Rabbi Scolnic shares his favorite sermons.

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.


The recent passing of Mary Travers, famous for being a member of the folk-singing group Peter, Paul and Mary, made me think about that group and the songs they sang, such as “Puff, The Magic Dragon," "Blowin' In The Wind," and "If I Had A Hammer." I happened to see a special on the Public Broadcasting System about this group, filled with interviews and memories. What caught my attention was that these three singers, who seemed to be such a wonderful unit, were not close at all.

My grandson Alexander has a book called That’s Not My Tractor. I’ve read the book approximately two hundred and sixty-five times. It’s a Touch and Feel book, and it is exactly six pages long with one sentence per page. It says, “That’s not my tractor, its engine is too bumpy,” and Alexander touches the bumpy engine. “That’s not my tractor, its trailer is too rough. That’s not my tractor, its funnel is too smooth. That’s not my tractor, the tires are too squashy.” And Alexander touches the tires. “That’s not my tractor, its seat is too scratchy.” And then on the last page it says, “That’s my tractor! Its headlights are so shiny.” Alexander loves the happy ending. He touches the shiny headlights on his very own tractor. And he smiles at me for being a wonderful grandfather, and then he tells me to read the book again.

I ran into Louise on the street; I was wearing a blue, pinstriped suit and black shoes. She asked me where I was going. I said that I had to officiate at a funeral in forty-five minutes. She asked me where the funeral was and I told her it was about twenty minutes away. She said, “Good, you have enough time. Go home immediately and change those shoes. You cannot wear those shoes to a funeral.” I asked why not. She said, “A navy blue suit must be worn with cordovan shoes.” I asked why. She said, “They say you must wear a navy blue suit with cordovan shoes.” I said, “Who’s ‘They’?” She said, “I am.” I said, “How long have you been ‘They’?” She said, “Since fifth grade.”

Pete and Donald were brothers. Pete, the older brother, was a successful real estate broker in Santa Cruz, California. He and his wife worked hard and earned every penny they made. Pete had two daughters, a sailboat, a house near the ocean and friends who were also successful.

The younger brother, Donald, on the other hand, never married, owned nothing, worked on and off painting houses, and only got deeper in debt to Pete as the years went on.

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