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Archive for December, 2008

What an amazing, heartwarming experience I had tonight.  I cannot wait to share this awesome story.

When I performed Yelena’s wedding in the DR last month, she couldn’t wait for me to meet her friend, Sharon, who I wrote about in a previous blog entry.  Sometimes, you meet someone, and you know the connection is soooo strong, but you just don’t know how or why, and that was the story with Sharon.  We truly were like soul sisters, and we both knew that had 1000 miles not been between us, we would be best friends forever.

Well, last month, Sharon asked if she could refer me to someone, and of course I said “YES”!  Her intention was to connect me with a family who had a young, Bar Mitzvah-aged boy, without previous Hebrew education.  The Mom also had a Holocaust-survivor mother, who had been ailing, and wasn’t sure exactly how long she would have the privilege of enjoying time with, and wondered if there was anything that could be done to give her son a Bar Mitzvah in time for the grandmother to celebrate with him.

Normally, I would consider this a request for a drive-through service – an excuse to throw an audacious party, and would generally not oblige – but Audrey’s family was different.  Last night was proof.

There is no big party involved.  There is no other purpose- other than for Max to share his Bar Mitzvah with his Grandmother, and have the memory of a moving, Jewish experience, in spite of his lack of traditional Hebrew education.  This will be an interactive family experience, and Max will absolutely recite the Maftir blessings, write a D’Var Torah, and know clearly what it means to be a good Jew in the eyes of G-d.

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Max, Audrey, Rob, and Grandma.  It was 14 degrees outside their home, 75 outside mine.  I was sitting on my living room couch, they were sitting in their den.  We put our headsets on, dialed through Skype, and were connected in an instant.

But, that’s not the beautiful thing.

Max and I had an opportunity to share with each other, talk about what it meant to become a Bar Mitzvah, and get to know each other a little better.  He’s a precious, outgoing, happy young man, eager to have this special experience with his Grandmother.

I met Grandma, who couldn’t have been sweeter, herself.  She was so excited that we would all have this connection, and couldn’t wait to meet me.  The feeling is mutual. She is a Holocaust survivor, an Eastern European Jew, and a beautiful woman.  I cannot express how excited I am to be able to share this experience with her.

But that was not the beautiful part, either.

While we were on video chat, enjoying each other, Audrey and Rob brought out the Hanukkah Menorah, and 4 candles.  They placed the candles in the Menorah, Max lit the candles, and together we said the blessing over the Hanukkah lights.  Then, we sang Maoz Tzur, the Hebrew song titled Rock of Ages, and we truly shared an incredibly profound moment together, 1000 miles apart.

THAT was the beautiful thing.

I’ve never done this before, and I was moved beyond belief.  Words just cannot describe this experience, but the memory will last in my heart forever.  Technology is amazing.  It connects us in incredible ways, if we use it properly.  (That’s a whole other blog entry – I think it’s definitely overdone) But when it can be used to enhance our connection with people, to deepen our relationship by bringing personal moments together such as last night, when distance separates us, it is an amazing tool.  And, it changed my outlook on life, just a little…

I’m not sure what I’m more excited for – the actual Bar Mitzvah, or getting the chance to see Sharon and celebrate another simcha with her, and meet her family, but, I think the combination of the two is so exciting, I can hardly wait.  Max, I can’t wait to get to know you better, and share an incredibly meaningful simcha in your life, and your family’s lives.  Welcome to my world!  I’m so happy to be part of yours!

See you in Jersey!!

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Today was one of the most enjoyable days and nights of the year.

No, I did not officiate a wedding.  Or a Bar Mitzvah, or even a Baby Naming.  I did not create some amazing worship service.  I did not create anything at all.

Today was my son’s birthday.  I shut off the computer, and spent most of the day – disconnected.  Alone, with only Lauren and Trevor, my soon to be 21 year old, and my 19 year old, whose birthday was today.

In the beginning of the day, I wanted to get them out of the house and do something, until I realized that we were just sitting together on the couch, and they weren’t in a hurry to leave – and so….neither was I.  Later we went out,  browsed around town for the day, and met my Mom and Dad and Wayne for dinner, and Trevor invited his 3 best friends from Weston.  My kids have made wonderful choices in friends, and I would do anything for these kids.

My awesome kids, and friends..

My awesome kids, and friends..

The point I’m trying to make – is that I love the heck out of my kids, and I honestly think they’re amazing.  We love each other, and can spend an entire day together, and wish it wasn’t over.  I know that it wasn’t an accident they turned out this way, but as long as my blog carries the theme of gratitude – however it happened – I just wanted to stop and say THANKS for such amazing children.

Lauren and Trevor – You rock.  And, I am the happiest MOM in the world, because I have you.

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Today I performed a wedding for Scott & Mara, one of the most lovely, down to earth, authentic couples I have met in a long time.

Just pronounced Husband and Wife!

Just pronounced Husband and Wife!

From the moment I met them, I was touched by their simple honesty and affection for each other.  In a very short time, I felt like I really came to understand the essence of who this couple was, what they stood for, and what they wanted to be to each other, in their lifelong partnership.  Mara had a 5 year old son, from a previous relationship, and they gave birth to Sophie about 9 months ago, so it was very important for them not only to create the perfect wedding ceremony, but to honor their children with a unity ceremony to join the family together.

They were married at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.  The location provided a beautiful backdrop for a simple ceremony.  Scott and Mara are a no frills couple, and their wedding matched their personalities so perfectly.  The important thing to each of them was to honor their love and future commitment with a simple, authentic ceremony that was all about them.  No pomp and circumstance here, and it was much appreciated, by guests, family, and an officiant who is used to lots of p&c!  🙂  This time, it was the two of them, their son Zack, their daughter Sophie, and 25 friends and family members who meant the world to them.  Their chuppa was a family tallit (prayer shawl) that were attached to bamboo sticks, and 2 of their younger guests held it over their heads.

Scott and Mara's homemade Chuppa

We created the sand ceremony to include Zack and Sophie, read the 7 blessings, and I sang the Birkat Cohanim, the Priestly Blessing, in my favorite Julie Silver style melody.  My comments, as usual, were strictly about Scott and Mara, who they are to each other, what holds them together, and what they wanted to be for each other in the future.  It was a beautiful service.  Mara was a beautiful bride, and the couple looked amazing together.

What I loved about it was how comfortable it all was.   It was easy.  There was nothing superficial, nothing contrived.  Just a story about Scott, Mara, Zack, and Sophie, and the lives they will all share together.  I was honored to be part of their day, and wish them many years of joy and happiness together.

Breaking the Glass...Mazel Tov!

Breaking the Glass...Mazel Tov!

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I tried all the way home to write my blog entry about this past weekend, but I have come to the definite conclusion that some feelings simply cannot be put into words.  Such is the case for my experience in St. Maarten this past weekend, with Keith & Faith, their families, and friends.  And, if I wrote about every bit of the weekend that I felt was memorable – you would be here reading for another hour, and there was just no way I could cut it down, so I’m going to try to stick to the highlights – just know that there was so much more than what you will find here, and what happened in those moments will be memories I cherish forever.

Keith emailed me a couple months ago, and I knew immediately he was a mensch.  Just from the way he spoke about Faith, the wedding, and their lives, I knew I had to work with this couple.  And after my conversation with Faith, we all knew it was going to be amazing.  Looking back, this couple brought as much, if not more joy to my life, as I hope I brought to theirs, and once again, I fell in love.

At the villa

At the villa

Keith & Faith were married at La Salamandre, on the French side of St. Maarten.   It was the most beautiful villa on an amazing piece of property on the island, about 20 minutes from the hotel many of us stayed at – The Royal Sonesta on Maho Beach.  I have to say, the Villa was definitely the highlight of the weekend – other than the wedding itself.  But, what seems to rank my wedding experiences right up in the top 4 (as this one is definitely ranked up there!) is the people.  From Doug and Monica in St. Croix, to Dan & Rita in Mexico, to Felix & Evelina in Aruba, and now Keith and Faith in St. Maarten, it is absolutely the people I fall in love with.  And this wedding was no exception.

Pool

Pool

The weekend was full of casual, laid back celebration.  Keith and Faith were smart enough to realize that everyone was going to have a different idea of fun.  This was a very large crowd – 75 people, and many were friends of Keith’s Mom and Dad – Marge & Ken, and some were friends of Faith’s Mom – Vicky, and the rest were friends of Keith & Faith’s, so the crowd was diverse.  But, they managed to keep it interesting and fun, while being so easy going.  Friday night, we went to Pineapple Pete’s for dinner, but before, I met a lot of Marge & Ken’s closest friends at a little before party in their room.  My favorites of their friends were Mike & Jane, Linda & Barry, and Steve & Barbara, because they were such amazing and FUN people.

On Saturday – something terrible happened – I lost my voice.  Yes, I had gone to St. Maarten with a bit of a cold, and the cold/damp air conditioning went right into my lungs, and my voice was history.  Quite a panic when you’re the Cantor.  But, with laryngitis and all – this group of 75 made me feel so awesome, because it was clear that we were all so connected, that it just didn’t matter.  And then, to make matters worse – Vicky, Faith’s mom, fell and sprained her ankle, so there was quite a bit of irony in the whole situation!

Saturday night was a riot!!  We went to Cheri’s Cafe, right across from the hotel, a great open air restaurant with the most hysterical live entertainment!!  I can’t even begin to describe this night, but some pics just might give you an idea of how much fun we had!   It was a highly interactive evening, to say the least!!

The men - or - um - the women

The men - or - um - the women

I was very lucky to have found another “soul sister” on this trip – Dionne, who is Faith’s sister.

At the party

At the party

We were joined at the hip, from the moment we were checking in at the hotel – and realized who each other was.  I had so much fun with Dionne, and I don’t know what I would have done without her!  On Saturday and Sunday,  I had some very meaningful opportunities to connect with Faith & Dionne’s Mom, Vicky.  Sometimes, I get a very strong feeling that there is a greater purpose for why I end up in certain places, and my relationship with Vicky was one of those moments.  Vicky and I each had highly noteworthy disabilities this weekend – I lost my voice, and she sprained her foot.  Can you imagine?  A wedding where the Cantor has no voice, and the Mother of the Bride can’t walk her daughter down the aisle?  You might think it would be a disaster, right?  No way, it was amazing.

The wedding itself was magnificent.  From the caterers, to the steel drum band, to the dj, the bartenders, and the photographers (they were incredible – I can’t wait to link to them and see their photos!) this wedding was one of the most unique I have ever attended.  It was so private, and personal, and so much of Keith and Faith went into planning this wedding.  Faith has an very interesting story about her background, but suffice to say that she did not have a Hebrew name, so it was very important to her that before signing the Ketubah, she had a Hebrew name.  So, just before the ceremony, we gathered in the big living room, and I blessed Faith with the Hebrew name of Ruth – her grandmother’s name, with whom she is incredibly close.  We signed the Ketubah, took a few more pics, and then proceeded to the wedding ceremony.

It was here, on this dock, as Keith and Faith stood in front of me, that I had the most profound, meaningful experience in my career as an officiant.  But, it is one of those spots that words cannot describe.  As Keith and Faith stood in front of me, their loving gestures and care and sensitivity for each other overwhelmed me.  Now, you might think that the fact that I do weddings all the time, and see brides and grooms in love together, but Keith and Faith – they were different.  There was one moment in particular (I can’t wait till Judy sends me this photo because she captured it) that they just both instinctively leaned their heads in to rest on each other, while they were wrapped in my tallit, and the look on both of their faces brought me to my own tears – they were so hard to hold back.  It was a truly moving experience, and I am so thankful that we were brought together.

Now – the party – It was just so much fun, and I’ve never seen everyone have such an amazing time together.  The older crowd got down and dirty like the younger crowd, and everyone was having a ball.  On each table at dinner, Faith and Keith put the most unique flavored rums that everyone was taking shots of – which obviously contributed to a wild and crazy night – again – some things just don’t need to be repeated – but a good time was had by all!

The weekend review would not be complete without mentioning Keith’s brother Brian.  Brian – you are one of the MOST personable, bright, and fun people I have ever met.  Love you!

Dionne, Brian and me

In the end, I received two of the most amazing compliments of my career.  Marge, Keith’s mom came up to me, and shared her thoughts with me that were the most moving I have ever heard.

At Pineapple Pete's

At Pineapple Pete's

Marge- I can’t wait to be your friend, and I’m coming to Woodstock to visit!!  Steve, one of Marge & Ken’s friends, is an Orthodox man, a Chabad-nik, and he sat down next to me to tell me that while he disagreed in general with marriage outside a synagogue, he recognized that there was a need, and that he was so happy I was there for Keith and Faith, and he truly made me feel like I am accomplishing my goal.

Rabbi Lipson told me one day…”You can’t change the world”.  I know I can’t.  But, I can be different.  And if I can help one couple avoid being married by the Rabbi that married me, I’ve made enough of a difference in the world.

When I left the party, to return to the hotel, Faith hugged me and told me she loved me.  Keith and Faith – I love you both, so incredibly much!  I can’t wait to share more moments of joy with your family.  Thank you for bringing me into your lives, opening up and sharing your most intimate thoughts, and bringing so much joy to the world.  I miss you all!

B’Shalom,

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Was just sitting here, in St. Maarten, wondering if I had really talked about how grateful I was and totally in the most incredible love with what I do and what life has brought me this year.  And then I remembered – Yes, I have.  But, it can never hurt to say it again.

What an amazing day.  When I get phone calls from people who tell me they MUST hire me, and they don’t even know me, haven’t spoken to me for 5 minutes, but because of what they’ve heard from other people they just had to call and hire me right away – you know your day is pretty much up there in the top 5!

How did I get this lucky?  How did I finally figure out what makes me tick?  How many people find themselves having a love affair with their days and nights, just because they are so darn happy they can’t see straight?

ME!  And I hope for everyone I know and love, that they find this incredible joy in life.  Thank You, Thank YOU, THANK YOU!

B’Shalom,

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I just read Rabbi Lev Ba’esh’s post over on www.Interfaithfamily.com, one of my most favorite Interfaith relationship resources, and was touched by how similar our experiences and positions are on performing Interfaith ceremonies.

Anyone who reads my story on my website, www.mypersonalcantor.com, knows that when I married Wayne, my Christian ex-husband, the list of available Rabbis to perform our wedding was a very short one, at best.  I can’t remember his name, nor do I have a good memory of him at all.  Looking back, he struck me as someone who would marry a cat to a dog, for a check.  Uninspiring, to say the least, but he certainly did not help the Jewish factor in my marriage, as my husband formed a strong impression about him, and related that impression to the faith, overall.  Bad mistake.

I can’t even begin to recount the numerous run-ins we had about how judgmental, critical, conditional, and exclusionary the Jewish faith was, which couldn’t be farther from the truth – but you know as well as I do, that perception IS 100% of our reality.  Sad.

Today, I, like Rabbi Lev, feel I have a completely different impact on the families I touch by my ceremonies.  Also, like him, I am more frequently approached by the Jewish guests than the Non-Jews, with comments about how much I taught them about their own faith.  As Jews, we learn to do and say very certain things, but never learn why.  We don’t learn the meaning in our lives, we don’t learn why.  Our traditions are beautiful.  The fundamental message of our religion is “Do the right thing”.  Read the words to the V’Ahavta – the prayer that follows the Shema, the most important prayer a Jew can utter.  The words tell us to love God, to speak of Him, remember Him, and take him with us in our hearts every day.  If we do that, we will surely make decisions that prove that we were made in his image.  We are beautiful people, with a rich, touching history, and being Jewish is a magnificent thing.  Unfortunately, too many people aren’t shown the beauty of being Jewish.

My ceremonies include lessons about why we do what we do, and what the meaning is in our lives.  I always try to relate a Torah portion or lesson from the Torah in my ceremonies, so everyone can take a piece of God home with them.  In this way, nobody feels excluded, nobody feels alienated, and even the Jews learn just a little more about our beautiful faith than they knew before.

The end result, hopefully, is that everyone who attended that wedding, or even Bar or Bat Mitzvah feels the beauty that eminates from Jewish lessons.  When a couple has decided to marry, it is not up to the officiant to judge that decision, but it is our responsibility to strongly and proudly represent our faith.  It is up to us to hold our heads up and take a stand for why this Interfaith family should NOT turn their backs on Judaism.  It is up to us to put being Jewish in their hands, however we can make that happen.  We should NOT try to force anything on anyone, but I just don’t see how strongly representing something so beautiful could possibly be looked down upon.  If we believe that God brings man and woman together, what gives Rabbis the right to second-guess his decision?

Jewish, done right, is a magnificent thing.  Judaism is the cornerstone of my life.  It is my road map to God.  It is my light that guides me, teaches me right from wrong, and holds me up when all else fails me.  Why wouldn’t I help someone else have that feeling?  We cannot be afraid as Jews.  We cannot run away.  We couldn’t run away in the past, and we must not run away today.  We must stand up proudly, and teach our Interfaith couples that Judaism is beautiful, and can be the light that guides us all.  Thanks, Lev.  You reminded me again how amazing it is that we have the opportunity to do what we do.  I am so grateful.

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