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.
I don’t know how grief feels to you. All I know is how it feels to me. Over the years, as I’ve lost more and more people, I find that grief has become very real, actually physical. I feel the grief in my stomach, in my chest. When it gets bad, I may not feel it every minute, but there are times in the day when it gets unbearable. And yet what we have to do is bear the unbearable, to go on and live and be happy despite these depressing and horrible feelings.
It is impossible to go on. And yet, somehow, we must.
My grandson Alexander puts out fires. Like a lot of kids with active imaginations, he sees himself as a fireman. We’ve put out countless fires in houses, cars, and even this synagogue.
He knocked on my door one day, dressed as a fireman, and asked me if I had any problems. I didn’t understand at first, but then I saw that he was holding yellow caution tape in one hand and red danger tape in the other and he was ready to place tape wherever it might be needed in my life. He was there to protect me and fix anything that I needed.
In his world, fires occur, but he can deal with them.
I was raised on the Bible and Disney movies. So I have always seen a connection between the Book of Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon and the fairy tale of Pinocchio. In both stories, a big fish or a whale swallows the main character who escapes that certain death. Over the years as a rabbi, I have often introduced the reading of Jonah by mentioning this similarity to Pinocchio and people have always responded with a smile or a chuckle.
Once there was a survivor. His parents and everyone he knew were killed. His world was literally destroyed. And so he came to America as an illegal immigrant. He was given a new name and no one knew about his origins. He assimilated into the melting pot called America. He didn’t want anyone to know who he really was. And he dressed like all the Americans in suit and tie and hat, and he starting going out with a nice white Anglo-Saxon girl. And while he knew who he really was, all that history, and all that pain, was too much to think about, and so sometimes he just tried to forget it.
Everyone knows what a marathon is. There are people here today who have run a marathon, twenty-six miles. These people work hard and they have my respect. Remarkable.
Most of us know a story about the origins of the marathon. The story relates that in the year 490 BCE, an Athenian herald named Pheidippides was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed near a place called Marathon in Greece. He ran 150 miles on two consecutive days. He then ran the 25 miles from the battlefield to Athens to announce the Greek victory with the words, "We have won" and collapsed and died on the spot from exhaustion.