Because I Remember, I Must Reject Despair: Yom Hashoah Sermon 05-05-2016

Earlier this week, on Monday morning, fifty Jews became B’nei Mitzvah.

As Natalie [Bat Mitzvah girl on bima] knows, any Bar or Bat Mitzvah is an extraordinary celebration of Jewish life, commitment and continuity. But this celebrationion was different.

It was different because these 13 men and 37 women were not able to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah when they were 13. When they were teenagers, some of them lived in concentration camps. Some were penniless and could not take time away from difficult laborious jobs to train and tutor. Others hid their Jewishness out of fear. All 50 of these adult B’nei Mitzvah are Holocaust survivors.

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"Please God, Heal Her": Judaism & Healing 04-28-16

In Numbers chapter 12, Miriam harshly criticizes her brother Moses for marrying a Kushite woman. Following that, she is quickly punished. As the Torah tells us, Miriam became leprous, white as snow.

Almost immediately, Moses cries five words to God, El na r’fa na lah. - Please God, heal her. These 5 words are the only words uttered by Moses in this Torah portion. Each of these short words ends in a vowel, as if Moses is crying out, shouting to God with all of his strength. Saying the words, you can almost feel the deep longing of Moses’ words.

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I Wanna Sing, Sing, Sing - Praise the Lord! 04-15-16

(sing) I wanna sing sing sing I wanna shout shout shout I wanna sing I wanna shout, praise the lord!

Praising the Lord, giving thanks to God, this is a paramount liturgical theme in our liturgy. We thank God for allowing us to wake up, for giving us the miracles of daily life. We give praise for health, for jobs, for friendship, for love. The rabbis teach us that we are to thank God at least 100 times a day – 100 blessings. Whether it be the the thankfulness we feel when we break bread at a meal or the exuberant joy at a wedding, Jews are commanded to show gratitude. Our Talmud teaches this when it asks, Who is wise? The answer to this rhetorical question teaches gratitude. Who is wise? He that is happy with his lot. And so we learn that happiness stems from thankfulness. To notice. To take stock. And we do that through song.

Next week, we will celebrate our Exodus from Egypt. After 420 years of slavery, God performed ten plagues – ten miracles, and Pharoah finally let them go. With Moses as their guide, they walked out of Egypt. But there was a problem; Pharoah changed his mind and sent his strongest men and fastest horses after them. The Egyptian army was close behind them, and in front of them wasthe imposing obstacle of the Red Sea. At the last possible moment, making for drama of the highest order, God splits the Red Sea, the Isrealites walk through.

As they march through the sea, Miream starts singing. And suddenly, all the Israelites were singing in unison: Mi Chamocha BaElim Adonai – Who is like YOU god?

At every fixed prayer service in the Jewish liturgical calendar, we sing this song – the same words that we sang thousands of years ago. The song brings us back to a specific moment, reminding us of the miracle of the Red sea, certainly, but also the miracles of our daily lives. It focuses our thoughts and intentions. And that is the power of song.

You hear a song on the radio and think of your high school graduation, your first kiss, your wedding, your job, your children, a dance, a deceased relative. Song helps us remember. Music acts as a soulful mnemonic device – a means to forever hold a moment in our brain, and our heart.

Interestingly, the splitting of the Red Sea is not the only story in our Bible regarding God's separating mighty waters.

In this other story, the Israelites were also standing in front of a large body of water. Enemies were also behind them, closing in fast. God also splits the sea. And the ISraelites also march toward freedom.

This story takes place in a different part of the Bible, in the book of Joshua. But whereas the crossing of the Red Sea is embedden within our daily liturgy, our Passover celebration and our collective memory, the Joshua tale is relegated mostly to text study and adult education classes. But Why?! These two stories, the narratives, are exactly the same.

One might argue that the incident from Joshua must pale in comparison to what happened at the Dead Sea. Except if anything, the story in Joshua is more powerful! It occurs as the Israelites are on the cusp of reaching the promised land, Israel. In terms of historical significance, there is nothing as powerful as gaining entrance to the promised land, something that was first promised to Abraham so many generations earlier.

On this Shabbat of music, I argue that the only difference between the two stories is that of song – in the Joshua story, as the miracle happened, there was not a self-realization of that miracle – there was no song. And so, the song at the Red Sea did not just commemorate a historical event, it also helped to create one. The act of singing helped to create not only gratefulness, but memory.

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Lawrence Kushner, a Reform Rabbi, tells this story: When the Red Sea parted; everyone was running through the Red Sea, celebrating, dancing, hugging. But there were two guys in back who just didn’t get it. They were complaining. They were walking through the river and were complaining about the smell, wondering when it would be lunch time. After a few minutes, one of their friends said, Guys! Look up! It was then that they NOTICED the walls of the Red Sea, surrounding them in comfort, in freedom, and in community. And then started singing.

Singing causes us to stop and observe the “walls” that are around us in our lives. Singing requires intention and effort, thoughtfulness and energy, passion and excitement.

This Song of the Sea – it was snug in a certain place, at a certain point in history, and by certain group of people. Whereas the song is particular, its message is universal - each of our lives gives us all manner of opportunities, all sorts of miracles, if we dare to see them. We can choose to walk through life so that we smell the dead fish, complaining of hunger and exhaustion, or we can look up, hold hands with our brothers and sisters and gleefully and thankfully exclaim -

(sing) I wanna sing sing sing I wanna shout shout shout I wanna sing I wanna shout praise the Lord!

There's More Than One Way: P'kudei 03-11-16

Now that we are free, the real work begins.

...

This Torah portion of P'kudei concludes the building of the Tabernacle. The Israelites left Egypt, and in the last several portions, we have watched as they have followed the blueprints for building the holy synagogue, the Mishkan.

The next book, Leviticus, will start not with acts of construction but with acts of devotion - the Israelites will learn many of the laws that are to be followed. First we needed to become free. Then, we needed to construct a place for us to gather in holiness and spirituality, learning and community, friendship and peace. Now it is time to live a life of holiness.

But just as Exodus ends, there are a few verses that hearken back to the to the many years of wandering in the desert following the Exodus. And so we look for a moment to Parashat Bashalach, the portion in which we sing the Mi Chamocha.

God was going in front of them by day in a column of cloud to show them the way, and by night in a column of fire to shed light for them.

In the many years between the Exodus from Egypt until now, God has provided these signs. And they are still there for the Israelites. These are the concluding verses of this week's Torah portion:

When the the cloud was lifted from the Tabernacle, the children of Israel would travel, and if the cloud would not be lifted, they would not travel. Because God's cloud was on the Tabernacle by day and fire would be in it at night, before the eyes of all the house if Israel in all their travels.

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It's super fascinating to me that God's presence appears differently, depending on the time of day. It reminds me that we experience God in a multitude of ways. There is no "one" way to feel God's presence. In fact, to fully experience God's presence, the Israelites needed to experience both the cloud and the fire. If they only saw one of them, they were blinding themselves to some of God's glory.

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After spending a week in Israel recently, these verses resonate even more deeply. Just as there is not only one way to see God, there is also not only one way to be Jewish.

Unfortunately, in Israel it has been the case that there is only one way to be Jewish. Women are not free to pray at the Western Wall as men can. If Jews do not want to be married by the Orthodox establishment, they can not get married. Reform Judaism continues to be mocked and vilified both by government officials and citizens.

It is sobering that a country that is supposed to be my homeland sometimes feels like a strange land. Unquestionably, it is easier to be a Reform Jew in Athens, GA than anywhere in Israel. But, as I will talk about in the coming weeks and months, there are a few signs of hope. I've spoken about the planned egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, known as Robinson's Arch. During the convention, we heard several members of Knesset speak openly, honestly and forcefully against the status quo, against the strangle-hold that the Haredi Orthodox leadership has imposed upon the Israeli country. Slowly, liberal Judaism is showing its signs to the people of Israel.

...

I wish that the powers that be in Israel would read this portion the way that I do, and that many of my colleagues do. God appears in multiple forms. We feel God in multiple ways. The richness of the Tabernacle comes from the diversity of talents and passions and perspectives of the Israelites.

The cloud was not better than the fire. Both were needed at different times, and for different people. Orthodox Judaism is needed. It is necessary. And so too, Reform Judaism is necessary. Both are authentic ways of Jewish living, and as we know, there are many others.
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The Israelites were successful in building the Tabernacle. How tragic it is then, that it is Jews that have kicked some of us out. We are commanded to be a light onto the nations, but we also must be a light onto ourselves. It is only by working together that the many strands of Judaism can experience God's wonderful and varied presence, leading us out of Egypt, and into holiness.

Chinese Food & a Movie, Jews & Christmas: 12-25-2015

When I turned 14, I was excited to get my first job at Publix. I bagged groceries until just after my 18th birthday.

For the most part, I enjoyed interacting with people on the short walk to their cars. But around mid-December, I'd be filled with anxiety during my chats with customers. They'd ask about holiday plans, and then talk about their holiday plans. So far, so good. But then they'd say two words. And despite the dozens of interactions that ended with these two words, I never knew how I should respond. 

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In a Place Where There is No Man, Become One: Noah 10-16-2015

I'm guessing that many of you are familiar with Ghandi's exhortation to "be the change that you wish to see in the world."

I don't know if Ghandi was a Talmudic scholar, but it does not come as a surprise to me that a similar teaching is in our Jewish texts. Pirke Avot* (2:5) reads: "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."

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Three Lessons of Sukkot: 10-02-2015

1) We shake the lulav and etrog in all directions when we enter the sukkah. As a Hebrew school student, I learned that this is because God is in all directions, and God's blessings are everywhere. We can feel God's blessing in every area of our lives. This is true, and a great lesson. But I like to think that another reason we shake the four species in every direction is to remind us that each of *us* can radiate blessing and goodness in every area of our lives. We don't have to wait for God to give it to us. We can give it to the world.

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5776: Kol Nidrei is NOT About Promises

Kol Nidrei.

Tonight's service is named for this prayer that we heard toward the beginning of our service. Kol Nidrei is so powerful, so important, so meaningful - that we stand during its threefold recitation. In fact, it is only during the singing of Kol Nidrei that we take all of our Torahs scrolls out of the ark and stand before their holy words, messages and inspirations. You may not know the name of Moses' wife, you may not know the difference between the Mishna and the Talmud, but I bet that you can hum the beginning of the haunting melody of Kol Nidrei.

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5776: Sometimes, Being Perfect is not Good Enough.

I've always wanted to be on Jeopardy.

I love everything about it - its competitive spirit, the display of lightning like intellectual and physical reflexes that recall all matters of intellectual ephemera, and the sometimes witty banter between contestants and Alex Trebek.

Several friends of mine have applied to be contestants. One, a reform rabbi in New York City, even made it on earlier this year. I've learned that if you completely ace the tryout questions, you will most likely not be asked to continue to the next steps of the tryout process. In other words, if you are perfect, you're not good enough.

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5776: Rosh Hashanah is not a Period at the end of the Year; It's a Semi-colon.

High School. First kiss. Graduation. College. First job. Marriage. Yesteryear. The good ole days. 

Nostalgia is a booming business.

In recent years, social media has popularized what has come to be known as 'tbt' - throwback Thursday. On Thursdays, it takes one quick glance on Facebook to see pictures of friends with that crazy hair from high school, or a gorgeous wedding portrait from over 40 years ago. We use our present technologies to go back to the past. Apps, services and Web sites try and tap into our yearnings for yesterday.

There's a bad joke incoming, but nostalgia is just not what it used to be.

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Deuteronomy is Revisionist History, and Here's Why: 07-24-2015

On this Shabbat, we begin the 5th book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. The name of the book derives from two sources, one Hebrew and one Greek.

The first line of Deuteronomy is: Eleh ha-d'varim - These are the words (that Moses spoke to all of Israel). Each of our 54 Torah portions are named after a word that occurs very close to the beginning of the portion. Each of our 5 books of the Torah are named after the first portion contained within; B'reishit, Sh'mot, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and now, D'varim.

Deuteronomy has a second etymological source; Greek. Deuteronomium means second law. The book of Deuteronomy relates to Moses' re-telling of the Israelites' history. Most of the book is a recapitulation, a summary, as Moses recounts his peoples' remarkable journey.

But these D'varim, these words that Moses addressed to all of Israel are not a repeat of everything that has happened before. If we read closely Moses' recapitulation of what happened, we see that he gets some things wrong.

In this sense, Deuteronomy is a kind of revisionist history. It contains inaccuracies, inconsistencies, changes of timeline ... so much so, in fact, that when the 10 commandments are repeated, they are different!

Deuteronomy is indeed a second law, as Deuteronomy comes from Moses' words ... Moses' perspective. Perhaps Moses did in fact remember events in this manner. And perhaps, he needed to remember events in this manner, so that he could be at peace with his life and his choices. Each of us undoubtedly has several powerful memories that are also Deuteronomical in that they probably did not happen exactly as we remember.

Deuteronomy is the textual counterpart to Picasso's cubism. Taken from our secular Torah of Wikipedia, In Cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.

The book of Deuteronomy is one viewpoint. The narration of the previous books is another.

Deuteronomy forces us to look at these different perspectives, and also to form our own Deuteronomy - our own 're-telling.' After all, this is the entire point of Torah, to make it ours - to take the Torah into our hearts and lives. We see how Moses made it his. What is yours?

Rick Santorum, the Pope, and the Menorah: 06-05-2015 B'haalot'cha

Earlier this week, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum criticized Pope Francis for getting involved in scientific matters. In the past year, the Pope has urged his more than one billion followers to act more responsibly toward our earth and our resources. Santorum, a Catholic himself, was quoted as saying, The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists.

It's certainly true that religion continues to sometimes place a stumbling block before the progress of scientific advancement. One needs to only refresh their memory of high school science to wince at the treatment of thinkers such as Socrates, Galileo ... Einstein.

Given these historical realities, is it the case that religious thought operates under a completely different paradigm than scientific thought? Should religious thinkers completely excise scientific discourse from their thinking and writing?

In a twist of irony, it is the case that Pope Francis is a scientist, as he received a Masters degree in Chemistry prior to becoming a priest. But regardless, the question still stands: Do religion and science belong in two different worlds, and never the twain shall meet?

This week's Torah portion has something to say about this.

B'haalot'cha begins with God instructing Moses about several accoutrements to be found in the tabernacle. One of them is the Menorah: When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lamp stand. This menorah that stood in the temple had six branches, with a slightly raised seventh branch in the middle. This Menorah is of course a bit different than the menorah we light on Hannukah, the Hannukiyah.

The Menorah has become one of the most recognizable and powerful symbols in Judaism. This seven-branched m'norah is the seal of the State of Israel, symbolizing faith, determination, strength, knowledge and tradition.

One of my favorite teachings refers to this Menorah. It comes from Isaac Luria, a 16th century scholar who is considered to be the founder of Kabbalah. He taught that the six branches of the Menorah represent rational, scientific thought and observation. The center light represents the light of the Torah.

Maimonides thought similarly. He used the philosophical teachings of non-Jewish thinkers like Plato and Aristotle in constructing his Jewish world-view. Luria and Maimonides teach us that a life of Torah must explore outside of the words of Torah.

...

When he was persecuted by the Catholic Church, Galileo wrote a letter. He said that God wrote two different books. One is the book of creation and revelation. The other is the book of science and observation. Since God wrote both books, he argued, they are both equally important and, what's more, they both must be 'read' together.

Religion and science do indeed speak to each other.

As Luria's teaching suggests, Judaism challenges us to constantly incorporate modern life into our Jewish lives, replete with its scientific discoveries and technological advancements, with Jewish thought and theology.

But we must also remember that without the Torah, all of our rational and scientific discoveries are just unlit candles. It is the spark of Torah that ignites them. The spark of wonder, of community, faith, hope, tradition ... Only together do these create the beautiful Menorah.

Strange Fire, Tragic Fire: Sh'mini 04-10-2015

One month ago, a family in Brooklyn started to celebrate Shabbat. Gabriel Sassoon, father of eight children, was at a Jewish conference away from home. His wife Gayle was taking care of their children. I imagine that they lit Shabbat candles and had a beautiful Shabbat meal before Gayle tucked her children into bed.

As is customary in traditional homes, Gayle was using a hot plate on her stove to warm food for the continuation of Shabbat on Saturday. Commonly called a blech, this hot plate allows Jews to have hot food on Shabbat without violating the prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbat. If you have ever experienced a traditional Shabbat afternoon meal, it is often a very thick and hearty (and delicious) stew called cholent.

Shortly before midnight, the hot plate malfunctioned and caught fire. Unimaginable tragedy ensued as Gabriel & Gayle lost seven of their eight children to this horrific accident. Thousands continue to mourn with them in their tight-knit community of Midwood.

...

This recent incident bears a painful resemblance to our Torah portion this week, Sh'mini.

Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire-holder, and they put fire in them and set incense on it. They brought forward unfitting fire, which God had not commanded. Fire came out from in front of God and consumed them, and they died in front of God.

Aaron was the high priest, the Kohen HaGadol. He was a righteous man, following the laws that he learned from his brother Moses. He made mistakes ... when Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 day, Aaron coordinated the building of the golden calf. But this is to say that he was human. Leaders make mistakes. But what is the mistake of his sons? All the Torah says is that they brought eish zara, strange fire. It also says that God did not command this fire. But taken at face value, isn't it possible that Aaron's children were trying to imitate their father? They, like their father, were trying to be role-models. Even if they did make a mistake, what could be so egregious as to deserve death?

I could spend the six weeks between tonight and Shavuot talking about the various rabbinic midrashim concerning this portion. The rabbis go through all manner of intellectual gymnastics to make Aaron's sons sinful, prideful sons that wanted to wrest power away from their father and uncle so that they could wield it themselves. I talked about this last year when I explained the concept of Tziduk HaDin. Rather than display anger toward God, there are instead various justifications of God's actions that create stories blaming Nadav and Avihu. This is Tziduk HaDin, the justification of God's actions.

The Sassoon's have experienced their share of Tziduk HaDin as well. On Facebook, many friends and colleagues implicitly blamed them for this tragedy, if not explicitly: If it weren't for the antiquated rules of Shabbat, some said, the tragedy would have been avoided. Some people wrote things like, This is why I am not Orthodox.

...

I shudder at such comments.

It's probably true that all of us drove here tonight. I'm guessing that some of us will turn on TV's in the next twenty-four hours, shop, turn on lights in our homes, cook, write, build things, and so on. But, as we discuss quite often in adult education, the way that we live our Jewish lives is sometimes antithetical to Jewish law. It is ... strange fire.

The Sassoon children did not die because they lived an Orthodox lifestyle. They died because they did not have a working smoke alarm on one of the floors in their home. I have been neglectful of protective measures like this, and I guess the same goes for many here. Jewish observance did not cause this tragedy. Orthodoxy did not cause this tragedy.

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Ultimately, the story of Nadav and Avihu reminds us that sometimes, there are no words, no explanations, no logical reasoning. Creation is filled with randomness and pain, with the same chaos and void - Tohu VaVohu - that even God had to contend with. We may want to come up with rational explanations of Tziduk HaDin, but instead, let us mourn. This is not only the right response, it is the Jewish response.

...

After Aaron's sons die, Aaron is told to stand silently. When I learned this as a child, I thought that this added even more pain to an already unbearable situation, as Aaron must be suffering torment, especially as he has to continue with his responsibilities as high priest. But now I read it a bit differently. Perhaps this is my own Tziduk HaDin, but so be it.

He is silent because sometimes, words, explanations and rationalizations do not help. We can only be one community standing together, facing each other, and ultimately, helping each other cross the Red Sea into the promised land.

Building a Sanctuary of Identity: Ki Tissa 03-06-2015

The beginning of this portion, Ki Tissa, starts with a census. God commands Moses to count the heads of the Children of Israel.

This census is interesting, especially when compared to the two previous Torah portions.

Starting in T'rumah, God commands the building of the Tabernacle - the Mishkan. God proceeds to delineate very concrete and deliberate specifications with regard to its construction. Cubits, thread, stone, ink ... all are discussed. The portion almost reads like an architectural digest at times.

But despite its lengthy measurements of building and painting and constructing, the ultimate goal is not the place itself. The sanctuary is not an end to itself, just as our beautiful building here at 115 Dudley Drive is not an end to itself.

The construction of the Tabernacle is so that we can better feel God's presence dwell amongst us. As was discussed in adult ed last week, it is not God that needs or desires the Mishkan. It is us. We need it. We need a specific place that is special and beautiful, a place dedicated to the worship of our God and the learning of our religion.

Here in the beginning of Ki Tissa, we can understand this more, as God has Moses count the Israelites. It's important to realize that this census occurs after the specifications of the previous two portions, because it shows us that people. matter. More than the gold, more than the fine linens ... Even more than the Torah itself. It is the people. It is us.

...

There is a very strange line in the second verse of this week's portion.

God spoke to Moses, saying, when you add up the heads of the children of Israel, each of them shall give a ransom for his life to God when counting them, so there will not be a plague among them when counting them.

What?! Did we read that correctly? As we see later, Each Israelite must pay a half-shekel so there not be a plague? What is going on here?

Our Torah commentary points out that in the book of Samuel, David takes a census of his people. What follows is a plague upon the people.

It's understood that counting people is not a positive thing. We see this superstition today: When counting men to see if there is a minyan of 10 present, some Jews count by using a Hebrew phrase that has 10 words, rather than count from 1 to 10.

Here, there is an even stronger sentiment. Counting people can help to give a leader control over his people. As Dick Friedman points out in the footnote, conscription, forced labor and taxation are some ways where counting can be used a means of subjugation and authority.

The Torah goes to extra effort to show us the opposite. We should not count people. Rather, we must make sure that people count. Therefore, each person contributes a half-shekel, displaying both ownership and leadership in the continuity of our people.

...

We construct the Mishkan, yes, but what is more important is that we continually construct ourselves and our community. When each of us shows ownership and leadership here in our community, God indeed dwells amongst us in our Mishkan.

When Will God Appear? Vaera 01-16-2015

The past week has been a difficult one. In the span of a few days, terrorists killed 17 people in France. The four Jewish citizens at the kosher grocery store were buried in Israel for fear that their graves would be desecrated, yet another fearful sign of Europe's growing anti-semitism. In Nigeria, two *thousand* people were killed because of hatred, and intolerance, a fact even more bothersome because it's quite possible that many of you are hearing that for the first time right now. The world is in mourning.

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What is the Right Way to Spell Hannukah?! Hannukah - 12.19.2014

So how do you spell Hannukah?

There actually is a correct way: Chet, nun, vav, kaf, hey. But in English, there's disagreement. Some prefer to spell it phonetically, starting it with a "ch." Some, like myself, like the simplicity of a sole "h" to begin the name. But there are so many variations even beyond that; One or two n's? Do you use a solo "k" or do you need a "ck" combinationt? And how do we end the English nomenclature of our Festival of Lights? With an a? an ah? A friend told me that she learned that you can spell it any way you want so long as the word has 8 letters.

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I am 'The Luckiest' 11-02-2014

When Emily walked down the aisle at our wedding one week ago, our guests saw me collapse into a ball of emotion, tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m guessing that most assumed it was because of the power of the moment, seeing my bride for the first time in her wedding dress. As a matter of fact, friends of mine had an ‘over/under’ bet as to how long it would take until I lost it. Most put me at about 3 minutes. ‘Under’ was the way to go.

Yes, Emily was amazingly beautiful. Yes, I was full of emotion as I gazed out onto friends and family. But there’s more to the story. If you’ve ever seen the movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise, you may know what I mean when I tell you that she ‘spooked’ me. She got me good. Real good.

To explain, I need to talk about wedding planning, and our choice of first dance.

Emily and I had an idea to put the first dance up to a vote for our guests. Each of us would pick a song that was a surprise to the other, the guests would vote, and the DJ would play that song.

I picked The Luckiest by Ben Folds, and she picked For the Longest Time by Billy Joel. Her and I are a bit competitive, and we both were sure that we had the winning song. We asked a few close friends what they thought (without telling each other the song), and without question, everyone picked Emily’s. Another one lost. Sigh.

Months later, we went to see the movie About Time.

It’s a romantic comedy with a beautiful message, and without giving away anything, the end gets very emotional. As is typically the case during such moments, Emily looked at me, gently teasing me … Are you crying again?

As the last few minutes of the movie played, Ben Fold’s The Luckiest played underneath. And I lost it. Completely. I explained to Emily that this was the song I had picked as our first dance, and it makes me think of her, and it’s beautiful … etc, etc …

Fast forward to more wedding planning:

I am in a klezmer band in Athens, and our violinist is also a marvelous vocalist. She sings an absolutely gorgeous rendition of Erev Shel Shoshanim, a traditional Hebrew love song. It is often sung as the bride walks down the aisle. For months Emily said that she didn’t love that song, and would prefer if the band sang another song.

Finally, she gave in, knowing that I really love the version that my band sings. I was so excited as I visualized Emily coming down the aisle to this beautiful melody.

Just three days before the wedding, I practiced with the band, as I would be rapping to Emily (Rabbi’s Delight, a take on Rapper’s Delight) in between a marvelously energetic 40-minute hora. At that practice, I mentioned how excited I was to hear Erev Shel Shoshanim on my wedding day.

Unbeknownst to me, Emily had surreptitiously gotten the band to switch out Erev Shel Shoshanim with The Luckiest.

I realized something was amiss when I noticed that the words sung were not in Hebrew. It took me a few seconds, but all eventually came clear. And then, enter afore-mentioned collapsing.

Here are the words to this beautiful song. I will forever think of them and my even-more beautiful bride. I am indeed The Luckiest.


I don't get many things right the first time

In fact, I am told that a lot

Now I know all the wrong turns

The stumbles and falls brought me here

And where was I before the day

That I first saw your lovely face?

Now I see it everyday

And I know that I am

I am, I am the luckiest

What if I'd been born fifty years before you

In a house on the street where you live?

Maybe I'd be outside as you passed on your bike

Would I know?

And in a wide sea of eyes

I see one pair that I recognize

And I know that I am

I am, I am the luckiest

I love you more than I have

Ever found a way to say to you

Next door, there's an old man who lived to his 90's

And one day, passed away in his sleep

And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days

And passed away

I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way

To tell you that I know we belong

That I know that I am

I am, I am the luckiest