Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Happiest Day

I am back to Hartford from a glorious end to a wonderful summer: a trip to Minnesota where I danced the night away at my son's and daughter-in-law's wedding (thanks Rita for the great photo), and deposited my youngest daughter at Carleton College. I also got to see Johan Santana pitch, attended the Minnesota State Fair, and went to a 90th birthday party for my beloved aunt in Duluth. It was a tremendous time.

At the wedding, I gave the following talk to the newlyweds:

Tonight, with the pride of an ecstatic father, I want to tell you my version of how this joyous and blessed marriage all came about. Sam and Jill may think that they found each other by chance and mutual attraction, but I am here to tell you tonight that there was a greater power at work. From my perspective, the story begins long before either of these two wonderful souls ever met, and the die was cast even before they were gleams in Mike’s or my eyes. For the story begins with the fact that all the parents of this wonderful couple are Minnesotans. For me, this is a story of keeping it all in the family, the chosen people….not the Jews, but the Chosen Frozen.

My firstborn son Sam was born in Philadelphia. Sam lived his early years in New Hampshire, but then spent the rest of his formative years in Connecticut. Like his siblings, his entire life was spent on the East Coast and specifically the strange puritanical environment of New England.

But there was no rooting for the Boston Red Sox, The New York Giants, or any of the other teams of the East Coast in our house. Our house was a virtual Minnesota, a shrine to the Promised Land of 10,000 Lakes. We taught our children that we could be a light unto the nations, and bring a little bit of Upper Midwestern warmth and civility to a neurotic East Coast world. Seperated by thousands of miles, the Kiener family has lived all its life with two Holy Lands, and as a family we have lived together for short periods of time in both of them. Yes, we all lived in Jerusalem for a glorious 8-month period, and we have also lived here in the Twin Cities. We’ve lived through terrorist bombings and Middle Eastern crises, and through blizzards and tornado warnings. The Kieners are a family which knows its heritage.

As a family, we were living in a New England double-diaspora, but in our home we preserved the cherished love for all things Minnesota. With reverence I would show my children a 1987 Homer Hanky, with precisely the same reverence as I would show them a Talmudic volume. To this day in my house is a partially repaired wall in Sam’s room from a dark day in history – January 17, 1999 – when Sam kicked a hole in the wall with his humongous foot as he suffered through the overtime loss of the Vikings to the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC Championship.

Every summer family vacation was to one place and one place only. For the East Coast Kieners, the Twin Cities was Zion and the Metrodome was our Temple. My children are just as familiar with the Migdal Shalom skyscraper in Tel Aviv as they are with the Foshay Tower. Three of my 4 children have gone or will soon go to college in Minnesota, and even Isaac, who is now a senior at Trinity College where I work, knows that sweetened carbonated beverage is called…pop.

Sam was the first to make the pilgrimage back to Minnesota, having chosen from a myriad of options to attend Macalester College. And it was at Macalester that the next part of the plan came to fruition. After a few abortive college relationships, Sam and Jill found each other. I first met Jill on one of my frequent visits to Minnesota – the joke around my brother’s neighborhood is that I always seem to be freeloading at his house in Eden Prairie. And from the first moment I met Jill, I knew that Sam had found what we Ashkenazi Jews call in Yiddish his beshert – his intended one. I stand before you all tonight and salute my parental counterparts Pam and Mike for the values they have implanted in their daughter Jill. She is an absolutely awesome human being who is singularly warm and easy-going, whose compassion and integrity knows no bounds. I am ecstatic with pride and delight to welcome her into my family and tribe, and I am equally honored to embrace and be embraced by her wonderful family. Jill, I now have to tell you that you are my favorite Kiener kid and I love you the most, and the other kids are pond scum. Welcome to the nuthouse.

Tonight is the fulfillment of a great dream that every parent has for every one of his or her children. According to the Talmud, that great repository of ancient Jewish wisdom, no Jew is complete without a marital partner. My eldest son, now a complete Jew and a complete Minnesotan, was married not long ago in a synagogue in Minneapolis under a beautiful Huppah made by Jill’s mother Pam. What Jewish father would not break down in tears over the enormity of this beautiful shared simcha – this overwhelming joyous event?

In Bollywood movies, which I have come to love and which Jill and I have shared in viewing, there is no more joyous moment than the wedding scene. Dancing and music are the key to celebrating the joining of families and traditions. Tonight, I am overwhelmed with joy to behold this gathering of family and friends to celebrate this momentous occasion. To Jill and Sam I have only this to say, from the book of Numbers, the blessing of Aaron to the children of Israel, which has now become the parental blessing upon their children:

ישמך אלהים כאפרים וכמנשה
ישמך אלהים כשרה רבקה רחל ולאה
יברכך ה' וישמרך
יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחנך
ישא ה' פניו אליך, וישם לך שלום

May God make you like Efraim and Menasseh
May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord shine his countenance upon you be gracious to you
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and grant you peace

And to our shared dual heritage, I paraphrase the ancient wish of all those who remember their lost home: “Next Year in Jerusalem…Next year in Minnesota!”

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