Rabbi Scolnic shares his favorite sermons.

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.


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.

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