original Sin in Christianity, the Evil Inclination in Judaism and the like in other faiths.

Darwin was able to offer more naturalistic explanations of the organism's struggle to survive on the evolutionary landscape. Then came Richard Dawkins to explain that it is not that whole organisms directly struggle with others, rather it is our genes themselves that drive us in their wish to replicate and survive us. He warned us too that we must each resolve to be Anti-Darwinian in our social behavior. We must rule our genes, and not the opposite. We must do what is good and right and just, not just advantageous to us. We must look out for others, and not follow our own narrow self interest.

Since this demands that we go against our nature, this is really difficult. This means we should extol those who are able to win this battle against nature. To me, Liza and Trent stand out as great examples in this regard. They really go out of their way to understand others, look out for them, and give, give, give to those around them. They do this as individuals, and help each other do this even more, as a team. As Liza says, "Trent balances me out, and gives me perspective. He reminds me that not everyone will have the same experiences as me, or have the same outlook that I do. He reminds me to be patient, and give things time." Trent in turn says that Liza, "is the one who has been able to help and touch so many people around her. Her goodness spreads with all of her acquaintances and it leaves me awe-inspired."

Liza and Trent, it is this unselfish approach towards others that makes you really stand apart. May we all learn from your example, and through that help make the world a better place.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Just like a Déjà Vu

On Friday (10/26) I officiated Jackie and Scott’s wedding at Allen House in Austin, Texas. This wedding had me reaching for my daughter’s music collection again. Check out my remarks:

One of the first things I always ask a couple is how they met, and how they fell in love. I hear so many wonderful and special stories. I have to admit that Jackie and Scott have a particularly unique love story. They met and dated in high school. Then came college, and like many high school couples they broke up. At the time some said that if it was meant to be, they would make it back into each others arms....

What a mysterious, but true thing to say. It's like a Déjà Vu was predicted here, one that eventually happened. It took not one but two more separate times over the course of the years to come, but that Déjà Vu moment of true love arrived. Scott’s mom uses the word Yiddish word bashert, which roughly translates as fate or meant to be. It reminds me of a few lines from a song called Déjà Vu, by one of my daughter's favorite singers, a Swedish artist, who goes by the moniker Velvet:

I can hear you call my name, like a flash from yesterday... We were made for one another... It's all coming back like a Déjà Vu... Once again only me and you...

What Jackie and Scott remind us is that in fact sometimes things are meant to be but not at that first moment. Sometimes, even if we are meant for each other, we still have some growing and learning we need to experience as individuals, before we can come together as one, and that is OK.

And what Jackie and Scott also remind us is that when that moment comes, when that second chance comes, we need to take decisive action to make it happen. So let us learn from Jackie and Scott the careful balance between waiting to live and learn and seizing the moment of that second chance, where we truly go all the way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Contemplative Couple

On Saturday (10/20) I co-officiated Amy and Ben’s wedding, at Green Pastures in Austin, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes you hear people lament the condition of marriage today. They long for the non-existent good old days, depicted in movies of the Hayes Code era, where everyone married, most married young, and all lived happily ever after. I recently re-watched Ilya Kazan's 1947 movie, "Gentlemen's Agreement". This movie shook American Society to its core in recognizing Anti-Semitism was a real problem. Still, even in this groundbreaking movie, the hero and the heroine are discussing marriage within two scenes, once they sense that their relationship is getting half serious. Do any of us really think this was ever a good or healthy thing? Though hardly any of us do, we as a society still have not fully, excuse the pun, divorced ourselves from this idyllic dream that never was.

This is where the approach of Amy and Ben, shared by many of their peers, may teach us a thing or two. Amy says, "Society has drummed up the notion that the clock is ticking, that you have to start having kids and being single after thirty is just taboo. None of those things matter to me."

So, if we understand that that is true, how do re-conceptualize marriage? Amy tells us, "I want to get married because it feels right, it makes sense and there are no reservations in working to be together with this specific person for the rest of my life." It is in this type of relationship that one can, in her words, feel, "so lucky to have" the other "each and everyday." It is in that type of relationship that, "Life really is better, together."

It is in that type of mature contemplative relationship that Ben can reflect on how well he knows Amy, and state that he wishes to marry her because he knows her to be, in his words, "Selfless, intelligent, motivated, adventurous", one he, loves "Spending time on the couch with... watching a movie with... riding a motorcycle with... and traveling the world with." It is in that type of relationship, where even the Kryptonite of the immature relationship, silence, turns into precious gold, and leads Ben to say how much he treasures a quiet evening with Amy.

Amy and Ben, with a mature and substantial relationship like yours, you are on the path to marital success. May your years together, indeed be long and many.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Effortless and Natural

On Sunday (10/7) I officiated Courtney and Mike’s wedding at Chateau Polonez in Houston, Texas. Here is what I shared with them and their guests during my personal remarks:

One of the most obvious things about Courtney and Michael is that they are really and truly best friends, not just lovers. So much so that they make their relationship look and feel natural and effortless. How do they do this?

Well, one of the things I have learned is that paradoxically it takes a lot of time and practice to make something like that look natural! Now that may sound comical, but it is true. Courtney and Michael understood this way back, and so even though they knew they were soul mates from the beginning, they took their relationship slowly step by step, tried it out in different environments, put a lot of practice into their journey together, and gave their love time to mature like a fine wine.

Of course, practice and time are not enough. You have to be practicing the right stuff. But how do you know you are? Well, I believe you have the best shot at that, when you are open to learning from each other.

Now if you know anything about Courtney and Mike, you know how much they believe in each other. You know how much they admire each other. You know how much they value each other's perspective. When you truly believe in someone, value that person's perspective and admire that person you can learn so much. When you know that this is mutual, well, you can learn even more. Indeed, with Courtney and Michael, you can see how much they have learned and continue to learn from each other every day.

Only when you are truly open to learning from each other in such a fashion, can you really grow as individuals and as a couple, and be best friends too. And again, when you really practice and give that growth time to flourish, well, it just makes all that effort look, you guessed it, effortless and natural.

So, Courtney and Michael, as you are about to take your vows, we encourage you to continue this growth, continue to be best friends, continue on this journey of happiness, the whole time making it look effortless.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Empathetic Couple

On Saturday (10/6), after I co-officiated Heather and Brian’s wedding with my good friend, Father Milt Raybould, in Carrollton, Texas, we raced down to the Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas to co-officiate Olive and Guillermo’s wedding. Here are the remarks I shared with this physician couple and their guests:

A few days after my second of four meetings with Olive and Guillermo, I was watching a podcast of a lecture by Alain de Botton, and it was as if he was speaking to my thoughts about this fascinating couple.

I don't know about you, but one of the things I look for in a physician, beyond capability, obviously, is empathy. I don't think I am alone in that sense. You see, De Botton reminds us that while we live in the West, in what we perceive as perfect meritocratic societies, we are still far from the ideal. There is still so much in our lives that is the result of luck, be it lucky genes, lucky circumstance of birth, luck of people we interact with. So, when we go to the doctor, we want our doctor to tell us we need to lose some of that weight, but to understand how hard it is too. We want our internist to explain our treatment options, and also understand that we might need to wait a few months to save up for the deductible, because our insurance policy has gotten even more sucky, than the last one we had. We want our pediatrician to explain the 12,000th time why that vaccination is safe and necessary, which we know already, but are still just a little freaked out about, because it is our child we are talking about here.

Now, what so struck me about Olive and Guillermo, is that even though I have never interacted with them in a professional medical capacity, I know I would be totally comfortable doing so. Their success due to perseverance and hard work, has not caused them to be judgmental about others. If anything, it has caused them to be so much more accepting and compassionate. You see this in how they describe growing up. You see this in how they describe the circuitous route of their professional education and experience. You see this in how they reflect on their love story, on their learning from each other, and in how they live their life together as a couple. For that, for this important lesson they embody, we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Humor is Vital

Saturday (10/6) I co-officiated Heather and Brian’s wedding with my good friend, Father Milt Raybould, in Carrollton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests at this intimate wedding:

Heather and Brian are such a fun couple! They don't take themselves too seriously. They find humor in challenging situations. They brighten a room when they walk into it. Is it any surprise that this is the first of 160 brides I have officiated for who actually tried her hand at standup comedy.

Now, some people might make light of the importance of comedy. (See what I did there?) The Jewish tradition though does not. The Talmud recounts a story of a sage who encountered the immortal prophet Elijah in the marketplace. The sage asked Elijah if he could tell him of all the people there who surely had a share in the World to Come. Elijah pointed out two people in the crowd and disappeared. The sage approached the two, and he asked them who they were and what they did. He surely expected them to tell him of their great learning or marked piety. Not so. They told him that they were just two people who possessed a good sense of humor. They explained that they would walk through the marketplace, and whenever they would see someone who looked sad or despondent, they would cheer that person up, maybe tell a joke or two, and leave the person in good spirits. And this was apparently why Elijah and by extension God had thought so highly of them.

This is, in my opinion, one of the deepest stories in the Talmud. It reminds us how important it is to increase happiness in the world, how helping people through fun can be so valuable, and how vital humor is to every human relationship.

Heather and Brian, in the ways you interact with each other and with the world, you show us this is a lesson you know already. So continue to exhibit a playful spirit, continue to have fun with each other, and continue to bring happiness into the world. Through this you will inherit your share not only in the World to Come, but in the hearts of your friends and family.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Do Fairy Tales Come True?

This last Saturday I officiated Erika and William's wedding in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. What a special cosmopolitan couple! Their story is quite unique. Here are my remarks:

Do fairy tales come true? Well, that depends what you mean by a fairy tale. The first definition of a fairy tale, according to Webster's is, "a story involving fantastic forces and beings." Now, anyone who knows Erika and William, will tell you that they have no use for any type of such magical thinking.

Fortunately, Webster's has a second definition. According to this definition, a fairy tale is, "a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending." If one tries, like Erika and William, to live life rationally, can one still believe that in our world there are such fairy tales?

I believe that you can. All you need to do is look at the extraordinary love story of Erika and William. What are the chances, after all, of these two coming together? Improbable, indeed. Then again these two, as individuals, exhibit character, that is almost improbable. Erika, well, you could just understate it, and say she took the road less traveled. Yup, all the way to mastering Spanish, and studying and working in Costa Rica, and at this point holding, as my dad would say, more degrees than a thermometer... And, William, well, they hardly use this quaint phrase anymore, but this is a self made man! You hear his story, and your average medical resident working 100 hours a week seems just down right lazy...

So, do fairy tales exist and come true? Not always. In fact, not often. That said, Erika and William in their story as individuals, and as a couple, show us that fairy tales do come true. They show us that there are stories, "in which improbable events lead to a happy ending..."

It does not end there, however. Anyone who knows Erika and William will tell you that there is something they feel very strongly about, in this regard. They both feel that there is a lot more we as a society and as individuals can and should do to make sure that more fairy tales come true for more people. Let us resolve to each heed this call in our lives. Let us resolve, as Erika and William have, to make more fairy tales become a reality.

Friday, September 7, 2012

There’s No Other Love in the World Like Yours

Last Sunday I co-officiated Katie and Josh's wedding at Lost Mission in the Texas Hill Country with Father Alejandro de Jesus. They chose a beautiful reading, which I referred to in my personal remarks. Here they are respectively:


There’s No Other Love in the World Like Yours – Author Unknown

There's no other love in the world like yours. There's no other life like the one you will share... As two pebbles in a pool spread ripples forever outward, your two lives will blend into one and widen and grow through all the days of your love. But each of you will still be you.

Two people, separate, original and independent, even in your togetherness. Just as the flame of two candles can burn apart from one another and yet blend their light to brighten the same room, you will be as one and still be two.

A wonderful adventure awaits you as you go forward from today to build a world as wide as your wishes and as dear as your dreams. It will be a world where even problems can bring you closer as you solve them together, a world where you can live the story of your love, a story that's never before been told. You've already shared so much from the time when you first met… And your marriage is the beginning of a deeper sharing, a wider awareness, a greater happiness. As you gaze outward in the same direction and look inward at the feelings that are closest to your heart. There's no other love in the world like yours.

There's no other life like the one you will share. And there's no joy to compare with the kind you've wished for today, tomorrow, and always.


I was really happy when Katie and Josh chose this last beautiful reading. It contains so many rich ideas about love and marriage. I wanted to touch upon just one that I feel is very true regarding Katie and Josh. This idea also connects to the Seven Jewish Wedding Blessings, which we will get to later in this ceremony.

One of the most incredible things about life is that we each are unique. Think about how mind boggling that is. We each are separate and unique beings. We each are here on this earth for a short time. We each walk this earth, and once we are gone, we are gone forever.

This can be disquieting or disconcerting, but it can also be invigorating and empowering. What I see in Josh and Katie's outlook on life is fortunately the latter. They truly savor and cherish life.

One of the most profound things one can experience in this limited time we have is true love, the kind of true love, where there is truly no other love in the world that is like it, the kind of love that is unique and singular. The way Katie speaks of Josh, and the way Josh speaks of Katie you sense quite clearly that this is what they have.

It is this love that the Seven Blessings allude to with their references to Adam and Eve. What we wish for every couple is that they love each other so much, that it is as if there are no others in the world besides them. This is what Katie and Josh exemplify in their relationship.

Katie and Josh, what we wish for you is that your happiness together continue, and that it be so great that indeed there be no joy to compare with it not only today, but tomorrow and always.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Great Power of Love and Sacrifice

This last Saturday I co-officiated Eve and Patrick's wedding at the Marty Leonard Chapel in the Fort Worth, Texas with my good friend, Deacon Mike Gesch. Here are my remarks:

Today we celebrate Eve and Patrick's mutual love in the context of their religious traditions. Though there are differences between their traditions, many of the ideas they celebrate regarding marriage are shared.

Both faiths emphasize the importance of finding the love of our lives, both faiths tell us that that love involves making sacrifices, and both faiths idealize marriage as the best vehicle for that mutual love and sacrifice between two loving individuals.

Eve and Patrick speak so lovingly about each other, that you know this is the type of love they share. Patrick says, "I am always happier when I am with her than when we are apart." Eve says, "I thank God everyday for making and bringing me my other half, soul mate, and best friend."

It is clear too that this love was not created in a vaccum. Both Eve and Patrick talk about what an incredible example their parents set for them with their love stories. And so this is in fact a multi-generational tale.

Eve and Patrick, what we wish for you is that continue this shared tradition. Continue to exhibit your romance for the next generation. Carry this love story forward, and may your children after you know the same joys of true love and sacrifice in the context of sturdy marital relationships.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Security in Spreading Their Wings

Last Sunday I officiated Brooke and Eric's wedding in Arlington, Texas. I referred to a reading I read before my remarks. Here is the reading from the writings of Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility, it is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible in life, as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia; nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. For relationships, too, must be like islands. One must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits. Islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, are continually visited and abandoned by the tides. One must accept the security of the winged life, of the ebb and flow, of intermittency.

Here are my remarks:

I use a wonderful book to help couples choose reading for their ceremony, "Celebrating Interfaith Marriages" by Rabbi Devon Lerner. It has a whole chapter with about thirty five modern poetry and prose readings. Brooke and Eric are the first to choose this reading. When they did in one of our meetings, I made a mental note of that as an interesting fact.

Then I sat down to write this ceremony, and I read this reading in depth. I was struck by how deep, realistic, and multi-layered it was. What really hit me was how much this reading fit with the couple that chose it, how much "Brooke and Eric" there was here.

You see, many people in our middle class society have their life charted out in a fairly predictable fashion. They look for and find security in the familiar, the regular, the close to home. In the process, they clip their own wings, settle for something less than what they dreamt of, and learning and curiosity lie dormant in them.

Not Brooke and Eric, though. Listen again to the final words of the reading: "One must accept the security of the winged life, of the ebb and flow, of intermittency." Both Brooke and Eric have managed not to succumb to the deadening security that comes from just settling. They find security in spreading their wings as individuals and as a couple. They find security in learning, in trying new things, in visiting new places. They find security in the question, not the answer; in the intermittent, not the constant; in the journey, not the destination.

Brooke and Eric, thank you for this wonderful insight. May you indeed always remember that, "The only continuity possible in life, as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in freedom."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Through Love We Transcend Ourselves

This last Saturday I co-officiated Veronica and Chris' wedding in Lubbock, Texas with Pastor Don Kinder. Here are the remarks I shared with them:

I ask each person I marry to write an essay about him or herself. This enables me to get to know the person a little better, and say something really meaningful at this point. Veronica opened her essay with a fascinating story. She tells how as a teen she suffered a loss of faith, and then regained it. Here is how (listen to this; this is gold):

"I was in temple for my confirmation class, it was the last meeting, and our Rabbi asked us to just sit in the synagogue and reflect on what we have learned. There are no words to explain what happened. All I can tell you is that this feeling of comfort and security came over me... And in my heart, it was as if God was telling me everything was going to be okay. It was from that point on that my spiritual and religious connection to God came back."

Across cultures and generations, across religions, and even amongst non-theists, people have related similar experiences. So much so, that the great French sociologist, Emille Durkheim, called our species, Homo Duplex. He said that we each have two levels of experience, the day to day level of the profane, and those moments, where we experience the sacred, those moments, that we call spiritual experiences, be they of a theistic nature or a non-theistic nature.

I was introduced me to this idea in a podcast of lecture I saw given by Jonathan Haidt, a sociologist of religion. Haidt says that invariably, when we experience the sacred, when we transcend the ordinary, we transcend ourselves, and feel part of something greater. I feel that the most basic unit of that something greater is a couple truly and deeply in love. You hear this in how Veronica describes her first encounters with Chris, "The moment our hands touched I knew he was the one." Then after eight months, "We ended up talking for hours. I felt like I have known him my whole life." Chris elaborates on this concept too. He says that he was looking for that woman, with whom he could have a deeper connection, and that that is what he found in Veronica. So much so that, whenever he was not around Veronica he says he, "came back to the feeling of emptiness... Then when we would be back together I felt whole."

Veronica and Chris, you illuminate a great truth here. Through love we can transcend ourselves, through unity with a loved one we can rise above the ordinary, and touch the sacred. May you continue to experience this today, tomorrow and always.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Taco Salad Day

This last Saturday I co-officiated Leah and Joey's wedding with Pastor J.C. Lane in Montgomery, Alabama. Pastor Lane is Leah's grandfather, so this wedding was extra special. Here are my remarks:

Is there anything more intimidating than delivering meaningful personal remarks, standing beside the bride's grandfather, who raised her since the age of fourteen? I think not! So, if speaking at 150 weddings has taught me anything, when in doubt, resort to humor!

That brings us, of course, to "Taco Salad Day". First impressions are very important, so ideally, you want your first interaction with the beautiful upperclassman girl to go exactly like this did for Joey. Here is his description, "It was taco salad day and Leah and I sat at tables that were right beside one another. I was using hand gestures to tell a story to my buddies (Have I mentioned he's Jewish...) and before I knew it, I had taco salad all over me and in my lap!"

Now, you may think I am joking, and, well, I am. However, I am serious too. Just listen to Leah's description of what her reaction was, "I laughed and you could tell he was embarrassed, but I loved how well he played it off so nonchalantly. There was something about him that definitely caught my eye, and it wasn’t the taco salad that was covering his lap."

You see, people talk about many important components to a relationship, but many times I think that one of the most important is a sense of humor, being able to laugh. But there is something still deeper going on here. Humor is important, but perhaps the most important ingredient in a relationship is not taking YOURSELF too seriously. That is essential! Clearly what most impressed Leah was that Joey could laugh the whole thing off. She herself showed that she had the same approach about herself, when she asked him out moments later to a dance.

Leah and Joey, what is it we all wish you. Keep going back to that well, where you met. Keep smiling, keep enjoying life, and never stop laughing together.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Address at the Vigil at the Sikh Temple of North Texas

Wednesday evening (8/8)I attended a Vigil at the Sikh Temple of North Texas, and addressed the assembled. Here is what I said:

My name is Rabbi David Gruber. I wish to extend to you, the Sikh community, my deepest condolences.

How can one actually address such a terrible tragedy? Am I adequate to even try to do so? I don't know. So allow me to talk about how I dealt with a personal tragedy. Hopefully, my words will be edifying in the context of this more public tragedy.

14 years ago today, my wife and I had a child, who spent a third of his very short life in the hospital, and died less than nine months later. The most natural thing to do when one experiences such a tragedy is to ask why? Why did this happen? Why me? Here is the problem, though. There is no good answer to that question, and believe me, I have heard them all. And though you never really stop asking that question, you realize that if you are to continue on, you can't get stuck on that question. Since you cannot control events that happen to you, trying to answer that question will get you nowhere.

There is one thing, though, over which we have absolute control, and that is our choice of how to react to what happened to us. No one can take that away. So, I realized that though I could never answer the why question, there was a much more important question I could answer. That question was and is what now? Now, that I have experienced tragedy, what can I do? What call to action can I find in this tragedy? What can I do to give this tragedy meaning? To that question there can be an answer. In fact, each one of us is called upon to find his or her answer to that very question.

My answer was to love and to teach. I resolved that I would do the little bit I could to make sure there was a little more love in the world, and a little more knowledge. This drives choices I have made in my life. This is how I have found and continue to find meaning in my personal tragedy.

So let us all resolve tonight, each one of us to ask ourselves what call to action we will accept. If each one of us will heed that call, imagine, just imagine, what a wonderful society we can create!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Absolutely Passionate

This last Saturday I co-officiated a wedding once again with Deacon Ed Scarbrough at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Coppell, Texas. This time the couple was Rachel and Ben. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I sat down to write about Rachel and Ben, I was struck by the fascinating combination of a journalist and a restaurateur, a reporter and a sommelier. There are some very interesting commonalities between these professions, and no, I am not referring the fact that many of the best writers were alcoholics!

These professions demand long hours and hard work. If you knew nothing about these professions, you would know that is true from observing Rachel and Ben's work ethic. At the same time, few get filthy rich in either of these industries. What does the combination of these two facts mean? Well, it means that to make it, you have to be absolutely passionate about what you are doing. And again, can there be a better example of this important workplace trait than this couple?

Now, one fringe benefit of developing these characteristics is that you transfer them to your personal life, and they can enhance your relationship. After all, a successful marriage too demands hard work, and does always offer immediate remuneration. You have to be passionate about each other and about the enterprise of the marital relationship itself, but if you have just that, the sky is the limit. And once again, anyone who has seen Rachel and Ben together can tell you that this is what they are all about as a couple.

Rachel and Ben, what is it we wish for you? That you continue to work hard at your relationship, that you continue to invest in this priceless endeavor we call marriage, and that your passion continues to keep the engine of your love humming.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Exciting Journey Just Waiting to Unfold

Recently I officiated Stephanie and Jeremy's wedding at the beautiful Mediterranean Villa in Arlington, Texas. This is the first time I officiated a wedding for two Mensa eligible people! Here are the remarks I shared with them:

I think that this couple is indeed one you can learn from, first and foremost, because both of them are really just so darn smart, just from the technical official IQ kind of perspective. We are talking, "scary smart!"

Really, though, it is more than that. I had the feeling when I was talking to Stephanie and Jeremy that they are, in a sense, while young and fun individuals, old souls, who possess wisdom beyond their chronological ages. The reason for that, I think, is that they have had to deal with challenges a little bit more than would seem fair. Now, none of us chooses to have the types of challenges that fate put in their paths, but dealing with those challenges successfully matured them, and gave them wisdom far beyond their years.

Now, in some instances, and with some people, even dealing successfully with those kinds of curveballs might leave one bitter and sour towards life. One could not even be blamed for such a reaction. But that is just not Stephanie and Jeremy. With them, it is if anything, quite the opposite. They just possess a zest for life, which is infectious. Therefore, they truly view their present and future as individuals and as a couple, as an exciting journey, just waiting to unfold.

In that spirit, let's wait no more, and with their vows in just a moment, let's begin the rest of that journey now. Because with these two, I have a feeling, that we ain't seen nothing yet!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I Choose You!

Last Saturday I co-officiated Moriah and Max's wedding at the church Moriah grew up in, with her dad. It was a wonderful celebration. Here are the remarks I shared with them:

Officiating with the bride's father is one thing, but giving some meaningful personal remarks after the bride's father just did... Wow! That is super challenging.

So, anyway, when you are at such a disadvantage in comparison to your co-officiant, you need a system. I try to spend as much time as I can with every couple really trying to get to know them. I am always really curious about what their love is like, and why they want to get married.

What struck me about Moriah and Max is how deep their love runs, and how mature a relationship they have. They are not only lovers, they are soul mates and best friends. Every now and then, you know, we run into a couple who may be lovers, but we are not sure they are friends. We worry, what will happen when they face a challenge? Will they make it? No need to worry about Moriah and Max in that department! Listen to how Moriah describes the depth of their relationship. She writes, "We want to get married because it means that there will be good times, and there will be hard times, and we will be together, united to face or embrace, whatever comes our way..."

Moriah and Max understand that the fundamental fact about abiding and lasting love of any kind, and most importantly between a husband and wife is that it involves what some of our neighbors in Cajun Country call, "stickin'". You stick together and are there for each other no matter what, and that makes you stronger as a couple, while you grow as individuals too.

And Moriah and Max understand a great theme of both of their faiths, that true love is about sacrifice. (You can't really have the same name as the one of the holiest sites on Earth, and not know that, right, Moriah?) Moriah and Max understand that marriage is about vowing to each other in Moriah's words, "I choose you, and I choose to stand by you no matter what, forever, because I love you." How beautiful is that? That really says it all. Thank you guys! What a wonderful lesson for all of us.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Making Your Differences Work for You

This last weekend I officiated my 150th wedding! Vanessa and Andy married at the Westin at the Galleria in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first things I ask every couple, when I first meet with them, is to tell me about themselves. I usually say something along these lines, actually, "Tell me about yourselves, Vanessa pre-Andy, Andy pre-Vanessa, how you met, and what happened since." This is probably the first time a couple said that the "pre" meeting each other phase was rather short, since they met, when they were 6 and 9 respectively. Talk about taking your time to get to know each other, before getting married!

Seriously, though, these two individuals have such a unique and special love that comes from a deep and intimate knowledge of each other. As Andy says about Vanessa, "Vanessa is one of the few people in this world that truly knows me (probably better than anyone at this point), and, better yet, one of fewer that truly knows me AND loves me still."

Now, the last part of what he says may be in jest, but really that is what true love is all about. Each of us has our strengths and our weaknesses. Each of us has our similarities and our differences. True love does not mean that we ignore that. It means we acknowledge it, and make it work in our favor, towards fulfilling our collective goals and dreams. As Vanessa says about her relationship with Andy, "We are both similar and different in so many ways, and our differences truly complement one another. We share many of the same values, have many of the same goals, and fully support one another in achieving our dreams!"

It is that perspective that causes Andy to say, "I cannot wait to continue growing and experiencing all that our relationship and life has to offer," and Vanessa to say, "He is my perfect partner in this journey we call life, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him!" Well, friends, I am not one to argue with a bride and groom at their wedding, so if they both can't wait, I shouldn't either, so off we go to the vows!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Priorities in Order

Saturday evening I officiated the wedding of Lauren and David at the Safari Texas Ranch in Richmond, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with this cool couple:

You hear quite often about the millennial generation that they just do not have their priorities in order. Now, most people understand that these assumptions are far from true, as generalizations usually are, but these myths persist.

Now my experience amounts to anecdotal evidence, but I believe that when you get to know Lauren and David, it can further serve to debunk this myth about their cohort. These are two individuals who put their noses to the grindstone. These are two individuals who work hard and play hard. These are two individuals who don't just go with the flow, but analyze their situations, make changes when warranted, and get the job done.

This is true not only in their individual personal and professional lives. This is true in how they approach life as a couple. Here is what Lauren says about this day specifically, "I want a marriage not a wedding. I love to love." David says, "I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together through good times and bad. When you find someone so special, why wait to commit yourself to spend the rest of your life with them?"

What is their focus in these statements? Not the wedding, but the marriage. Not today, but tomorrow. Lauren and David understand that this day, the wedding and its festivities, can become quite meaningless, if IT is their focus as a couple. They understand that if on the other hand, they focus on their partnership in life, this day can and does become one wrought with meaning.

Lauren and David, what is it we wish for you? That you continue to keep your priority in order, and through this approach you create a life together, that will fulfill your dreams.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I Will Wait For You, I Will Say I Do

This last Sunday I had the great privilege of officiating the wedding of Jacky and Luca in Toronto. Here are the remarks I shares with them. They say it all:

As medical professionals like Jacky and Luca will tell you, the only really worthwhile exercise regime is one you will actually be able to sustain for perpetuity. For me, that has meant mall walking. I take a daily walk of at least 90 minutes in a nice air-conditioned mall.

It's odd, but I do some of my best writing on my iPod during these walks. So the day I wrote these remarks, while walking the local mall, I heard the tail end of a song by Claudia Lee, called Hollywood Sunset. Her refrain, in which she addresses her lover is, "I will wait for you; I will say I do." That kind of stopped me in my tracks, in a way a syrupy pop song shouldn't perhaps. There is something really deep about that statement. It really made me think about some deep underlying and beautiful themes in Jacky and Luca's story.

You see, many of us have experiences or encounters, where we are not ready to embrace what is right in front of us. We know that if we are just given some time we will be ready, and we even implore the Universe to wait. And sometimes, if we are really lucky, we might even hope to hear a voice answering, "I will wait for you; I will say I do."

Then, one day we are ready, and we hope, we pray, that we have not missed out, that the opportunity is still there. And miraculously it is. We hear that voice, much clearer now, "I will wait for you; I will say I do." Oddly, or perhaps not, THESE experiences or encounters are many times much more meaningful, than ones we were ready for the first time.

The thing is that it is also about THESE types of experiences that Lance Armstrong's words, moments after winning his first Tour de France, might be applied too, "If you ever get a second chance in life, you've got to go all the way!"

Now, the fact is that many of us, perhaps all of us, get second chances in life. Circumstances do wait for us, ready to say, "I do." Too often, however, we fritter away those second chances. What is beautiful and inspiring about this couple standing before us, is that they remind us that it need not be that way. We need not let those second chances escape us. We can harness them to make our lives way more meaningful. We can and we should say, "I do."

I believe that when one develops this consciousness to these second chances, this approach can strengthen one beyond belief. And when a couple in love are able to live their lives this way, together they can weather any challenge, just like Jacky and Luca...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reflections from a Tuscan Wedding

Can there be a more majestic setting for a wedding ceremony than the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside? Sunday evening I officiated the wedding of a very special German couple, Hana and Daniel. Guests arrived from a number of different countries in Europe and beyond, and the ambience was just unbelievable. Here are my remarks from their ceremony:

Now sitting down to write these remarks, I was able to reflect not only on my long discussions with Hana and Daniel. I could actually IMDB a bride and groom. That was a first! When you talk to Hana and Daniel you find out that these are two of the deepest, most thoughtful and empathetic individuals you will ever meet, with a fascinating, multidimensional and inspiring love story, like few others. These two really make you stop what you are doing, and think and reflect about what you heard, think and reflect about your own life and your own experiences too.

Not surprisingly, they bring this depth, empathy, and complexity to their work. On the website of the Berlinale Talent Campus, every individual is supposed to sum up his or her philosophy in one line. Hana says, “I love observing: people, places – life and I am fascinated by those things that aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye.” Wow! Isn’t that how we all should live our lives, carefully observe people and places, with lovingly observe life, and allow ourselves to be fascinated by things that might not be visible to the naked eye?

When you watch Daniel’s film, Monolight, there is again so much depth! So much is said by both individuals about their longings, their passions, their unrequited love, through just their facial expressions and body language. It takes only a few minutes to watch, but it really makes you think for long after that. You are left with a deep sense of empathy for the characters. You are left wanting to learn more about them. You are left, once again “fascinated by those things that aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye.”

What is it that has allowed Hana and Daniel to be so open, so insightful, so empathetic? There is one particular fascinating core experience that they share, that I feel can really help answer that question. Hana and Daniel are both of layered cultural backgrounds, as a Japanese-German and a Jewish-German, respectively. They treasure and embrace these complex backgrounds, through which they share a feeling of being German, but being something else too, through which they share a feeling of always being just a little bit out of place, through which they share a feeling of fitting in, but not really.

I believe that it is through this shared experience, as individuals and as a couple, that they were able to become as deep and thoughtful and contemplative as they are. Through this shared experience they became so much more open to the world around them. Through this shared experience they developed a strong sense of empathy towards others, and especially towards “the other” in society.

So, Hana and Daniel, we owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for providing us, with real and rich meaning. Thank you for providing us, with some real thought provoking sustenance. Thank you for helping us learn and think and carefully reflect about our cultural identities, about our place in the world, and about how we too can and should become more open, understanding and empathetic.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pilazzo Bizzarri and the Town of Serre

In my intro post, when I started my blog, I stated my purpose to share with you my personal remarks from the weddings I officiate. My focus in those remarks is always on what I learned from a couple. This post, and perhaps I will do one or two more on this subject will focus on my trip to Tuscany. After all, this is learning too. Do not expect anything comprehensive or methodical, just stream of conciousness.

I am staying at Palazzo Bizzarri in the small medieval town of Serre in Rapolano Terme in the Province of Siena. I am here to officiate Hana and Daniel's destination wedding. They live in Munich, and decided that Tuscany would be the perfect setting for their wedding. Perfect is an understatement! This place is really something.

According to, this "medieval fortified village founded in the year 800 by Byzantines to ward off Longobards... This beautifully restored house, the Palazzo Bizzarri... is a 1200 (sic) tower..." When the owners, "Lucia and Giuliano (Civitelli) bought the palazzo, they also acquired all the original furniture, curtains, crockery and linen and felt it was all too perfect to change."

As someone who grew up in Israel, the first thing I was reminded of, when we arrived in the village, was the Old City of Jerusalem. The town has very narrow streets (though this slows down the Italian driver about as much as it would the Israeli one...) and most of it looks like it is straight out of the Middle Ages. Indeed, according to IL Prodigio Cromatico Delle Grance Senesi, the Rapolano municipality's "resistance to the 'silent hammers of decay' has halted the passage of time, allowing us to observe a perfectly preserved piece of living history."

When you walk into the Palazzo, you are not only struck by the ancient look of the entrance hall, but by the sweet smell of grapes. You can see almost straight into the cool wine cellar, which is fully stocked, and looks like something out of a movie. Surpisingly, very little of the Palazzo is air-conditioned, but the stone building remains relatively cool.

Incidentally, it seems that Sienna was a republic for more than 400 years from the 12th to the 16th Century. Don Isaac Abarbanel speaks so fondly of such Italian city states as an example of the Jewish People should follow, when they regain independence. I wonder what Angela Merkel would think about Italians being extolled for their fine governance...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Letting Your Relationship Grow

Saturday I officiated Lenore and Brian's wedding at the Villagio in Yountville, California. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In organizational management theory, one of the elements that sets the successful companies apart from the ones who wither on the vine is the ability to learn, adjust and grow, not in size or scope, but in character.

This is no less true for couples. As Lenore tells us about Brian and herself, "I believe that we have allowed ourselves to grow... Now that we are older and have begun to understand what we would like to do with our lives and how we would like to live... I feel content on every level."

What couples who build the type of successful relationship Lenore and Brian have understand is that it is not enough for each of them to grow and allow the other to grow. They need to allow this third entity, in which they are emotional stockholders, their relationship itself, to grow and mature. Brian puts it very well, "Watching our RELATIONSHIP change and mature over the years has been fun to see. Every time [we have faced a challenge] we’ve made it through and grown stronger as a result."

Lenore and Brian, thank you for sharing this moment and this place with us. May you continue to mutually grow, and your relationship continue its journey towards perfection.

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Hiring" Your Weaknesses

Saturday I co-officiated Sarah and Josh's wedding at the Old Red Courthouse Museum in Dallas, Texas, with Dr. Steve Langford. I got a laugh out of their guests immediately as I began my personal remarks. Read on to see why:

I've never started personal remarks with a story about women's undergarments, but hey, they say you should live dangerously, so here goes...

I recently heard an interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who is youngest self-made female billionaire. One of her most interesting explanations for how she got to where she is today was that the minute the business got too big, she hired a professional CEO. Actually, here is how she put it, "I hired my weaknesses."

That is such a smart statement, which in a way should serve as another nail in the coffin of the myth of the omnipotent hero corporate leader. It also has two interconnected profound messages for not just founder-CEO relationships, but marital relationships too.

The first thing Blakely reminds us is that it is OK to admit that we do have weaknesses. It does not impugn you, as a company founder or a family builder. If anything being that type of self reflective person makes you much much better at whatever you are trying to build.

The second thing is that you go out and seek not your clone to help you with these weaknesses - that would not make sense - you seek out your counterpart, the person whose strengths balance out your weaknesses, and vice versa.

Sarah and Josh really get this. As Josh says, "We are great together. We seem to balance each other out... We bring out the best in one another, [and] we aren’t scared to tell the other how we feel." Sarah agrees when she says, "Initially, I always saw my future being stressful: mortgage, child care, careers. With my previous relationships... Since I have met Josh, I see that stress [subside], not just because I know he would help me, but because he helps me learn to enjoy and laugh in times of stress." I think that anyone who knows Josh will tell you that Sarah has helped him become not more stressed, but more serious, so they both can be at a healthy middle.

Sarah and Josh, keep doing what you are doing, keep supporting and balancing each other. It may not make you billionaires, but it will enrich your lives in a way that only priceless true love can.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Your Argument is Invalid

Leia and Mark are truly two of the most extraordinary individuals I have had the pleasure to work with. Here are the personal remarks that I shared with them and their guests:

I have an app on my iPod called Demotivational Pics, that follows the Dilbert tradition of making fun of the absurdities of corporate culture. It takes the tired idea of the corporate office, where all employees need to do their job well are some motivational pictures on the wall, and turns it on its head. From time to time, they actually violate their own rule, and show a really motivating picture, though decidedly not the type you would see in the dreary paper pushing abode. Usually, it shows someone doing some type of impossible feat, with the humor coming from the caption that says just this., "YOUR argument is invalid..."

I thought about this when I sat down to write about Leia and Mark. I thought I might actually make a little poster for myself of just Leia and Mark smiling at me with that very caption. Then whenever I had a particularly bad day, and felt really unable to deal with a specific challenge, I could pull out the little poster of Leia and Mark, and read out loud to myself, "Your argument is invalid..."

You see, Leia and Mark were each dealt a couple of bad hands along the way. When you are dealt a bad hand, one can really blame you for folding. It is understandable. Well, to each of these two understandable just didn't cut it. They looked at the hand they were each dealt, and they pushed their chips to the middle of the table, and said, "Your argument is invalid."

Here is the coolest thing about these two though. Sometimes, when one overcomes challenges, it can make one a little tone deaf to the challenges of others. After all, you might say to yourself, if I was able to overcome on my own, why can't this other person? Not, Leia and Mark, though. You could scarcely imagine a more tolerant and understanding couple. Just look at what they each do for a living, and you immediately can see, that they are all about holding themselves to the highest standard, while doing their best to lend a helping hand and giving a leg up to those less fortunate.

Leia and Mark, thank you for this double lesson. Thank you for strengthening our resolve to challenge ourselves, while helping others with the utmost compassion. May you continue to serve as such a wonderful example for others.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Journey, Not the Destination

Emily and Jeff contacted me because they decided to have their destination wedding in beautiful Austin, Texas. At the time, they were living in beautiful Wellington, New Zealand. Little did they know that they were contacting the former rabbi of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation. Small world! Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When Emily and Jeff contacted me to officiate their wedding, I was delighted to find out where they were living, in dreamy Wellington, New Zealand, where I myself had lived for two years in the late 90s. It was, however, their personal journeys, their strong love for each other, and their beautiful love story that really fascinated me. They really mean what we just heard, “If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you. If the mountains should crumble to the sea, there would still be you and me.”

What is their secret? It’s really kind of simple. They have truly lived their lives in the best way possible, with the realization that it is the journey that matters, not the destination. They have sought to learn and self-reflect, as individuals and as a couple in a way that goes beyond what most couples do. It is this approach that has allowed each of them to become a better person by learning from the other. It is this approach that has pushed them to seize life by the horns. It is this approach that allows them, nay drives them to live their dreams and strive towards an even better future together.

So, Emily and Jeff, thank you for setting such a great example for the rest of us for how one can love and live life to the fullest in the present and strive towards the future. With that, let's start that future now!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Every relationship ideally should evolve. Ashley and David know that, and reflect that in their life together. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Couples with really solid relationships will tell you that their relationship did not spring into being. The Hollywood myth of love at first sight is really just a myth. Really solid relationships, like the one Ashley and David have, are works in progress that continuously evolve, where the partners continuously strive for perfection through persistent growth.

Indeed, Ashley and David describe their relationship as a "constant evolution of what it really means to be in a close intimate partnership. [It is] to give and take, agree and disagree, learn and love and grow and experience each and every new chapter of this crazy ride called life together."

Ashley and David, you have come upon a great truth here. Thinking that your relationship springs into being fully formed, ready to go, perfect and constant, well, that can lead to much heartbreak and little happiness.

Understanding, on the other hand, like you do, that your relationship is an evolving entity, a journey together of ebb and of flow, of up and of down, is different. It is that understanding that can lead to a joyous life, where you slowly and methodically inch towards perfection.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Destiny

Once again, sharing an iTunes account with my (almost) 18 year old came in handy. Read how, in my remarks to Jeri and David, and their guests:

Jeri and David share a unique love story. It is a story that began years ago. It is a story that involved twists and turns. It is a story that involved an epic journey to where they are today. It is a story of Jeri and David's destiny to be together, as one.

Thinking about Jeri and David reminded me of a song by one of my daughter's favorite singers, a Swedish artist who goes by the moniker, Velvet. The name of the song is "My Destiny", and it could have been written about Jeri and David. Here are a few lines:

Sorrow in my face
Then you would embrace me
There were times I chased every dream
I've been running far to see
My destiny
Has been touched by your heart
My destiny
Never tear us apart
Love is a mirror that shines through your eyes
I've finally realized
How I trust in you
Like you trust in me
I know that we're meant to be

This reminded me of a fascinating Talmudic passage. The Talmud states that 40 days before an embryo is formed, a heavenly voice will exclaim, "the daughter of so and so will marry so and so." Think about that. The rabbis are saying that each of us has that one person we are in fact meant to be with!

Now, that might lead you to think that this whole matchmaking thing is really easy. Not so fast. The Talmud also says that ever since God finished all that heavy lifting involved with creating the world, he devotes most of his time to what? Matchmaking.

So what is going on here? Is marrying one's soul mate a foregone conclusion, or is it something one has to work at?

Jeri and David helped me answer this question. It is really a little bit of both. Anyone who knows Jeri and David, and knows their story, knows that these two belong together. This couple was meant, nay destined, to be together. That said, they also show us that you can't just sit back and wait for fate to take its course. That is not what destiny is all about. Destiny is about making a choice of how and with whom you will share your life and your love. Destiny is about never giving up on your dreams. Destiny is about charting your course towards what is meant to be, and turning it into a reality. Just like Jeri and David did...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Being Your True Self

Can there be anything more important than being your true self? Not according to Allison and David. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests, that reflect just that:

In an episode of 30 Rock about 15 months back, Jack, played by Alec Baldwin, is preparing his staff for a visit of some executives from their parent company, Kabletown. As they are about to arrive, he has a few last words of encouragement and preparation, "OK, remember everyone, just DON'T be yourselves..."

Now, like all great satire, this idea is funny, because it is a slightly modified portrayal of what is only true. All of us have had a boss at some point, who implicitly, if not explicitly, told us what Jack tells his staff. Beyond that, we all have an internal Jack, who - let's face it - in most situations in life tells us not to be ourselves.

It is therefore refreshing, when Allison writes about her first date with David, "I had never met someone with whom I felt at ease so instantly. It was so easy to just be myself around him." She also says that he is much the same with her, that he, "is such an open book", and that he is "an amazing communicator.

Essentially, what Allison is saying is that with each other, they are able to be their true selves. That, I believe is what true and deep love is all about. It is about not having to put up a facade. It is about being able to let your guard down. It is about allowing your inner most self come out. That is what Allison and David's love is all about.

Allison and David, may you throughout the years and decades together be your true selves with each other, and through that may you both flourish and continue to grow, as individuals and as a couple.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I don’t remember when, but I saw a really cool TED talk by Neil Pasricha, where he spoke about his 1000 awesome things project. Corie and Jeffrey unwittingly sent me back in his direction. Here are my remarks from their wedding:

I am always fascinated with how couples describe their love for each other. In talking with Corie and Jeffrey, they mentioned two things you hardly ever hear in this context in the real world. Corie said that her love for Jeffrey was love at first sight, and Jeffrey said he still gets butterflies in his stomach every time he sees Corie.

Now, did you ever ask yourself why people get butterflies? Leave it to the groom who is an MD to pique my curiosity in this scientific question! So I googled the phrase, and a really cool website was one of the first hits, Neil Pasricha's His awesome thing #259 is what Jeffrey is talking about. First he answers my question, why does this happen:

"Scientists suggest the fluttery feeling of buttery flies in your tum tum just comes from blood flowing away from your digestive system and zooming everywhere else in your body." He says that the reason for that is embedded deep in our genes, and is part of what scientists call the fight or flight reaction. When the body is challenged, it momentarily shuts down the parts not important to it in dealing with the challenge, like the stomach.

He poetically continues, and here is where he really resonates with me. "Because when you get the good kind of stomach butterflies it means you’re burning and buzzing about a big day. After rehearsing for months your play finally comes, after that electric first kiss you’re dreaming about bliss, after practicing all year the big game is here.

Yes, when your mind opens up, when your path starts to clear, when you know where you’re going, when you start to get near… well those are the moments we live for and those are the times to go long, yes those are the moments to go for and those are the times to be strong. Awesome!"

Wow! Awesome, indeed. You see, if we take that and extrapolate from it to Corie and Jeffrey, it tells you how special and unique their relationship is. After all anyone who knows them will tell you that these are not just two love struck kids. In fact, Jeffrey will tell you that he feels like he has known Corie for many years. And Corie will tell you that what cemented her love at first sight for Jeffrey was how great a father he was. In other words, these are serious individuals with a love that runs very deep.

It is specifically when coupled with that depth, that the butterfly feeling is so special. These two (actually three with Griffin) are just so excited about becoming a family. These two keep their love so fresh. These two will tell you how lucky and special they feel not about today, the wedding, but about today and every day after that, the marriage. Now that is truly and utterly awesome. With that, let's get you two awesome people, Corie and Jeffrey, married without further ado!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It’s All About Teamwork

Simmi and Will had a really cool wedding day. In the morning they had a Sikh ceremony at the Temple that Simmi’s folks attend. In the evening we had a Jewish ceremony. Here are the personal remarks I shared with these two up and coming doctors to be and their guests:

There is a story about two Jewish grandmothers, Sadie and Goldie, who meet in the park. (The story might work equally as well with regard to Indian parents, as you’ll see in a second.) Anyway, Sadie, happens to have her two small grandchildren in tow. Goldie says to her, “Ohhhh, so who are these handsome young men?” Sadie, immediately answers pointing to each of them in turn, “Oh, well the seven year old, he’s the doctor, and the five year old, he’s the lawyer…”

So, the fact that both of these talented individuals are headed off to career in medicine is hardly surprising. One thing that did surprise me, though, is that Will was an important member of the rowing team at USC. Let’s face it, we Jews are not well known for our sports prowess. Will is the exception amongst Jewish kids in this area. I do believe, though, that functioning as a team has many great lessons for married life, and for a professional life in the medical field.

The wonderful thing about Simmi and Will is that they are truly a team, and they are always trying to improve their team work. They understand that for team Sandhu-Morris to function, it must operate as a true and equal partnership. Even more important, and this is true for every team, it involves sacrifice on the part of all individuals on the team.

Simmi and Will have experienced this self sacrifice first hand. I am writing these remarks shortly after "match day" a simultaneously anticipated and dreaded day in the community of medical students. (Grab a drink and a medical student or doctor during the reception, and they will explain this to you.) When couples like Simmi and Will seek to be matched with medical institutions for residency, that involves much self sacrifice, as they are consciously limiting their options, so they can stay together.

This teamwork and self sacrifice has brought Simmi and Will even closer to each other. With this couple, you can really see that when you do something for your teammate, for your partner, for your lover, you're not really "taking one for the team". In fact, you are making yourself and your team even stronger.

In that spirit, and if you'll excuse the mixing of the metaphors, let's play ball...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Tremendous Amount of Love and Caring

Between the both of them Cynthia and Mike have more degrees than a thermometer. What is really impressive about them is what wonderful and loving parents they are. Here are the remarks I shared with them:

While working with a couple on their ceremony, I spend time talking to them, and getting to know them. I also have each person write an autobiographical essay. When I write the draft of the ceremony, I usually go back and reread those essays, and use them as my starting point or launching pad for these very remarks.

After all, as engineers like Cynthia and Mike might tell you, you can learn a lot about any entity through analyzing a product they made. That is true for a company that makes seats for airplanes, and it is true for individual people too.

The thing is that with Cynthia and Mike, just from meeting with them, I got to see much more than with the average couple. Every time I met with them, I got to meet Luna too. (At her request, I even got to do something I had never done before, read a child a book in Spanish.) Any couple who has a child will tell you how much that changes their lives, as individuals and as lovers. It may sound like a cliché, but it is very true. If you do things right, like Cynthia and Mike, it causes your love to really mature and take form. Beyond that, and I speak here as a former assistant principal, you can learn a lot about people just from observing parents interact with their children, and even just from your own interaction with their children.

What you learn from observing Cynthia and Mike with Luna, and from spending even a few moments with Luna herself is unmistakable. There is a tremendous amount of love and caring in this young family. So, Cynthia and Mike, what is it we wish for you? Well, that you stay the course, that you keep doing what you are doing, that you continue strengthening this very bond of mutual love and caring within your little family.

Monday, April 30, 2012

It's About the Journey, Not the Destination

April and Jason love Vegas, and so that is where I officiated their wedding. In this case what happened in Vegas will certainly not stay there. Here is what I shared with them:

When April and Jason explained to me what they did for a living, I knew I would learn a lot from them. That is mainly because I, a non-techie, honestly could not really understand what it is they did...

In fact, from the way Jason described the development of their relationship, you could tell that this couple was from that Valley of Silicon. Here's Jason, describing what followed the initial phase of their relationship, after they met at a conference, and each went back to their respective cities, "Over the next several weeks, we’d chit-chat over Twitter, becoming more friendly. Twitter led to Facebook, Facebook led to instant messaging, instant messaging led to SMS texts." Bring back a 20th century Rip Van Winkle, and he would not understand a word of that quote...

Seriously, though, there is, in fact, something really deep here. You see, these two describe each other as not just lovers, but best friends, not just a couple but a team. How did they get there? By being deliberate and methodical and gradual in developing their relationship. By understanding that their relationship is not about the destination, but about the journey.

I love how April puts it, "That’s what love and marriage are supposed to be – finding that person that you want by your side for no other reason than they make you happy and you want to see what they do next." You want to see what they do next. Wow.

April and Jason, thank you for reminding us of this important lesson. May you continue to enjoy together a journey full of happiness for many years to come.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Aval Zeh Shelanu…

One of the last Sundays I officiated a baby naming for Hillary and Kevin, whose wedding I officiated back in December 2009. This is one inspiring couple. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Her Hebrew name is Tovah Moriah. She is named Tovah, which means good, for Kevin’s grandmother Thelma, whose Hebrew name began with a T. She is named Moriah, which is the name of the bedrock mountain upon which King Herod built the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Hillary’s grandfather Robert, whose Hebrew name began with an M. This is the mountain the Torah imagines Abraham himself first offering a sacrifice.

Whenever I am asked to officiate a baby naming, I ask mom and dad to share their hopes for their child with me. Hillary and Kevin shared that they hope Peyton will be a learner, be happy with what she does in life, find things that she be passionate about, find groups she feel part of, find a soul mate, and last but not least live a life infused with Jewish values.

I wanted to touch specifically on the idea of a life infused Jewish values, what that means to the modern liberal Jew, and how that connects to Peyton's name. About 15 years ago, as the rabbi of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation in Wellington, New Zealand, I was privileged to host one of the most eloquent orators of our time, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, and he told a fascinating story. He and his wife were touring Israel a few years prior to that, and they went to Eilat, the southern tip of Israel. One of the popular attractions there is to take a tour in a boat with a glass bottom, so you can see all of the corals and fish unique to that part of the Red Sea. The boat captain asked them where they were from, and upon hearing that they were from Britain, told them at length about all of the places he himself had traveled to in Europe, and how impressed he was with that continent's great beauty. When he finished, he paused, and a wistful look came over his face, he looked down at the beauty beneath them, smiled and said, "aval zeh shelanu", still, THIS is ours...

A modern liberal Jew recognizes that there is great culture, wisdom, wonder, and beauty in the world. So she seeks to live in that world and be part of it in every possible way. Still, she feels a need to infuse her life with Jewish values. She seeks to do this not because we are better than anyone else. No, she could be a good Christian or Muslim, and live a worthy life. She chooses to be a Yehudiyah Tovah, a good Jew, because zeh shelanu, THIS is ours. THIS is our heritage. Through THIS we reach back to the bedrock of our history to Moriah, where it all started in the days of our mythical forefather, Abraham.

Hillary and Kevin, and Tovah Moriah, may the three of you indeed be inspired to live your life in such a fashion, through which this child will make our People proud.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Answers to Life's Most Complicated Questions

Kelly and Colter are two of the most gentle souls I have met. They are really deep thinkers too. The rest you can read ahead in my personal remarks to them at their wedding yesterday:

There is a great and holy book called, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". In it we are told of a supercomputer, which is asked, "What is the meaning of life?" After working on the question for 7.5 million years, it comes up with the answer. Now, the geeks in the audience already know the answer. That's right. 42. BTW, if you do not get the humor, that's OK. During the reception, just ask one of my fellow geeks. About 45 minutes later, you may actually be able to start eating.

What the Guide is tackling here through satire is the very quandary most religions have dealt with for eons. Seriously, what is the meaning of life? We, as humans, ask that question, in general. We ask that about specific things too. What is the meaning of this or that specific occurrence? What many of us often forget is that there is no app for that. It isn't that there are no easy answers. There are many, and they are quite popular. It is just that none of them are true.

This is an area that I find that Kelly and Colter, are a little bit ahead of the rest of us. To put it simply, they don't "do" easy. They don't succumb to the popular. They have no use for the one size fits all answers. They realize that there is nothing wrong with the complicated and the messy. In fact, they realize, the true essence of truth is only to be found there within the contours of the complex.

Kelly and Colter realize that though there are some black and whites in life, most of it is gray. They understand that the implication is that each of us has to look deep into our hearts to find the answers to life's most complicated questions. They understand that that is why each of us may reach slightly different answers, and that that is not only OK; it is actually kind of wonderful.

This is why their relationship is so loving, so close, so special. You see for any relationship to work, especially marriage, one has to realize the following: Sure, there are some universal truths out there. Reading a book or two about marriage from the self help section of the bookstore is certainly a great idea. However, don't try to find the recipe for a successful marriage with a supercomputer. There is no app for that. The secret to a successful marriage is in your heart, not your handheld. It is mostly complicated, and it can get pretty messy. That said, if you embrace its messiness, if you can revel in its complexity, just like Kelly and Colter do, you just might have the secret to the true meaning of marital life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Self Reflection is Key

Angie and Jonathan are such a sweet couple. They are quiet and contemplative, and have fascinating stories. They reside and married right here in our beloved Frisco. Here are my remarks to them:

Angie and Jonathan exhibit a fascinating mix of qualities in their relationship that we all can learn from. They were very methodical about their relationship from the moment it began, and they have been methodical all along in carefully developing and nurturing it. Sometimes, and this is probably Hollywood's fault, method and planning in a relationship get a bad rap. In the real world, however, and any married person will tell you this, those who are methodical come out ahead, as long as one includes a large degree of flexibility in the mix. Indeed, one of the things that struck me about Angie and Jonathan is just how flexible and adaptable they have been throughout their lives as individuals and as a couple. It seems, therefore, that they have that important aspect covered too.

How are they able to be so methodical and flexible, an all too rare combination, I might add? I believe that this is because they both are very good at self reflection. Throughout their lives they have been able to step outside themselves, and reflect on who they are, where they are going, and where they want to be. It is this rare ability that enable one to take a relationship to the next level. It is this quality that, in Angie's words, enables us to share not only our lives with our lovers, but to share our very selves with them.

Angie and Jonathan, you are both not persons of many words. You speak rather through your actions. May you continue to inspire others through actively living your lives the best possible way a loving couple could.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Awake and Alive

Jami and Steven know each other from childhood. Their paths intersected many times in life, until a few years ago they fell in love. Their wedding was planned by them and their kids, and they call themselves the Spalvisairowans, which a combination of all of the last names their eight person clan shares. Here are the remarks I shared with them:

One of the things Jami and Steven emphasized time and again was that this wedding was about way more than just them. It was about them and their kids coming together as one big blended family. So, I tried to think about all the things they told me about how they live their lives as individuals and as a couple. I asked myself what might be their message for you not in words, but in that very way they live together and come together today to make your being one big family official.

What struck me about Jami and Steven is that they truly savor life, as individuals and as a couple. This reminded me of a song I heard, since I share an iTunes account with my 17 year old daughter. It's called Awake and Alive by Skillet. Here are a few words from the song:

... When my faith is getting weak
And I feel like giving in
You breathe into me again
I'm awake, I'm alive
Now I know what I believe inside

... Waking up in the dark
I can feel you in my sleep
In your arms, I feel you breathe into me
Forever hold this heart that I will give to you
Forever I will live for you.

What does it mean to be awake and alive? Being awake and alive is not about being perfect. It is not about not making mistakes. It is not about never having challenges. Being awake and alive is about being imperfect and making it work. It is about making mistakes and using them as opportunities to learn. It is about grabbing challenges by the horns, and having them propel you forward.

So, what is it we wish for you, all of you Spalvisairowans? That you indeed live your lives in such a fashion, that live awake and alive, as one big happy family.