Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rehearsal dinner speech

Okay, so technically since there wasn't a rehearsal, the dinner last night wasn't a real rehearsal dinner. But it was a dinner and it took place on the evening before the wedding, so it's easier to use that nomenclature. It was a wonderful affair, getting started more or less on time, even if several of the guests didn't arrive until near the end of the cocktail hour. Interestingly, no one complained about time constraints. The Intercontinental Hotel provided a festive repast with their own version of a caesar salad followed by the main course of drum or chicken and finally dessert, a spectacular chocolate crème brû·lée that resembled flan or caramel cup custard. The biggest thing of the night was the meeting of the two fathers, which was accomplished with great respect and finesse (I hope). Since the maid of honor had not been told to prepare a speech, the best man chose to decline to speak as well. That put the onus on me to serve as toastmaster. Luckily, I had prepared a speech and launched into it with gusto. I include it here:

Toastmasters know that it’s a safe bet to open a speech with a joke, to loosen up the crowd, make them feel comfortable. I’ve been wracking my brain for a great joke to loosen up the crowd that everyone could identify with. I know I have the opening: “A minister, a rabbi and a stationwagon full of nuns all walk into a bar…” I just can’t come up with the punchline.
Twenty five years ago, my father of blessed memory served as master of ceremonies at my own rehearsal dinner. Known as a naturally funny man, he dropped a very serious bombshell in the room. There was a noticeable hush that fell over the audience when he confessed to the crowd that he and my mother at one point had a bad patch in their marriage and had seriously considered leaving one another, but that I, in fact, was responsible for keeping them together.
“Yes,” he explained. “We were trying to split up our possessions when I told Annette ‘You take Alan.’ She said, ‘Oh, no, you take Alan!’ None of us could decide who would get him, so we decided to stay together.” (I’m glad that joke still works after 25 years.)
My dear family, friends and soon to be machatonim, I want to welcome you all to a most auspicious occasion as we prepare to revel in the wedding of my only son David to his beloved Shannon.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Hebrew expression,
machatonim, it can loosely be translated as “in-laws,” but it implies much more than just that. There is really no comparable word for it in the English language because it really describes the relationship each set of parents has to the other because of their children.
In my case I am the
machudin, representing the father-in-law to both Mr. and Mrs. Mitsuhashi. Steven would be my machudin and Roseanne would be my machatonista.
Sadly, my wife Sally is not alive tonight to witness her son prepare to take his wife, but I hope you will consider our hostess tonight, his grandmother Bubbie, who has been a great support to him through the years as a substitute – not a replacement – for his mother.
At times like these words often fail to adequately cover the length and breadth of emotions, but I will try. As many of you may know, when David was born on Valentine’s Day in 1986, his mother was battling her first occurrence of cancer. David was born on a Friday evening and she began her regimen of radiation therapy on the following Monday morning. The radiation rendered her weak and unable to adequately care for a newborn, so my father, Dr. Arnold Smason – Zadie – and Bubbie became erstwhile parents to David, essentially giving him two sets of parents to which to bond.
The greatest joy in my father’s life was in being with his grandchildren and it is a shame that he also cannot be here to share with us in this joy or simcha we have in welcoming Shannon into our family and David into yours.
I note that the name Mitsuhashi is translated into English as “three bridges” and I marvel at the appropriateness of those words at this incredible life event. The union of David and Shannon will span religions, cultures and love. Indeed, these are the three bridges we will create and maintain starting tonight.
The first bridge between the Mitsuhashi and Smason families – that one of religion - will be delicately balanced. There is a deeply felt attachment on the parts of both families, but the underlying values in each respective faith is what Rabbi Hillel said over 2.000 years ago “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.” Around the same time another great rabbi admonished his minions to follow a similar “Golden” rule. I know that both sides of the family will keep that in mind as Shannon and David prepare to embark on their life’s journey together.
The second bridge of cultures is one that is finely appointed, strongly supported and historically important. Shannon’s family line includes both a Caucasian and a Japanese connection. David’s includes both a Caucasian and an Eastern European connection with Jewish cultural emphasis.
History shows the strength of both cultures. Both cultures have endured through the ages. There are accounts of both cultures which indicate their people were considered formidable foes in battle. Both cultures have created lasting ties for those that follow and for others to study and by which to be inspired.
Both cultures have also made lasting marks on their homelands, but at times have been very insular, refusing to capitulate to outside influence. And while I am loath to talk about atrocities at a time of happiness, both cultures know what it is to be on the receiving line of hate. Knowing that both Shannon and David’s contemporaries and ancestors have shared in dealing with these policies of hate should be a perpetual reminder to us all that respect and tolerance are the only ways that can allow all mankind to advance in this world.
The third bridge that binds all of the others is the one that has the capacity to be the strongest and most lasting, but one that will require constant maintenance on the part of Shannon and David. That is the bridge of love and it is the reason we have gathered tonight to acknowledge them and the obvious love they have for one another.
While we may recognize differences in the other two bridges that bind Shannon and David together, the common bridge of love they share for one another will be the one that will make everything else insignificant. As long as they recognize there are no better friends, advisors or arbiters of their fate than themselves, their love will continue to blossom and grow. Keeping in mind respect, care and tolerance for each other should be the guideposts on their bridge of love, no matter what adversity confronts them.
Therefore, I would like to raise a glass high to my only begotten son David and his lovely bride to congratulate them on their commitment to one another and to mark tonight as the first time that we shall as two separate families begin to use the three bridges to connect us to one another. On behalf of my family to all of our visitors, may this weekend be a moment that will bind us to each other in joy and peace. That word in Hebrew is shalom, a word that can also mean the greeting of hello. Tonight I say shalom, hello to all of you as we recognize the mitsuhashi - the three bridges - that connect us all together.
As I welcome Shannon into our family and David into yours, I say L’chaim and mazel tov and
kampai and omedetou gozaimasu, which can be loosely translated in both languages as cheers and congratulations!

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