Rabbi Scolnic shares his favorite sermons.

My father’s funeral was on a Tuesday. My siblings and I sat shiva with my mother in Maryland until Friday morning and then left to spend Shabbos and the last couple of days of shiva in our own communities. It was hard to leave and it was a long drive on a summer Friday. I had not been home in a week and it had easily been the worst week of my life. So as I drove the last few blocks to my house, I was quite ready to get out of the car.

The way you wear your hat

The way you sip your tea

The memory of all that

No, no, they can't take that away from me

One of the most popular cultural phenomena of the last few years is a trilogy of books called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It is a dystopia, which is the opposite of a utopia; it is a terrible vision of America in the future. In high school, we read dystopias like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. Now this new dystopia called The Hunger Games portrays an America where a rebellion against the ruling elite is punished with annual games in which young representatives from the twelve districts are placed in an arena and must kill each other until only one victor is left.

Over the years I’ve told you a lot of stories about people I’ve known. Before I told those stories, I asked the people’s permission and changed their names and other elements. The story that I’m going to tell you today is about two people who came to me at least partly so that I would tell their story to as many people as I could. They are not members of this congregation but read something I wrote and decided that they wanted to tell me about their lives, and, for a reason it took me a while to figure out, wanted me to tell their story for them.

Last year on Yom Kippur, I asked you, “Who is sitting at the table in your head?” I asked you who, alive or dead, is most precious to you.

People really responded to this question. Over the last year, I have had countless conversations with people who wanted to use this image to talk about the people in their lives. Many seem to draw comfort from the image of all the people they love, sitting together again around a table.

But others say that the question is a very painful one that has led them to think, in wrenching ways, about their feelings and their relationships.

If you’re Jewish, you are proud of what the Jewish people has contributed to civilization. Our belief in One G-d has transformed the world and affected history in countless ways. Our laws and commandments, our morality and ethics, have defined the ideals and values of much of the world.

All this you know. So let me tell you something you don’t know: Jewish people brought glassmaking to the world. In a book called The Glassmakers: An Odyssey of the Jews published in 1991, Samuel Kurinsky shows that for centuries, even millennia, Jewish people were the exclusive glassmakers in the world for much of that time. If you took a map of how the making of glass spread through the world, and superimposed it on a map of how Jewish people migrated to different countries, you would have a match.

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