I Doubt It

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. (more…)

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Unbreakable or Why Goldberg Was Left in the Gym

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. (more…)

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The Horse Boy and the Power of Love; Journeys to Mongolia, Mount Moriah and the Pacific Ocean

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. (more…)

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Friendship

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.

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Helen Suzman

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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Peter, Paul and Mary, Augustus Caesar, and Our Idealized Images

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.

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That’s Not My Tractor or Why Proust and I Didn’t Cry For Our Grandmothers

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.

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The Things We carry

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.” (more…)

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Godbrothers and Godsisters

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. (more…)

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To Dream The Possible Dream: Don Quixote and the Jewish People

One of the great Broadway musicals is Man of La Mancha, which concerns, if you’ll pardon my lack of a Spanish accent, Miguel de Cervantes and perhaps the greatest novel of all time, Don Quixote. In this play within a play, we see how the Spanish Inquisition persecutes Cervantes and we also see his character Don Quixote, the man who has read so many books about chivalry that he thinks he’s a knight, roaming the countryside with his squire Sancho Panza, tilting at windmills because he thinks they are giants, calling a serving girl the great lady Dulcinea.i

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