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Archive for August, 2008

This has most certainly been a whirlwind 2 weeks! I just returned from Aruba, and WOW – was it an amazing trip, for so many reasons! First of all – I simply cannot believe that I forgot my camera, so before I even start writing – I want to say THANKS to Vlad for copying his pictures to my computer last night so I didn’t have to come home empty handed.

So – let me start with some background. I did the wedding for Felix and Evelina at the Riu Palace, Aruba.

Evelina contacted me several months ago, because she had heard that I had done the wedding for Dan and Rita in Mexico, and she is very good friends with Rita’s sister, Yelena. Oddly enough, while Dan and Rita had their wedding at the Riu in Mexico, Felix and Evelina chose the Riu in Aruba. And it was a great choice!

I arrived in Aruba at 3pm. Evelina was greeting some of her friends on the front steps of the hotel as I arrived, and we knew each other immediately! We all got introduced, and I went to settle into my room, before our scheduled meeting together. We had lunch, and sat down to discuss the details of the wedding ceremony, and since they hadn’t ever sent me their profile, we had some catching up to do. But, even in the first five minutes of knowing both of them, I knew this was going to be a weekend to rival Mexico! (Sorry Rita!!)

They are the cutest, sweetest couple, with SUPER fun friends, and beautiful family. The family dynamics were a bit different than Mexico (and I suppose I should stop comparing at all) but, there were so many similarities as well. We connected instantly, and it was a really great chance for me to start getting to know Felix as a person as well. I had more opportunities to talk to Evelina, so it was bonding time for Felix and me! And I really enjoyed that opportunity to get to know him better.

We were very happy because they had an island DJ, but, the DJ didn’t have the traditional Jewish music medley that we typically play, and with some hunting, I was able to get them a copy of the tunes. We quickly sent the music to the DJ, and went on with the night. We all met in the Don Nicolas restaurant for dinner (27 of us) and I got to meet all the family and guests. Later that night, I had been in the lobby checking email, and on my way through the lobby bar to the elevator to my room – I bumped into F&E, and their good friends Vlad & Tanya, Shilana, and Max & Anna. They were having some festive cocktails – and they invited me to join them. We had so much fun, and I felt like we really had a great time connecting together!

Saturday was a beautiful day and we all enjoyed the magnificent pool and beach before getting ready for the wedding. We signed the ketubah in the small gazebo, and then the processional followed out to the chuppah on the beach.

It was breathtaking. The best part??? They found a steel drum player that learned the melody to Sunrise Sunset, the traditional song from Fiddler on the Roof. He played the song while we walked down to the chuppa. By the time we were all gathered, there were probably a hundred people gathered outside to watch the wedding, and they stayed and listened to the whole thing!

We almost had a small problem, though, during the ceremony. It was HOT – I mean H-O-T, and Evelina was getting a little light headed. I thought she wasn’t going to be able to make it – but thankfully, an amazing cool breeze came along, and saved the day. I sang the Priestly blessing, recited the 7 blessings, and overall, it was a beautiful ceremony. What made it even more beautiful was that the sun was setting just as the ceremony was over. We enjoyed a champagne toast on the beach – and then it was on to the pool deck, for a private reception.

The rest of the weekend was fun and relaxing. By the time today rolled around, I felt like I had made amazing new friends, and was sooo sad to leave them. Both Evelina’s and Felix’s parents were so lovely, welcoming, friendly, and incredibly kind to me. They both made it a special point to let me know how happy they were that I was there, and I felt great about our connections. F&E’s friends – well, what can I say? I had some VERYYYYYYY interesting conversations with them all, (Russian summer camp was quite a different experience) and I was so impressed at how classy, bright, and beautiful (inside and out) they all were. Vlad, Tanya, Shilana, Max & Anna – you all made my weekend such a beautiful memory! I hope you all keep in close touch, and let me know when those next 2 proposals happen! I’m going to be looking for them.

But, the most beautiful part of all, was Felix and Evelina, themselves.

This morning, as we took our last dip in the water, Felix asked me if I had a good time. “Of course!”, I said. “I had a simply amazing time”. But I knew at that moment, that he was really concerned about my happiness, and he told me that it really mattered to him that I enjoyed myself. And I thought – how amazing is that? He was worried about ME having fun? They opened their hearts to me, generously included me for 3 full nights, and Felix was worried that I was having fun? Yes, Felix. I had an amazing time. And yes, definitely one of the best! And once again, my life is richer for having you and Evelina in my heart, and for having shared your most incredible memories with me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Please send my love to your families, and know that our special memories will live long in my heart. I am so blessed to have known you all.
Love, Peace, and Blessings,

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I feel like I just got back from the Sykes/Krew wedding in the Bahamas, and now it’s time to depart again…this time for ARUBA!  I’m heading off to the brand new, beautiful RIU Palace in Aruba, where I will officiate the Jewish wedding of Evelina & Felix.  This is a 7-month-later flashback to “Russia-Meet Mexico”, except, this time Russia is heading to Aruba.  Evelina was referred to me by Rita and Dan, and there’s a connection there – which I’ll tell more about when I get back.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for Michael to settle in from the trip, and send me his pictures, since I left my camera card in my laptop last weekend.  As soon as I get them, I will post pictures, and a review of the Sheraton Cable Beach, and then I will post about my 4 days in Aruba.

Stay dry, Florida!

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On the heels of my blog about “What do we want from Hebrew Schools”, it becomes evident that our view today on religion, as a whole, has experienced a tremendous shift.

USAToday’s recently published article tells us that Americans lean more towards the upbeat, positive aspects of faith, while moving farther and farther away from dogmatic practices with hard core rules and restrictions. We are more prone to look to our religious traditions and rituals at time of lifecycle events, but in our every day lives, we want to receive the positive messages and encouragement faith offers.

So what does this say about our society, in terms of G-d? How do we define G-d? If we reject the rules and structure – will faith continue to exist? And – if all that – is – what is faith? Do we turn our faith into ourselves, becoming completely self-accountable? The question kind of scared me.

I do what I do to serve those who have already decided on moving away from dogma, and embracing feel-good spirituality. Sometimes I, myself, find that I really subscribe to that theory as well. We say – well, I don’t have to observe Shabbat, and…It’s ok to bend this rule, and that…It’s ok to get married “just before” sundown on Shabbat, to accommodate the caterer, etc. But- what power do we give G-d, then? I don’t feel any less connected to G-d than I ever did, in fact, in my quest for spirituality, I have grown closer.

To me, the answer is in living strong in principals, rather than rules. I go out of my way to do the right thing to and for people, to observe the golden rule, to care for the earth, caring for the sick, giving to the poor, those are things that bring me closer to G-d, because I know they’re the right things to do. I’m no less Godly, I just don’t worry about the details, in favor of the bigger things.

I’ve seen clergy – well respected, highly highly highly dogmatic, and staunch in their public ritual observance who are -pardon the expression – complete jerks – sinners, even. Are they more Godly than me? What about the Catholic priests who commit heinous acts against children – they followed the dogmatic rules, but didn’t live a life of G-d in their hearts.

What’s wrong with wanting the spiritual, upbeat message? We get the negative ones daily. You’ll get cancer, you’ll lose money, you’ll do this or that, and it’s usually bad. No wonder our society wants to gravitate to things that make us feel good while we’re here on earth – we don’t get much of it from anywhere else!

I’ll take my double dose of spirituality. I believe it is what makes me smile when I’m in your presence, to let you know you have brightened my day. I believe that being happy because I woke up this morning makes G-d feel good about me. Please forgive that I didn’t light my Shabbat candles right at sundown, or that I took my child to the movies on Saturday – at least I spent time with them, let them know their Mom loves them, and I know that makes G-d feel good about me too.

We all deserve to feel good, and we can do it with G-d in our minds and our hearts, even if we don’t follow all the rules..

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This is a great article that I found on about.com, that I wanted to share. I especially appreciated Nina’s commentary on how important the officiant is. Many people forget about the officiant, but it really is what makes or breaks the wedding. Set yourself apart with a personal choice of an officiant, it’s sure to pay off in positive rewards!

What’s Worth It (And What’s Not!) – Splurge and Save Smartly on Your Wedding

By Nina Callaway, About.com

So many articles tell you how to save money on your wedding, but do you know where to splurge on your wedding? Here’s what’s really worth the cost, and how to be savvy even while you’re splurging.

  1. Wedding Photography

    Sad as it is to acknowledge, most of the wedding details that you worked so hard on will be mere memories the next day. The food will be eaten, the dress put away, the monogrammed napkins crumpled. But the photographs will be there to remind you of the memories and document your wedding day. So make sure that they’re top notch by splurging to get the best photographer that you can.

    Be Smart Take the time to shop around and find a photographer who you feel comfortable with, and who fits in your budget. Consider packages, which often give you a better bang for your buck. Be sure to ask to swap out things you don’t want, and be savvy about expensive extras like “Deluxe Wedding Albums.” Make sure that you get a set of pictures printed by the photographer – the finishing work (editing, cropping, printing) should be far better than what you could do yourself. But see if you can get a CD of the images so that you can cheaply print out extras for extended family members and friends who want a picture.

  2. Your Wedding Dress and Appearance

    If you’ve ever had a day where you just didn’t feel pretty (and really who hasn’t?), you probably didn’t have a very good time. Feeling confident and beautiful will not only help you enjoy the wedding, but it will help you shine in your wedding photographs as well. So don’t just buy the cheapest wedding dress you can find, but splurge a bit to get the wedding dress, tuxedo, makeup or accessories that will really make you feel great.

    Be Smart The right dress for you is not necessarily the most expensive. Shop sales, outlet malls, and discount stores, including national chain bridal shops. Consider buying a bridesmaid’s dress or an evening gown in white or champagne. And don’t forget used! You can get a designer dress for a fraction of the price from eBay or bridal consignment shops.

  3. The Right Wedding Officiant

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about the wedding ceremony. The reception is just gravy – a big party celebrating what happened during the wedding ceremony! So make sure that the person marrying you is someone you feel comfortable with and who shares your beliefs. So, if you need to fly in your childhood priest or rabbi, or simply take the time to find the right person locally, it will be worth it.

    Be Smart Found a beautiful wedding ceremony location, but don’t like the officiant? Find out if you can bring in your own minister or layperson. Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a guide to finding the right officiant to marry you.

  4. Your Sanity

    Planning a wedding is stressful! The pressures on a bride and/or groom to have the most perfect wedding are immense. So make sure you’ve budgeted some money for things that will help you relax. Whether that’s hiring a wedding coordinator, or a day at the spa with a friend, being relaxed will make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your wedding day.

    Be Smart Relaxing doesn’t have to be expensive! There are even free and easy ways to relax. And don’t forget to delegate. Your friends and family want to help – you don’t have to do everything yourself!

  5. What’s Most Important to You

    Whether you’re a gourmet who wants to make sure the food is top notch, or a sports nut who’s dying to have a special grooms cake, it’s worth it to spend money on those little details that make your wedding special to you. In my wedding planning questionnaire for the newly engaged, I ask couples to individually rate what’s most important. This information can then be used when you set your budget, allowing you to allocate a little extra cushion for those important things.

    Be Smart Be sure to use a wedding budget worksheet, and remember that you’ll have to cut the budget in other areas in order to accommodate the splurges. Remember that there are many ways of including special personal details that are free or inexpensive, including special wedding readings at the ceremony, naming your tables after places you’ve been together, or using family heirlooms such as your mother’s wedding veil.

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Gary Rosenblatt, Editor of The Jewish Week, wrote an incredibly insightful and timely article today, that I felt compelled to finally write about, after giving this much thought for oh – 20+ years or so.

Even though the work I am doing is moving rapidly in that direction, I have been somewhat fearful of putting my exact thoughts in writing, because my feelings really don’t do anything to enhance the traditional synagogue’s reputation in educating our Jewish children. I just got another phone call from a local parent, lamenting about the poor quality of education, the “factory” type of experience, and the negative feeling she had from one of our local synagogues, and she was looking for a more engaging, personal, and meaningful experience for her roughly $20k investment in her child’s Hebrew School education.

Like it or not, families ARE belonging, just for the lifecycle. The majority of Jewish families choose to no longer associate and pay dues to synagogues, once their children become Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Even when families do continue to pay dues, however, the child more often than not ends his or her connection, inevitably to focus on activities in their secular lives, rather than their religious lives.

Overall, families complain to me that they are certainly not getting their 20 thousand dollars worth – Instead, they are relegated to ridiculously early services, only to be RUSHED out of the building, to make room for the NEXT group of Bar Mitzvah attendees – and then what? The service is over at 11 – and – they can’t even have the nice room to make a luncheon, if they weren’t FIRST on the lottery to get the room. Top that off with an impersonal service, a condescending Rabbi on the pulpit who doesn’t even know the child’s name, and a measly two or three aliyot, so they can barely honor grandparents, let alone the Aunts and Uncles and Cousins.

Gary writes, “One seeming disconnect that Wertheimer found in his study is that while most parents see the chief role of secondary schools as preparing children for bar or bat mitzvah, only 7 percent of the schools surveyed listed that as their primary goal. Most schools cited giving children positive Jewish experiences as their top objective.” I believe the disconnect is that synagogues are too busy trying to figure out how to balance the budget with overpaid clergy and Executive Directors, and not enough time actually figuring out how to actually deliver the positive Jewish experiences. Kids are bored, and tired of teachers who are incapable of managing behavior, and have to spend 80% of their time quieting the room, leaving only 20% of their time to effective lesson delivery.

Parents feel that the clergy is more concerned with they themselves want to GIVE, rather than what the families want or need to feel connected. Sermons on the bimah that seem like scolding, or subject material completely irrelevant to today leave families wondering WHY they pay 20k to belong. The whole experience is a disconnect, and all people really want, at the end of the day, is to feel GOOD about being Jewish.

We must define what it is – or will be – that makes us get those warm and fuzzy feelings about being Jewish. Why do huge monstrosities of churches pop up on every corner, with traffic jams EVERY Sunday, and we can’t get a full room at a Sisterhood opening event? Because synagogues aren’t giving families what they really want – and they haven’t even spent a minute trying to figure it out. They decide what the Rabbi will do, and dictate the programming to the congregants, and then wonder why they cannot fill rooms. They’re all coming at it from the wrong direction.

At the end of the day, today’s families want less rules and more engagement. I’m not sure if a synagogue can even possibly meet the needs of today’s families, but I do see more and more spiritual cheerleaders – like myself, popping up all over the U.S. People who want to bring the “feel good” stuff that Jewishness creates, without the annoyances of organization. Synagogues used to mean “community”. Today, we find and create our own little communities, without needing to go inside a building.

I believe, what we really want from Hebrew Schools is less structured, engaging material, that Jewish children can understand and enjoy. Let’s learn more about the 10 Mitzvot, about being a good Jew, about what V’Ahavta means, and why the Sh’ma is so incredibly important to us. Let’s learn less phonetic memorization, and more about what Abraham and Sara really stood for, and why they’re important to us today.

Let’s learn how to live our lives as good Jewish people, doing good deeds, repairing the world, healing the sick, and appreciating what our ancestors stood for. Let’s make Jewish prayer resonate within us through music, ruach, and FUN. It can be done. At least, I’m working on it – every day.

My Rabbi told me I can’t save the world. But, if I can save 20 Jewish families next year, it’s a job well done.

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A couple of months ago, Shirley Fuchs sent me an email, asking me if I could officiate a small, private wedding ceremony on Hollywood Beach, for her daughter, Dana, and her Fiancee, Shawn. “No Problem!”, I said! Well…she went on to tell me that there were just a few details that I might have a difficult time with, as Dana and Shawn were just a little bit – kooky. (In a beautiful way, for sure!)

“Kooky?”, I asked? “Yes, Kooky”, she replied. I wondered if this meant something “off color”, or something that would not quite go along with the fact that I am a member of the clergy, but she assured me it was completely clean, and quite adorable. You see, they have a 3 year old daughter, Destiny, and they wanted a cartoon character to perform their wedding – and they wanted their officiant to “dress up” in a costume they would provide. MMHMM, I said. And just what character would they like to have their officiant dress up as?

DORA, THE EXPLORER, her mother said.

MMHMM, I said – again. We’re talking August, on the beach in Florida, and you want me to dress up as DORA? Right. She told me they were looking for someone open minded, fun, easy going, and very much a team player. Well, that’s me. But DORA?

What the heck, I figured. You only live once, and like Wayne tells me all the time – I have to cut loose, have some fun, and take a walk on the lighter side of life. So – we agreed. They provided the costume, and I would take a hit for the team! Boy, did I ever. But – I got so much more than I bargained for. Once again, Dana and Shawn were the sweetest couple, and I fell in love with them. They had 21 guests on the beach, and dinner at the Marriott on Hollywood Beach, and there was me – in my Dora costume.

Even though this was a small, private wedding, I still felt I needed to spend the time getting to know them. So, we spoke several times by phone, before they arrived in FL, and we met the morning before the wedding. In that hour, I found out some great information that ended up providing tons of humor for their wedding ceremony. I knew I was going to need to get creative – but this really should have won an academy award!

You’ll have to read their ceremony. I really think I did a great job, if I do say so, myself. We had tons of laughs, I found a new “niche” for my wedding practice, and Dana and Shawn had the wedding of their dreams. I am definitely going to put a video of this wedding up as soon as I can figure out how, but for now – just check out the ceremony. It is sure to provide a few laughs! Dana & Shawn – I can’t tell you how much I LOVED being part of your day! More couples should be as light hearted and fun loving as you! Thanks!

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There are no accidents in life.

An opportunity to make a new friend came my way, last week, as I was introduced to Seth Eisenberg, a fellow “Weston-ite”. Seth has 2 boys that are close to Trevor’s age, and we knew we would have so much in common, so we had dinner at Bonefish last week.

In getting to know each other, Seth told me about his line of work, as the National Executive Director of the Pairs organization. What he told me was so interesting, and as someone who LOVES gathering “tools” that better enhance communication and relating to others, I was drawn to his program immediately.

It just so happened, they were just launching a 2 week program through UCF, that would certify licensed therapists, clergy, and educators to be facilitators of the program. The program would begin on the upcoming Wednesday. It was Friday. 5 days to totally change my plans for the week.

It just so happened, Lauren was free, also, and Seth had felt positive that Lauren would get a lot from the training as well, so we made plans for her to pick me up in Orlando, and we would go take the training together. (That was why I was taking the train to Orlando, in one of my most recent posts)

Lauren is 20. Very self aware, but has always “wigged out” a bit when requested to discuss the “f” word. No, not that word. *F*eelings. That word alone makes her crazy. On day one of the training, when she realized we would be in there for 9 hours a day, for 4 days, I thought her head was going to explode.

But, 4 days later, I saw the most amazing change in my daughter. She was – well- communicating. She was talking about – you got it – feelings. She seemed to be able to have the most mature conversations, but the best part was – she was really listening. She didn’t listen to comment, or argue, or discuss. She just listened, and seemed happy to be present in her listening. Amazing.

On the last day, we all had a “go around”, to express our *F*eelings about the program. I figured when it came time for Lauren to speak (in front of 50+ grown ups much older than she) she would simply say …uh..yeah..it was really good. Instead, she really blew me away because she was completely authentic when she expressed how happy she was she had come, and how fortunate she was to have this knowledge, unlike many of us who felt that had we had this 20 years ago, we might not be divorced. She felt truly fortunate to have this amazing tool with which to communicate with everyone she had a significant relationship with. And I couldn’t have agreed more.

Tears pouring down my face, in gratitude for taking a risk, making something happen I never imagined I could make happen, and putting both ourselves out there to learn new material that just might change our lives, and boy…did it ever.

Lauren and I are both certified to teach the PAIRS program. We have visions of a Mother-Daughter offering, teaching parents of teens and teens themselves to actually communicate with each other. Holy cow, batman – what a concept! She wants to bring this program to teens independent of us, so that young adults can learn proactively how to communicate with the people that really matter. I want to bring it to the world. (Maybe I can start with my ex-husband???)

I can’t wait to see where this leads us. Stay tuned…

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