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.