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Archive for January, 2009

I guess I should start this blog entry, by clarifying that no event I’ve ever done has resulted in 3 (or more) entries, until now. Somehow I feel that’s important, because usually, as much as many of my events are warm, moving, loving, and well…exceptional, the story of Max’s Bar Mitzvah is more than all of that put together.

As I sit here in the hotel lobby (drinking massive volumes of coffee), I’m trying to figure out what made it SO exceptional. Was it Audrey, whose grounded-ness, sense of humor, red curls, big hug, and joie-de-vivre is so contagious you just want to sit in a room and talk her head off, forever? Was it Rob? Her Non-Jewish husband who was equally as driven to give his son the perfect Bar Mitzvah as she was?

Audrey & Rob

Audrey & Rob

Was it Edith? Audrey’s Holocaust survivor mother – clear – I mean – as CLEAR as a sunny day, whose only dream in her life was to see her grandson Max become a Bar Mitzvah?

Edith, Audrey's Mom

Edith, Audrey's Mom

Or was it Max, himself? My darling Skype student, who calls me a Robo-Rabbi, and with whom I have shared many deep, spiritual, inquisitive, and wondrous moments together – despite headsets and disconnects, from 1500 miles away?

Max, My Robo-Bar Mitzvah!

Max, My Robo-Bar Mitzvah!

Or maybe it was the other cast of characters. Sharon, my soul-sista, the common thread, that brought Audrey and her family and I together. Or, Hal and Sharon’s children, Bess & Hannah, who so beautifully chanted the V’Ahavta at Max’s Bar Mitzvah.

Audrey with Sharon, Bess, & Hannah.  Where was Hal??

Audrey with Sharon, Bess, & Hannah. Where was Hal??

Perhaps, it was Rob’s sister, remember…Non Jewish Rob, his sister, Judy, who so meaningfully read the D’Var Torah last night, explaining the meaning of the Parsha, Bo. Her desire to complete this simcha for Max and his family, was far more important than the fact that she had never even known what a parsha was before this week. Perhaps she didn’t even know the true story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and the meaning of the story in our lives, but she read with the same passion and conviction I would have expected Edith to read with.

Judy & Doug

Judy & Doug

Or Lara – Audrey’s brother’s wife, with a personality bigger and kinder than anyone I have met in ages. A total rockstar-redhead, with more energy than a whirling dervish. (what is that, anyway?)

Sharon and Edith with Lara (on the right)

Sharon and Edith with Lara (on the right)

Oh wait – it certainly had to have something to do with Rev. Sarah Lammert. I must digress by saying that the Bar Mitzvah was held in the Unitarian Universalist Society, where Edith and Audrey have been attending for quite some time. It is the Society they landed in, when they realized that there were no synagogues that were going to meet their spiritual needs, and whose arms they felt so warm and loved in, when all else, spiritually, had failed them. It was Sarah who opened the Bar Mitzvah last night, and closed – with me – immediately after I led our congregation in Kaddish – and she led with The Lord’s Prayer. (Did you ever know that The Lord’s Prayer is deeply rooted in the words of the Kaddish? Perhaps a separate blog entry for later..) A deeply moving moment, bringing us all of different faiths and walks of life together, harmoniously, in one room, with the feeling that G-d was around each and every one of us.

Gee, maybe it was the amazing New York Klezmer band, who rocked the house in the first couple of hours. As Max and I danced the hora, and led most of the guests around in a hora line, and had an amazing time.

Or Audrey’s friend, husband, and children, who played and sang “I Hope You Have the Time of Your Life”.

Or ultimately, it was Edith’s speech to Max, a moving wish from his grandmother, expressing her deep pride, and a transformed relationship with her G-d, as a result of this night. Or Lara’s moving recount of what a Bar Mitzvah means to her (another non-Jewish family member, expressing her love and hopes for Max).

I think there is way too much to recount, and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to accurately express just what made last night so incredible. I just know it was, because of what I felt in my heart – before, during, and after the ceremony, including now. I know because of the comments and feedback, and joy and love I received from everyone there, Jewish and non Jewish alike. Even the kids, who sat on the floor, in front of Max and I, were enthralled and participative, a moving experience in itself.

Maybe it was the sum of the parts. Each of those parts brought incredible meaning, connection, spirituality, and unity to the night. It was beshert, I suppose, for Audrey and I to connect, through Sharon, and I will be forever grateful for the experience. It not only brought meaning to my life, but I know it did for Audrey and Rob, Max, Edith, and all of the friends and family that joined together in that room. I’m sad that it is over, but richly rewarded for having been through it. I’m sure the impact has yet to reveal itself to me, but it will be my pleasure to carry these memories with me along the road, and remember how I changed one family’s life. It changed mine, too. Audrey, Rob, Max, Edith, Lara, Judy, Sharon, and Rev. Sarah – you are angels, and I’m so thankful for each of you! Max – you are my Robo-rock-star-Bar Mitzvah. I will be forever proud!

The best time EVER! Love u, Audrey!

The best time EVER! Love u, Audrey!

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It is the eve of Max’s Bar Mitzvah.  I am back in the hotel, after spending the last few hours reading and preparing for tonight, and reflecting on the last 24 hours.  My heart is pounding for some reason, today, like that feeling you get when the police car turns his lights on behind you.  I’m not sure why.  Sometimes this happens, when there is so much inside of me, and things going on that I just can’t see clearly yet, and hours of meditation and thought have to occur to see what this message is.  I consider it a message, I just don’t know what it’s saying, yet.  I’m overwhelmed by my relationship to Audrey, Rob, and Max, and perhaps it is just a sign that a shift is taking place in my world, and that tonight is going to be one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I sat with Max for a couple of hours today.  He practiced his blessings, we read through his D’Var Torah, and his prayer of gratitude.  Wait till I publish this prayer.  I sobbed at his kitchen table, and I promise you – these are his own words.  The child is amazing.  We played guitar in his Mom’s office, and shared more philosophy at his kitchen table.  I walked 2.5 miles to his house from the hotel, and another 2.5 back – in 30 degree weather, and it was the best 5 mile walk I’ve ever had.

Max's House, as it was starting to snow

Sure, I love the beach, and certainly don’t know if I could trade my daily walks at the ocean for the walk I experienced today, but, today was special, nonetheless.  I love being here in New Jersey, in the north, in the cold, and among friends I’ve only known for 24 hours but feel I have known forever.

Last night, Audrey (Max’s Mom) had her family over for dinner, and Sharon, Hal, Hannah and Bess were there.  Sharon is my soul-sista, and I couldn’t wait to see her.  It was SO much fun, and I just don’t want this time to end.  Tonight, Hannah and Bess are chanting the V’Ahavta, while Max reads the prayer in English.  It will be beautiful.

Tomorrow, I set out on my journey to see my brides – past and future, and hopefully somewhere along the line, I will get a chance to meet Rabbi Andrea, my friend, in person.  (some technical difficulties this morning prohibited that, but I’m sure going to try to catch up!)  Andrea was responsible for connecting me to Yelena, who connected me to Sharon, who connected me to Audrey, and on and on we go…I know I’ve said all this before, but it’s all so divine, it’s worth repeating.

Thank You, G-d, for this blessing.  I am, once again, the luckiest girl on earth.

B’Shalom,

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I’m so excited.  This is a divine weekend, for sure, and I have been so looking forward to its arrival.  There is such an amazing story about how I got here, which I will tell later, but, for now, the beauty of the fact that I am here is enough.

So, tonight begins Max’s Bar Mitzvah experience.  I’m in Montvale, New Jersey, and we are holding the ceremony tomorrow evening at the Unitarian Church.  Who’d-a-thought?  Audrey, Max’s Mom and I have only seen each other a few times through a unique video-chat setup in their home, so Audrey wasn’t sure we would find each other as I arrived in baggage claim, in Newark, but as soon as I stepped one foot into baggage, we knew immediately who each other was.

Have you ever had one of those times, where you met someone for the first time, but felt sure you had known them all your life?  Well, this is Audrey.  But, it shouldn’t surprise me, because we must not forget that I am connected to Audrey, because of Sharon, my soul-sista from Yelena’s wedding in the DR.  And, there’s a whole story about how I got connected to Yelena, (through Rabbi Andrea in New York) so this whole thing is one big insane Law-of-Attraction story that nobody will really ever believe.

But what’s important, is that I’m here.  I’m here to keep a boy connected to Judaism, whose family has left 4 synagogues, because they never felt welcome, in fact, quite the opposite.  I’m here to let a boy know that his Jewish heritage will never let him down, as long as he stays connected to it, and that the effort he makes is worth way more than the quality he performs with.  I’m here to bring a Jewish and Non-Jewish family together, to help them see the richness of our faith, and the blessings we receive when we embrace it.  I’m here, because G-d brought me here, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Max, I can’t wait to share this moment with you tomorrow.  Audrey, thank you for dinner tonight, and for making me part of your family.  Sharon – I adore you.  You are more my soul-sista tonight than ever.  Rob – you’re an amazing father and husband, and I’m honored to be part of this simcha.  Stay tuned…Max’s Bar Mitzvah, live, Friday night!

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So, now that I have your attention…..

I am drowning in a world of Social Media I do not understand. Though it fascinates me, I could spend as many hours (if not more) on trying to figure out what to do with Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Ustream, YouTube, and goodness knows whatever other resources are out there – but then, when would I ever get to do my job?

I believe strongly that a person should do what they are best at, and give the rest to someone else who is best at doing what I’m worst at. Therefore, I have made the decision to go out and find a professional (or, a really good amateur) who can help me navigate this very confusing world.

See, I have a message to communicate, and a passion for what I do. I think that’s what marketing is – bringing my message out to the masses, who wouldn’t have ordinarily known I exist. I need someone to keep me on track, help me brainstorm, build my brand, and send my message.

I know what my brand is – I am warm, dynamic, passionate, original, creative, spiritual, and personable. My heart is bigger than I am, and you feel it when you meet me, speak to me, or even when you land on my website. (So I’m told). I believe that everyone has a right to faith, and I want to be someone who helps them find it. I want to be the connection to their Jewish faith, when all else has failed them.

I’m not looking for a guerilla marketing coach – I don’t want to generate “hundreds of leads”. I just want to present myself to people, and I want them to be people who will appreciate me for who I am and what I can offer them. I don’t want to turn my business into a metrics machine, but I believe everyone should be efficient – and effective – at what they do.

I want to attract REAL people into my life. People like Rita & Dan, Keith & Faith, Yelena & Lenny, Felix & Evelina, Jerry & Audrey, Josh, Amanda, Megan, Jesse, Beverly, and more…all the people you can read about on my blog – I want to serve more of them! I know I have an exceptional talent, I just need someone to help me advertise it.

I want to grow, and expand my presence. I’ve had the most amazing – I mean it – the MOST amazing year of my entire life, and I want MORE. I know I am directly connected to my source of energy when I am performing my job, and I bring so much love and energy back to the world in return. I know that by practicing the Law of Attraction, and the Law of numbers, that the more people I tell what I need, the greater chance I have of it arriving.

So – I am looking for someone to grow with me. To help me navigate this foreign world of media, and make a place for myself, and my marketing. If you know of someone who can help – I would be forever grateful! THANKS for reading my note!

B’Shalom,
Debbi

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Today, as I watch the Presidential Inauguration, just as millions around the world are watching, I am moved, and inspired. No more, and no less than millions around the world are inspired, but enough so, for those feelings to change my life, and invigorate me to make passionate commitments in my life, about how to take my part, in changing the future.

Who am I to think I can? I never learned much about politics, and certainly never got involved. I didn’t get an Ivy League education, not even close. My job is not necessarily important to the world, but it is certainly one of the most important things to me, and my life. I’m a mother of 2 extraordinary children (yet ordinary in the view of the world), I’m the daughter of an ordinary family, and I have my own strengths and weaknesses that I must wrestle with every day.

Who am I to offer commentary on this new President’s inauguration, and message to the world? What makes me think that anyone should listen? Nothing, nothing at all. But, just in case, there is someone to whom my words might make a difference, then, I have made my own contribution to changing the world. And if writing these words creates a more defined clarity about my own responsibilities to this world, to peace, and to brotherhood of mankind, then, I again, have made a difference.

As President Obama stood among millions in Washington D.C., as well as around the world, of course the greatest message that was conveyed simply by his presence, was hope. Hope for change, hope for renewed economic development, hope for world peace, and hope for unity. As I watch the Bush’s and the Obama’s exit the Inauguration, and bid adieu to the Bush’s at the helicopter, I am struck most by the theme of unity, in today’s ceremonies. And it is this theme that I want most to elaborate on, and support, as the days turn less into ceremony and more into a process of getting down to business.

First and foremost, I was struck by the unity of every person in attendance there today, and throughout the world wide web. A common theme exists, yet, among citizens who undoubtedly have very different upbringings, opinions, financial resources, political platforms, and lifestyles. People of every race, religion, and sexual orientation stood together today, in hope. The most incredible feeling at that moment was that of unity.

But, what must we do to make that hope a reality? Is it enough that we stand together on one day to express our hope for – well, hope? No, no way. Not enough. A good start – but not enough. When President Obama was elected, and I realized that the generation of my older teenage child were largely responsible for voting him in – I encouraged them and admonished them – to remember that their vote was not enough. If change was what they wanted, then they had to evoke change within themselves, and find what their role would or could be, in evoking that change in the world. It is not enough to sit back, and watch as President Obama single-handedly takes office and leads the country – we must take action, each one of us. In our average communities, in our average jobs, in our average families, we are each charged with a responsibility to make change.

As I officiate my students’ Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, I am moved by their expression of hope for World Peace, for people of different races, religions, and sexual orientations to live peacefully together. And this is exactly where I think all of has have a responsibility to change. We must remember that we exist together in this world, and take heed from the lesson that was demonstrated at today’s inauguration. I can see our political administration, who 6 months to 1 year ago today fought passionately against each other’s ideals, come together, as one administration. They came in support of our President – each one of our,s in America. We come together as citizens, not united by our faith or the color of our skin, but by our hopes for peace and freedom.

It is my children’s responsibility, it is my responsibility, and it is every single person’s responsibility on the face of this earth to make the commitment to being united to the mission of peace and freedom. 60 years ago, no single person ever would have dreamed of an African American in the White House. It seems a dream that was as obscure then, as World Peace is today. But, is it so difficult to dream? Is it so difficult to accept an individual because of his differences? Is it so difficult to think that our way may not be exactly the right way? And that by all thinking and working together, by involving each other and holding each other accountable for peace and freedom, that it might actually be achieved?

Or are we all too busy trying to prove that our way is the right way? That we or “I” am superior to someone else, simply because they are different? What if we all adopted a philosophy of being equal – under the eyes of God. “Hear O Israel, The Lord is Our God, The Lord is One”, Pastor Rick Warren repeated today. How true that was. Now, if we could only make the pledge to actually live our lives that way – and remember that God created our universe, created mankind, and put us all here to live peacefully together – in freedom. He has brought many races and religions through incredibly difficult victories in our fights for freedom since the beginning of time. Isn’t that a message of hope for us all to learn to live peacefully together?

It isn’t that obscure of a dream. I almost feel like we are right on the verge of an amazing eclipse in our world philosophy. I feel that in my lifetime, it’s possible, and that I can take steps to make that happen. President Obama didn’t reach the White House on the coattails of welfare, nor did he assign anyone else the tasks of reaching his goals – he took them on himself. Because of his commitment to surpassing the impossible boundaries he envisioned for himself, because he took his own action and made life happen for himself, I know that I too can break the impossible boundaries I may see for myself, and my country, and my world.

We have duties to ourselves, each other, our countries, and the world. We must work together to achieve unity. We must accept our neighbors for being different, and respect different opinions. We must embrace those who think differently from ourselves, and remember that it might just lie within that person, or that idea, to break through from the norms, and move to the unexpected. We must unite with distant families from whom we are estranged, and with whom we have allowed our differences to fall between. We must remember we are all family, we are all created in God’s image, and we are all human beings first, seeking freedom, and World Peace. I make a commitment today to live life through the lens of breaking impossible boundaries, and I urge every friend, colleague, and citizen out there today, that on this day, they make the same commitment to themselves, their communities, and the world.

Good Luck, America, we have reached a brand new day, and I’m confident we have witnessed a moment of profound change in our world. May it only be so…

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After 14 months of arduous preparation, the night of Jesse’s Bar Mitzvah finally arrived!  And, it was worth the wait!

I loved Jesse’s Bar Mitzvah, for many reasons.  First, and most importantly, when I first  met Jesse, over a year and a half ago, he knew he wanted a Bar Mitzvah, but, his parents and I were not really sure exactly what it was he wanted.  He said he wanted to do it, but, most kids don’t really grasp the amount of work, thought, and preparation that has to happen, among their school studies, extra-curricular activities, family obligations, keeping up socially, and well, just trying to be a kid.  It isn’t easy, but nobody ever said it would be.  And getting there, honestly, isn’t any fun, either.  But, I’d like to believe that my kids have more fun than most, because we make it real, and we find the humor, and we try – most of the time, to keep it light hearted.

Jesse didn’t realize what he had signed up for.  Some weeks he cruised right through, and blew me away.  Other weeks, he was like a defiant toddler.  He made sure I knew that he had no intention of working on anything that week, and that we could struggle – if I wanted – or I could just simply accept that fact.  Other times, he wanted to – he just didn’t have time, and once in a while, Ronni (his mom) and I would just chat, and I would agree to accept the facts of life, and pull back on making Hebrew a priority.

Other times, Jesse was an astute student.  He loved his writing assignments, and his written products were deep, meaningful, and profound.  Jesse is an amazing writer.  And, I realized last night, a pretty serious kid when it comes to delivering on a promise.  I think of all the lessons Jesse learned, stepping up and being accountable was one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in him, over 14 months, and I’m so proud – I just can’t put it into words.

The other reason I loved working with Jesse was his Mom, Ronni.  Ronni was always interested in my life as a person, and she made the most amazing cup of special coffee every time I walked in her door.  She is a devoted Mom and wife, and she runs a great household – but she balances that which is critical – and that which is not, with amazing finesse.  Most of all, Ronni (and the rest of her household members) are REAL.  Not trying to show off in a city of sometimes-show-offs, but she and Gary work hard, give their children what they need, and teach the values of lifes ups and downs.

The venue and party was so much fun, and it was also so REAL.  We departed on the Sun Dream, behind the  Doubletree hotel in Fort Lauderdale.  60 kids, and 7 adults, and we held the ceremony on the middle deck.  Quite close quarters, but, we did what was important.  Jesse chanted his Torah and Haftorah portions perfectly, and was a shining example to his friends.  I have to add, that among these 60 kids, there were quite a few kids that sounded like little Yeshiva-buchers!  Wow – they knew every single prayer, and I could actually hear half the room chanting the blessing before the Haftorah along with Jesse.  Now, that’s what I call friends!  🙂

Then, when I sang Jesse “Lechi Lach”, by Debbie Friedman, the kids were singing along, too, and it was a really moving moment.  What I loved the most about last night, was that – we didn’t need a big fancy hotel, we didn’t need a DJ that brought 19 of his favorite high energy dancers, and we didn’t need glitz and glamorous entries and departures, we just needed Jesse, his Mom and Dad, his friends – and well, me.  And you know, I had just as much fun at Jesse’s party as I’ve had anywhere else.  Jesse – you truly became a Bar Mitzvah last night.  You did your job.  You held up your end of the deal.  You shined.  And I am so proud.  Yasher Koach!!

..pictures to come, as soon as Ronni shares them with me!

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I have been sooooo tired of hearing all the bad economic news lately, that I have almost stopped listening to the news, or reading the paper.  But, today I stumbled upon good news, and it was so exciting, especially because it directly relates to what I do.  I’ve considered myself so fortunate this year, that while everyone has been lamenting about their economic conditions, times are good for me.  I have felt that my business is fairly recession-proof, as long as you provide value for what you do, and I think I work very hard at keeping my prices reasonable, especially for the service that I offer.

That being said, I was happy to read an article today, about brides continuing to book Destination Weddings in the Caribbean.  I have often said that the weddings I officiate in the Caribbean and Mexico are so worthwhile, and way more fun than a 4 hour soiree that costs a fortune, just because it has the word “wedding” attached to it!  When my clients get married at an All Inclusive resort in the islands, their guests get to enjoy a 3 day (or longer!) vacation together, rather than a 4 hour hustle-bustle with mediocre filet and lobster tail, and a dried out potato.

The families get the most amazing bonding time, and the experience can’t be beat.  The wedding planners I have worked with are proven professionals, and the whole experience brings the best memories I could ever imagine.  My clients are relaxed, their families and friends are having FUN, and best of all – they’re spending less than half of what they would spend in the U.S.

I’m so happy to hear that my brides in 2009 and 2010 are still going to be booking Destination Weddings, and that I might be fortunate enough to continue sharing the most amazing experiences with them and their families for the coming years ahead.  I can’t recommend the experience highly enough – and if you are just beginning to think about where you can take your family for your special day – be sure to ask me, because I’ve really had a world of experience the last couple of years.

Looking forward to discussing performing your Destination Wedding in the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, and beyond!  Be sure to check out my Facebook page, as well as my blog, for photos, and writeups on my most recent destinations.  What a great job I have!  See you in the islands!

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