Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why Not?

Saturday morning I officiated Lisa and Kevin’s wedding ceremony at the Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah.
There is an old saying: Do you know why a Jew answers a question with a question? (Pause) Why not? Seriously, though, one of the most profound answers we can give in our lives to any important why question is exactly that, “Why not?” Many answers end or close down a discussion. “Why not?” extends it and encourages it.

No less than Robert F. Kennedy once said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” “Why not?” is such a freeing idea. It removes barriers, opens up opportunities, and creates new worlds. With “Why not?” you can overcome hesitation, calm those proverbial butterflies, and seize the day.

Lisa and Kevin are exactly the type of folks who are not afraid to ask, “Why not?” Their meeting each other in the first place, involved a “Why not?” moment. Lisa’s car got stuck on a dirt road, and having not yet met her in person, what was Kevin’s response in word and deed to her need of assistance? “Why not?”

By the time Kevin got there, Lisa’s friends had arrived, and “unstuck” her from the dirt. Both Lisa and Kevin could have gone their separate ways, but instead fate having brought them together, they consciously or unconsciously said to themselves and each other, “Why not?” That began the story that culminates here today.

This shouldn’t be that surprising, if you know Lisa and Kevin. Think about their journeys, professional and otherwise. Most people who show up at Kevin’s place of work are not really happy to end up there. Most of us look at our vehicles when we drop them off at a body shop, and can’t imagine how they will ever look normal again. Kevin eyeballs them, and with his wealth of experience, basically says, “Why not?” Then, with what is a combination of art and elbow grease, everything usually comes out better than it looked in the first place.

Lisa really believes in helping teens turn their lives around. The essence of a program like Youthcare, which she came up through, is to ask about every individual “Why not?” Then you help that individual answer that question, and become a responsible adult. This is why Lisa came out to Utah – to work for Youthcare, and help kids ask and answer that question. This is why she hopes to do so again soon.

And so, when Lisa and Kevin discovered that their team was going to gain a third player, Robby, their answer was obvious, to the myriad of questions they had. They were deeply in love already, and they were planning on getting married anyway. The answer they had to their next step in life, was a variant of the same question, “Why not… now?”

Today they look toward a future emblematic of that question, “Why not?” indeed! As Lisa says, “I am excited to see where life takes us.” And Kevin says, in words reminiscent of those words by RFK, “Lisa is the best thing that ever happened to me. She has taken me places I never thought I would go. She has brought me out of my shell, and helped me experience things I never thought I would.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Real Thing

This last Sunday (5/24) I officiated Rachel and Matt's wedding ceremony at Magnolia Terrace in Frisco, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple why they want to marry and why now. I love Rachel answer, "He has taught me what real love is, and how a man is supposed to treat a woman. With him I feel our family is complete."

Now, when I asked Rachel what she meant when she said Matt had taught her what real love is, she couldn't adequately express it. She knew it to be true, but she could not explain it in words.

This exchange with Rachel about identifying the real thing, reminded me of a fascinating mystery from Jewish literary history. For more than 1500 years the 3rd most important book to Jews the world over was the Jerusalem Talmud. It was carefully copied generation after generation. At some time in the Middle Ages, one of its volumes disappeared, never to be seen again. Then a little more than 100 years ago a man appeared in Europe, claiming he had found a long lost manuscript of the volume, and he begin publishing it part after part.

The language of the book read so well, and felt so authentic that some rabbis believed it to be real. Many others, though, suspected it was a forgery. Something felt not right. Much like Rachel, they knew what they knew. They just couldn't put their fingers on it.

One rabbi was able to finally put the issue to rest. The Talmud has numerous repetitions throughout its many pages. So the fact that this lost volume had such repetitions was no surprise. However, this great rabbi pointed out, this lost volume not only had repetitions. It had no original material. There was nothing new here. Clearly, the publisher had used material from the other volumes, and stitched it all together. With nothing unique to this volume, it could only be a fake.

I believe this story can help us understand what Rachel means. Love CAN be confusing. We go through life looking for our one true love, and sometimes we really think we have found it, only to be disappointed. So how do we know that what we have is the real thing? We know it is real when we find ourselves feeling a type of love that is unique, a first, an original.

Interestingly, this answer is exactly what Matt said, when I asked him why he wants to marry Rachel: "For the first time in my life I have found another person I could not live without. A person that I want to spend every waking moment with. The first person I would like to have a family with."

Real love may defy words; it may elude literal description. However, it can be spotted deep in the heart, in a mysterious way, by the fact that it is truly unique. It is like no other love you have felt before. You simply cannot find a parallel to it. It can't be faked. It can't be forged. Its truth unmistakably shines through. That's when you know that what you've got is the real thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Best Decision

Saturday evening I officiated Vanessa and Lee’s wedding ceremony at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The Seven Blessings, which we will recite later in this ceremony harken back to the mythical first couple, Adam and Eve. To Adam, there was only one woman in the entire world, Eve. Every husband’s love should be so great, that it is as if there is no other woman in the world, just his wife. To Eve, there was only one man in the world, Adam. Every wife’s love should be so great, that it is as if there is no other man in the world, just her husband.

So, how do you get there? In myths, like the story of Adam and Eve, it just happens. In fairy tales like Cinderella, it is magic. The same magic that turns pumpkins into chariots, turns strangers into lovers that live together happily ever after. On TV and in the movies all characters, regardless of the setting, police station or castle, are not only as good looking as Vanessa and as broad chested as Lee, they also always know what to say in every situation. So, with brew of sexual attraction and witty one-liners are all you need. Real life does not work that way, because real life has to really work, not just on the page or in 55 minutes including commercials.

So what do you do? Well, first thing’s first, being honest with yourself and each other, that your relationship will not just form on its own, is an essential first step. Many couples get caught up in the excitement and enchantment of their love story, and they don’t realize that. Not Vanessa and Lee. They knew that their love for each other, their desire to share their lives together, was just the beginning. They are both very honest about the fact that their first three months living together were, shall we say, interesting… However, they used that time for self-reflection, to learn about each other, and to learn about the new unit they were forming together as a couple. Because they had the patience to work through this process, they came out stronger on the other end. To quote Vanessa, “It was the best decision we ever made.”

When they were ready for the next steps, engagement, marriage and building a family, they decided that they should not overlook their differences in background. Instead they decided they should fearlessly face them head on. They had deep discussions, engaged a professional to help them, and participated in active learning about their future together. A wonderful world of new possibilities and discoveries opened up to them, they fell deeper in love than they had been before. As lovers and best friends, they now look forward to a future of endless opportunities that neither of them would have found alone.

It is through this type of process that the deepest and truest of love stories are actually written. This is how real life Adams can spend the rest of their lives with real life Eves. This is how real life Cinderellas find lasting love with real Prince Charmings. This is how Vanessa and Lee will live happily ever after. Others would do well to heed their example.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Saturday night I officiated Lexie and David’s wedding ceremony at the Cabildo in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I was thinking of Alexis and David, I was reminded of a story. It was sometime in the 1950s, that Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, needed a new ambassador to the Soviet Union. He called upon Israel's future president, Zalman Shazar, who immediately accepted this difficult appointment. Ben Gurion warned him, "As ambassador to the Soviet Union, you need to be very quiet!" Shazar assured him this would not be a problem. Ben Gurion did not let up. "Zalman, you don't understand. As Israel's ambassador to the Soviet Union, you have to be so quiet, that the whole world hears how quiet you are!"

Now, beyond the oxymoronic humor, what is this decades old story really about, and why do I say this story reminded me of Alexis and David.

We live in a cacophonous society. Everyone is broadcasting everything 24/7. Everything is in your face, out loud and all the time. It's only natural in this environment to assume that that is where the really important work is being done.

Not so. The most important work is usually being done by rather unassuming quiet hard working folks.  Usually, they don't make a big deal out of themselves, and would be surprised if you did.

So, say if their job is to do something mind-boggling,  like make sure that multiple metal tubes flying through the sky at extremely high speeds, can do so safely, they might say, matter-of-factly, like David, that their job is just "to watch airplanes all day". That's all.

And, if they take years of their lives, and at huge expense learn how to save people, who just a few decades ago were as good as dead, they might just say, like Alexis, that they felt it was their calling to help people. It's really no big deal.

This type of quiet resilience of just doing what you are supposed to do is at the core of how Alexis and David view their connections to their faith traditions. They don't go out their and broadcast their beliefs or their questions about those beliefs. They certainly don't feel like they have to talk your ear off about them. They are totally OK with you being on a different path. In Alexis's words, they "try to lead a good, honest, ethical and compassionate lifestyle, doing good for the community and loving people." Shouldn't that be enough?

Finally, this type of quiet resilience and action over word is how they have carried out their relationship. They met through the very act of helping people as volunteer EMTs. They dated for years living apart at quite a distance. You don't hear them complaining or kvetching about that. They will just tell you how they treasured their visits with each other during that time, and how cool it will be to finally be together.

So, next time you hear about some awesome thing someone did, and the whole world needs to know about, stop. Think about David Ben Gurion's lesson, and what Alexis and David teach us. You might just learn a thing or two. In silence.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ineffable Qualities

Friday night I officiated Julie and Mike’s wedding ceremony at the Maple Manor Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of my first questions to every couple is how they met. More and more often, couples tell me they met online. Frankly, our grandchildren will probably find it odd if we did NOT meet online. Why wouldn't you want the certainty of a computer based algorithm matching you?! It only makes sense.

The thing is that whether meeting online or offline, and our future grand kids are probably right, algorithms are helpful, there are certain ineffable qualities that are difficult to measure, be it with an abacus or with a binary based formula. This is where the secret of Julie and Mike's relationship is instructive.

If you know Julie, Mike's description of her is not surprising: "Julie is one of the most caring people I have ever met. She is quick to put your well-being over hers, and is always there to lend you a hand, or to listen to what’s bothering you. She has an infectious laugh, a smile that lights up a room, and a face that could be on the cover of a magazine."

Now, if you listen to Julie, she'll tell you that many of the qualities that Mike identifies in her, she sees in him. This is at least part of the reason she says, "When I met Mike Gold, my life became complete. I have never felt more secure and safe than I do with him. My heart has found its home."

Hopefully, though, we meet many more people out there with such great qualities. What is that ineffable thing that put this couple over the top? Listen to Mike: "We just clicked. You see, the biggest reason why I want to marry Julie is that she gets me... I’m a little weird and she’s a little weird, so we could be weird together."

That's it. Beyond great qualities that friends might notice, beyond attributes that computers might figure out, there is that mysterious feeling, that this person just gets me, that we can drop all pretenses, shed all masks, and yes, even be weird together.

This is why both Julie and Mike will both tell you, "You can ask any of our mutual friends about this, and they’ll tell you we were made for each other. And (we) truly believe that."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sacred and Set Apart

Saturday evening (5/9) I officiated Barbara and Sagi’s wedding ceremony at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The essence of a Jewish wedding is the giving of the ring. In just a few moments, Sagi will put a ring on Barbara's finger, and say harei aht mikoodeshet lee, behold you are consecrated to me.

Now, every word in Hebrew has a root, with various additions to the root making up different connotations and meanings of that root. The root of the word mikoodeshet, is commonly translated as "to make holy", "to make sacred", "to consecrate". However, when we take a deeper more precise look, we discover that really the meaning of this root is "to set apart". In fact, because of this, it may be used to describe BOTH the holy, as well as the profane. Even though they are opposites, both are set apart.

The various meanings of this word are really apt in describing Barbara and Sagi's unique relationship. Barbara says, "This is not just a formality for me. The ceremony and our marriage will be sacred." Sagi says, "I take nothing for granted and I want to consecrate our love with this ceremony." The point they are making is that these are not only words; this is not just a ceremony. Their relationship is sacred, their love is consecrated.

Why do they feel this way? This relationship is set apart; this relationship is different. As Barbara says, "This was not the way I was before... I never imagined that I would one day have a ceremony and wear a white dress. Sagi has changed my heart, that’s the only way I can explain it." Sagi states that meeting Barbara he, "knew it was a once in a lifetime thing." He says that, "Looking at the past... I was always just with one foot in previous relationships... Now with Barbara... I’m all the way in..."

What Barbara and Sagi illustrate in this is that a marriage CAN just mean that this person is set aside from all other people. This legalistic act CAN be just that and no more. Ironically, it can be anything but sacred.

But then, there is that other level, where marriage CAN be something ineffable, CAN be something transcendent. This type of marriage is truly set apart.  IT is sacred, IT is consecrated. With it, life itself can be too. THIS is what Barbara and Sagi have. We should all be so lucky.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jazzed Up - Lessons for Interfaith Marriage from the Soul of the Crescent City

Karin and Barry are wrapped in Barry's tallit (prayer shawl)
to receive the Priestly Blessing
I have written before about my love for  New Orleans, and this is a love I share with many people. I consider myself very fortunate to live in Dallas, where I am just a short flight away from the Crescent City. New Orleans just has a special magic that engages all of the senses. Every year I have a few couples who choose New Orleans as an in-country destination wedding location. A recent couple, Karin and Barry, inspired me to take a new look at New Orleans, in a way that connects the soul of the city to what I do, marry interfaith couples.    

Couples have different reasons for the dates and locations of their weddings. Having officiated over 260 weddings so far, I have probably heard more unique reasons than the average person. However, one of the most special and meaningful discussions I have had about this point with a couple was the first conversation I had with Karin and Barry.

Karin and Barry’s reason for marrying in New Orleans in the last week of April was not just their love for New Orleans, but their love of Jazz, and specifically their love affair with the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They wanted their guests to enjoy this festival, which they attend religiously. Barry even jokes that Karin actually put a good old-fashioned New Orleans voodoo spell on him the previous year during the festival, to get him to propose! Propose he did in an old New Orleans shop, and here they were again to seal the deal…

What is the essence of Jazz? As the Jazz musician and scholar,
Paul Hofmann, writes, Jazz has two characteristics that stand out, its swing beat and its improvisation. What is the swing beat? As another Jazz musician and scholar, Peter Brewer, points out, most music previous to jazz has a straight beat, which divides each single beat into groups of two, like this (read this out loud): 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. Jazz however is based on groups of 3, like this (read this out loud, and snap your fingers): 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4, 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4.

Now, if you know anything about Jazz, you know that improvisation is not just a characteristic of Jazz; it is the very soul of Jazz. If a classical musician plays what is on the page, for the Jazz musician the page, if there even is one, is just the start. It’s not that there are no rules; it’s just that the rules are much less stringent. The main thing is to let the music flow, and really get into the groove.

There are some great lessons here for marriage. As I have written elsewhere, every marriage is an intermarriage; we each come from different families, and grow up with different sets of experiences. Interfaith marriage just involves one more difference between two people. Now, marriage might seem to involve the joining of these two; two getting into one straight beat. However, when you look a little closer, you see that much like Jazz, a harmonious marriage dances best to the swing beat. There are three beings that must be cultivated, the two partners, and the marriage itself. It is a third entity, which must be carefully nurtured by two people, working together as one in a loving relationship. And, if you know anything about marriage, you know that improvisation has to be its very soul. If there is a page, it can only be the start. It’s not that there are no rules; it’s just that the rules are much less stringent. The main thing is to let the relationship flow, and really get into the groove.

So, next time you hear some great Jazz in New Orleans, be it during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or not, remember these lessons for your own life and love. Dance to the swing beat, don’t be afraid to improvise, and let yourself get into the groove. That is the way to live life to the fullest. Just ask Karin and Barry, and if you’re there in late April, you can ask them in person…

Copyright 2015 – Rabbi David S. Gruber – All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fulfill Your Dreams

Sunday evening I officiated Ashley and Chris’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Ashley and Chris will always be Texans at heart, (Ashley maybe more so than Chris…) but today they live in a town with a name that could only exist in one state – Studio City. If you are still not sure what state I mean, consider what a French friend of mine once said about it (in my best imitation of a French accent), “That state is like granola; you take out the nuts and the fruit and you’re left with the flakes...” Yes, California. It is probably one of the only states that folks all over the U.S. and indeed folks the world over migrate to, to fulfill their dreams. How many of them are successful? That is difficult to say, since different people define success differently. However, by all objective measures, you would have to say that this couple is one of them.

Now, interestingly, if you think about it, marriage is a little like California. The very idea of two people becoming one, you have to admit is a little nutty! Yet it is a “place” we go to fulfill our dreams. And, yes, some are successful, some less, and the very definition of success can differ, because every couple is different. And yet, once again, examine Ashley and Chris’ relationship, and you know they have it made.

So what is it? What do they have that makes them successful? Well, in marriage as in Hollywood, partially, it is just luck. Any honest Hollywood star will tell you that. Ashley switched schools in 6th grade, and ended up in the same school as this lucky guy. Chris and Ashley went on to attend high school and college at UT, and eventually moved in together. Here is how she describes that experience, which for many women can be very stressful, because – how do I say this kindly – most men are animals: “Chris was the perfect roommate. He’s so clean, picks up after himself, and even does the dishes!” Lucky girl! Also, not to be too superficial, but I can’t be the only one who meets these two, and says, wow what a stunningly good looking couples! Talk about winning the lottery!

However, luck only plays a small part, in marriage as in Hollywood. You need to work hard to take advantage of your lucky break when it actually comes. You need to be persistent. And this is a quality that both Ashley and Chris have in spades. After all, they each waited for each other. They met in 7th grade, and Chris fell in love, and knew at that moment he would marry this girl. It would just take him a while… a very long while. Chris was persistent, and in 12th grade Ashley succumbed to his charms. Years later, the shoe was somewhat on the other foot. Ashley was ready to get married, and Chris, like most guys, needed a little time to catch up. Ashley was persistent, and Chris succumbed to her charms.

Now, luck and persistence are important, but if you know Ashley and Chris, you know that that what really makes them “tick” as a couple is the essence of their relationship. The essence of their relationship is the very craft of love and caring for each other, which they have worked hard to nurture and grow for ten years, and which they continue to tend to every day. This essence, which they are passionate about, coupled with their persistence, and a tiny bit of luck, is what brought them here today to this very special moment. That is how, Chris in Ashley’s words, “knows how to make (her) laugh, feel better when (she) is upset, and the little things that will make (her) happy.” This is why, in Chris’ words, Ashley’s “smiling face” is the “best part of (his) day”, and why he “couldn’t imagine life without her.” 

Always Crazy… Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way

Saturday evening I officiated Lauren and Ryan’s wedding ceremony at The Joule in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I heard a comedian recently recount how he got out of going to the ballet. (I can see the guys here paying more attention now...) What he did might surprise you. Rather than saying he did not want to go to the ballet, and getting into a confrontation, he actually doubled down, "The ballet? I love the ballet! Me and my ex - that was our thing!" After a moment or two of silence, his girlfriend said, "Screw the ballet! Let's stay home and watch a movie..."

This short story highlights two issues that make for the bread and butter of both comedy and therapy, recognizing the differences between partners and the challenges we have communicating them and about them.

This is unfortunate, since it does need to be so. I mean, listen to what Lauren says about meeting Ryan: "We clicked instantly, and have been together ever since. Ryan is such a kind-soul and is an amazing person as well as partner." And Ryan doesn't hold back either: "She is the most thoughtful person that I know, and would do just about anything for me." With those kinds of statements screw the ballet, right?!

The thing is that many couples allow these very types of differences to overshadow their love. Not Lauren and Ryan. Listen to Ryan: "Oddly enough, Lauren and I... really don't share any major interests that I can think of.  Although it can be frustrating sometimes, I think that in many ways, it's a good thing. It gives us an opportunity to be individuals, and we don't feel forced to hesitantly get into something that we honestly don't care about, just to appease one another."

Isn't that cool? So, HOW do they do it?  Well, it goes back to that second issue - communication. Lauren and Ryan are tremendously open with each other, and they communicate their differences and about their differences. That is how and why Ryan can state what is mutually true about their acceptance of each other, "She allows me to be me, and she accepts me that way."

It is this acceptance that promises, in Ryan's words, that, "There is nothing that either of us could do to change the love that we have for one another. " It is this communication that allows Lauren to say, "Things are always crazy in our lives, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way!"