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My friend, Linda, is wrapping up a very important project.  I know I have mentioned her here, and she is certainly on my blogroll, but in honor of her 1000th Mitzvah, I needed to send out a reminder.

Linda, who lives in Portland, Oregon,  decided to perform 1000 mitzvahs in honor of her father’s memory.  For anyone who doesn’t know, a Mitzvah is a good deed – regardless of how big or small, but it is having an intention in your heart to help someone or make someone feel good.

Linda’s blog entry, as she reaches 1000 was about how she felt it needed to have something to do with food, because her father loved to cook, loved to eat, and loved to serve.  In her blog, she asked everyone, near and far, to consider making a donation to feed someone less fortunate, and I am echoing her request, because in these days, many of us forget that even though times are tough – they are tougher for others.  I certainly need to watch every penny I spend, however, today I remembered that I was fortunate enough to eat breakfast, and lunch. But certainly, in my town, there were hundreds of families who could not say the same.

So, in honor of Linda’s 1000th Mitzvah, I made a $36 donation.  Nothing big, nothing major, but the thought counted more than anything.  Now – I know that charity is not something that should be advertised, and I certainly want NO kudos for making my donation, but – I would like to ask everyone who reads this blog today, to please take a moment and help someone in greater need than yourself.

If you live in Florida, our local food bank is in dire need of donations. For $35, 2 families of four won’t go hungry for eight days, because they can pick up groceries at an emergency food pantry.  The link is http://www.dailybread.org/index.cfm/category/2/page/11/lang/en.html

If you live outside the area, please consider making a donation to your local Jewish Family Services or Daily Bread Food bank, or any other program that helps others put food on their tables.

Linda – thanks again for inspiring me to remember how fortunate I am.  Congratulations on your 1000th Mitzvah, and may your father’s memory be for a blessing upon this earth.

B’Shalom

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I just looked at the date, and realized we are halfway through March, and I haven’t even finished blogging about February, yet.  March has already been a very fun month for me, as I just got back from spending a few personal days in Atlanta, and had such a great time.

When I came back from the Puerto Rico wedding, I quickly got ready for Leah’s Bat Mitzvah.  I have a friend who tutors children, and they were looking for someone to officiate the ceremony, so we worked as a team together.  It was really enjoyable, and the family was so much fun to work with.  The Bat Mitzvah was held on a Saturday evening, so we held a Havdalah service, which seems to be super popular these days.  It happens to be my favorite service, because I love including the contemporary Havdalah music and including everyone in the song and ceremony.  What great fun!  Leah did a great job, as did her sister, who also chanted from the Torah.  It was a beautiful night!

Just before the Bat Mitzvah, I spent a few personal days in Orlando as well, and saw my newest favorite musician, Matt Shenk.  He’s so awesome, and his music is at the top of my “most played” list in Itunes.  He is a master guitar player, has an awesome voice, and his words are so relatable!  Check him out at www.mattshenk.com.

Last week, I had the pleasure of officiating the wedding of Micha and Sam.  I don’t have pics yet, so I am saving the blog story, but they were so adorable, I just had to mention them here.  One of the youngest couples I have married, they are also one of the most mature.  I can’t wait for them to get back from their honeymoon, so I can hear how their first week of marriage went!

This weekend, I am performing the wedding for Annie & Greg. Annie is working incredibly hard at pulling off her wedding on a tight budget, and I think she has done an amazing job.  I can’t wait to see the result of her efforts.

I am also performing a Baby Naming for Mason and Emily, Sage and Jonah.  This is the couple I wrote about last week, titled, A Baby Naming, For all the right reasons…I can’t wait for this beautiful event, and to meet these two lucky little boys.

Trevor is home, and in between, I’m going to try to spend as much time as possible with him.  It’s a busy month, and I am so blessed to be so busy!  And I count those blessings, every day…

B’Shalom,

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My friend Mindy just sent me this video, and I just had to share, just to share.

How many of us have been told “You don’t look JEWISH!”  I suppose I’ve always wondered what that meant, and felt strangely responseless upon hearing it, perhaps because I just couldn’t quite understand the purpose of the statement.

Here, Vanessa puts all of my feelings into words.  Yes, I AM JEWISH.  I am proud to look JEWISH, and if I don’t look JEWISH to everyone, I hope I am acting JEWISH every minute of the day.  Thanks, Vanessa.  You rock!

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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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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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