Rabbi Scolnic shares his favorite sermons.

When I was growing up near Washington D.C., George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were two of my great heroes. I lived in the Washington area and rooted for the Washington teams; my family often went to Washington’s home called Mt. Vernon and Jefferson’s home called Monticello, near the re-created colonial town of Williamsburg. Along with Davy Crockett (whose coonskin cap I wore and for whom I named my little brother) and Biblical figures like Charleston Heston, Washington and Jefferson were my heroes. They were the epitomes of what made America great. They were two of the Founding Fathers, legendary geniuses who with seemingly divine wisdom created the greatest political system known in human history.

Do you remember the card game “I Doubt It”? On every turn, a player claimed to be holding the required card; she would say, “I have two threes” or “I have one four.” And then everyone else had to guess if she actually had two threes or one four; if you thought she didn’t, you’d say, “I doubt it.” And if she were lying, she couldn’t get rid of any cards. The goal was to get rid of all your cards before anyone else. If you were smart, you paid attention to what players said on every turn and you remembered what they had and didn’t have. In this game, intelligent doubt was good.

About ten years ago, there was a popular movie called Unbreakable starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson plays Elijah Price, who was born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease in which bones break easily. As a child, other children taunt him, calling him "Mr. Glass." He is always in and out of the hospital. At one point, Elijah comes up with a theory, that if he is frail to such an extreme, then there may be someone who is strong at the opposite extreme. He spends his life trying to find someone at the other end of the spectrum, someone who is unbreakable. He creates disasters, killing hundreds of people trying to find someone who cannot be destroyed. When he orchestrates a horrific train wreck that kills 131 passengers, he finds the person he’s been looking for.

As soon as we find out that we’re going to have a baby, we begin to worry. When the baby is born, what we want to know first is whether, as my father always put it, the child has ten fingers and ten toes, whether we have a normal baby. But the hard truth is that lots of babies have one disability or another, and that parents have to go through a process of adjusting to this fact and then have to do everything they can to make the child’s life everything it can be. The stories of our lives include adapting to the realities of our lives.

You’ve never heard of Philip Brookman, but I want to tell you about something that he did. When my family moved from Texas to Maryland, we rented an apartment and then a tiny house and finally, for the princely sum of $26, 500, we bought a house near my father’s shul. Everybody was happy except for me. I was going into second grade, and I didn’t know any of the kids in the neighborhood, and when they saw that a new kid had moved into a house on the block, they decided to have a club where people sat around in a tree house eating bubble gum and saying terrible things about me, including the fact that I wore Buster Brown shoes. I was very lonely, and then I started school and everyone knew each other and no one was friendly. As I was leaving school on that first day, I saw one of the kids from my block, one of the kids in the new kid hater club, by the name of Philip Brookman, standing at the door, waiting, and I said, “Who are you waiting for?” And he said, “You.” And he put his arm around me and we walked home together. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that lasted for years until his family moved away and I never saw him or heard from him again. But obviously I still remember that act of friendship between two little boys.

I want to take this occasion of Sisterhood Shabbat to talk about a remarkable Jewish woman, one who is to me one of the most inspiring Jewish women in history. She was born Helen Gavronsky in 1917 to Jewish immigrants who had fled anti-Semitism in Lithuania and had moved to the mining town of Germiston, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. Her childhood was the charmed one of most whites in that country - tennis, swimming lessons and private schooling.


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