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.

That person is David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, a security guard who is searching for meaning in his life. Returning from a job interview in New York, David is the sole survivor of the train wreck. He’s unharmed, without even the slightest injury.

Elijah contacts David and tells him that he is a superhero with special power.

David doesn’t believe him but eventually begins to test himself. He discovers that it’s true: he cannot be broken.

The movie goes on from there and degenerates into a B-movie and that’s why it’s taken me ten years to understand that the central images are very powerful.

Think about those two characters, two extremes: One who cannot be broken, the other who breaks all the time.

These two characters symbolize two poles in our lives. Sometimes, especially when we’re young, we think that nothing can break us.

When we get older, all too often, after we’ve been broken and bruised, emotionally, physically, psychologically, we give in and we give up. We just bounce around, wondering what’s going to hit us next, living in fear of the next break. We’re Mr. Glass. We feel very destructible, very fragile.

In case you don’t understand what I mean, let me tell you about a new Reality Show that you may have experienced in your own life called “So You Think You’re a Person.”

Different contestants come on the show with the mission of breaking your spirit and denying your worth as a human being.

Contestant #1 says, “You think you’re a person?” Contestant #1 is a member of your family, a parent, an older sibling, who always put you down, who made fun of your looks or your mannerisms or your inadequacies. And part of you was formed with this terrible, nagging feeling that they were right, that you weren’t good-looking or smart or athletic, that you weren’t as good as other people.

Here comes Contestant #2, a boss at work, who just didn’t like you, and no matter what you did or didn’t do, it was never good enough, even though his pet workers could cut all the corners and still receive his praise. And you needed the job so you took it and took it but then you got laid off anyway and it was that Boss who told you the bad news, just two seconds before he called two big security guards to escort you out the door like you were a criminal.

And as those guards took you by either arm, he said, “Did you think you’re a person? You’re an It!”

Here comes Contestant #3, and it’s your body, which, it turns out, can be your enemy, and asks, “Do you think you’re a whole person?” And you hear the doctor tell you that you’ve got cancer or a heart condition and you need to change your lifestyle and you can’t understand how this is happening, but you never feel the same about yourself again.

And last but not least comes Contestant #4, who is just called Life, who brings disappointment and who blows up your script for a happy family and who brings grief and shock and depression and who asks, “Do you think you’re a special person? You’re no different than anybody else and I can handle you with one little finger.”

By the time all these contestants have done their things, you are, indeed, Mr. Glass, you feel like you’re broken in pieces all the time.

If the breakable character Mr. Glass is you and me, then the unbreakable character is the Jewish people and the modern nation of Israel.  To be Jewish is to be indestructible, to be eternal, to be immortal. If you are one with the Jewish people, you cannot be destroyed. Nothing can destroy you.

How do I know that? I know it from history.

Let me introduce you to the main characters on another Reality show called “Anti-Semitic Idol.”

Here is Contestant #1: “My name is Pharaoh. I am the first and the greatest anti-Semite in history. I enslaved the Israelites and then when they proved to be unbreakable, I killed all their baby boys. By doing this, I tried to destroy their people by destroying their future.”

But Contestant #1 ran into a little problem. An Israelite mother put her baby into a basket (which I guess makes Moses the first basket case) and that little boy became God’s agent in saving the people. The might of Pharaoh and Egypt was destroyed, as we remember on the holiday of Passover; the Israelites went on to become a great people in their own land. The Egyptians of today are not the descendants of the Egyptians of Pharaoh’s time, those Egyptians no longer exist in any way, but we are the descendants of those Israelites.

Here comes Contestant #2 on the Reality Show “Anti-Semitic Idol”:

“My name is Haman and I’m the greatest anti-Semite in history. Pharaoh is nothing. He only wanted to kill the baby boys. I want to kill all of them in the whole country of Persia, men, women and children. I am the biggest anti-Semite.” But there was a problem. There was a Jewish queen of Persia named Esther and with the help of God she brought Haman to justice before he could get away with his evil plan. And we celebrate the holiday of Purim to remember how Haman lost his evil game. And Persia is no more. But we’re still here.

Here is Contestant #3: “My name is Tomás de Torquemada. Pharaoh only killed the baby boys and Haman only wanted to kill the Jews of Shushan. As Inquisitor General of Spain, I gave the Jews of Spain a choice: Be expelled from Spain in 1492 or convert to Christianity. But if they converted to Christianity and still secretly practiced Judaism, I burned them at the stake. I think that makes me the greatest anti-Semite of history.”

But there was a problem. He let Jewish people pretend to be Christians, and they survived, and when they could practice Judaism openly again, they did.

And we are their descendants.

And then came the worst, Hitler, who said, “Pharaoh just killed the baby boys and Haman just wanted to kill the Jews of Persia and Torquemada just wanted to kill their religion. I’m the Biggest anti-Semite of them all. Those other guys are nothing. I don’t care about whether the Jews are religious or not. This is not about religion. This is not even about race. That’s the word I use, but I know they’re not a race. I’m really saying that they’re another species, and need to be exterminated. And so I’m not only going to kill all of them; I’m going to define “them” as anyone who has even some Jewish blood in them. I, and only I, am the greatest anti-Semite of history. I win.”

But there was a problem. Hitler preferred killing Jewish people to anything, even to defending his own country when the war went against him. Hitler died and all of his evil men with him.

Now you would think: That settles it. The world will never allow that kind of genocide to happen again. Not after the Holocaust.

We always say: Look, the world let us have a Jewish state out of sympathy for the Holocaust. That’s why the United Nations voted to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Actually, the vote in the United Nations in 1947 was 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions. In other words, of 56 countries, only 33 voted for the creation of a Jewish homeland after the Holocaust. Greece voted no. Mexico abstained. Yugoslavia, where there had been concentration camps, did not vote for the creation of a state of Israel though it was now Communist and all of the other communist nations did vote yes.

A lot of the world was against the creation of Israel and here’s what they were really saying:

“We killed you. We came up with methods using modern technology to kill all of you once and for all. We killed a million and a half of your children so that there would not be another generation of the Jewish people. We had a Final Solution to the Jewish problem. Why won’t you stay dead?

Now you want your own country and an army?

How dare you defend yourselves!

How dare you have an army and jets!

You want to have security and check whether weapons are coming in to kill you?

Don’t you know you’re supposed to die?

Don’t you get it?

You would have thought that after the Holocaust, no one could have followed that act.

But there are people who are trying.

They can’t stand our indestructibility.

So they play whack-a-mole, hitting us here, hitting us there, only to see our Jewish heads popping up in other places.

So here’s the amazing news:

We’re still here.

And that’s the point: We are indestructible.

We are unbreakable, but we pay an ironic price.

I often think about that scene in that kids’ movie The Mighty Ducks where the Jewish kid Goldberg is a goalie on the hockey team who is scared to get hit by a puck. So to show him that he can do it, the coach, Gordon Bombay ties him to the goal and the team gets ready to hit him with all of the pucks.

And Goldberg says: “My mother is not gonna approve of this, Coach! She wants me to live to be Bar Mitzvah’d!”

Coach Bombay says: “This is your Bar Mitzvah, Goldberg. Today, you become a man.”

And they hit him with all of the pucks, over and over.

And he’s okay. He realizes that he can take it. He learns his lesson, he won’t be afraid anymore. And indeed, Goldberg turns into a fine goalie who is no longer afraid.

I’ve always thought that this scene says that if we learn that we can take it, life isn’t so scary any more.

But what I forgot was what happened at the end of the scene.

The team leaves him tied to the net. And they just leave the gym.

Goldberg says:  “Hey, guys! Excuse me, guys, you gotta untie me now! Ha ha! Good joke. Very funny. I like it. No joke, c’mon, guys. Hey, coach! Coach, c’mon, don’t leave me hanging like this!”

But the sad part is that Goldberg is just left there, saying, “Guys, I’m ok, come untie me.”

And no one does.

Goldberg is left alone, tied up in the gym.  And they turn off the lights.

This is a Disney movie, and they leave him there.

To use my structure, the team is the world, and Goldberg is not only Jewish; he’s the Jewish people and he’s the nation of Israel in 2010. And the world is angry at us for taking it, for being unbreakable.

We can take anything you throw at us, we prove that we can take it, but then we’re left alone, to untie ourselves and leave the dark gym and get home by ourselves.

The price of indestructibility is to find yourself all alone.

Your choice is: Do I want to be part of that indestructibility, or do I want to buy into the ordinary destructing world?

I sometimes ask myself: Where is all of this anger coming from against the Jewish people and Israel? Where is the anger for all the situations around the world where people get massacred and systematically destroyed?

All that is ok, because destruction is assumed. We assume that people will kill people. That doesn’t bother anybody, for some weird reason.

Indestructibility is the anomaly.

And so the very strength of the Jewish people, the indestructibility, the fact that we just won’t die, drives the world batty.

But here’s the good news: If you are Jewish, you are indestructible. No matter what happens to you, you will be part of the ongoing life of your eternal people. You will be bound up in the bond of life.

What I’m trying to do is to inspire you with the story of the Jewish people, that we are indestructible, and I’m trying to tell you that if you are Jewish you are part of something indestructible that cannot be taken away from you. No matter what happens to you, you will always be part of the Jewish people‘s ongoing existence. But I’m also saying that you need to get in touch with that which is indestructible inside you.

To explain this, I turn to one of the great writers of the 20th century. Franz Kafka, author of great novels like The Trial, which portrays what it’s like to be Jewish in a world gone mad. In one his notebooks, Kafka says that we cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in ourselves, and the problem is that the indestructible element of our beings and the trust in it are often hidden from ourselves; we can’t feel our indestructibility and we can’t find a way to trust in that indestructibility. And Kafka says that the way to find your indestructible element is “through faith in a personal god.” “Believing,” he says, “means liberating the indestructible element in oneself.”

There is something inside you and you have kept it hidden, shut up in a room inside you; open the door and let it out, liberate it from the prison you keep it jailed in.

This is very important. A lot of you think of yourselves as spiritual people and a lot of you believe in G-d, and your G-d is very personal to you, so personal, in fact, that you have trouble connecting your spirituality and your G-d with Judaism or the way G-d is presented in the prayer book or the Bible.

But this means that you’re doing this whole spiritual thing on your own and you have no other resources. So when life hits you and you try to draw on your spirituality to help you, you are at a loss.

Like Bono of U2 says, “You’ve got stuck in the moment and you can’t get out of it.”

Of course you can’t get out of it. You’re not connected to an element inside of you that is connected to an element inside of me and everyone else in this room and because you keep that hidden, your element and the element in all of us can’t connect and we can’t help you in your crisis and you just stay stuck in the moment and you don’t get out of it.

This is all a shame. Indestructibility is what we have in common with each other.

If G-d is G-d then G-d is everyone’s G-d, not just yours, whether you know it or not, whether you are in touch with G-d inside you and outside you or not.

Imagine that you’re Bruce Willis and that Mr. Glass just told you that you’re unbreakable and you now see that it’s true. Imagine how you would look at life, at yourself, that no one and nothing can break you anymore, that you’re whole.

The truth is that you feel very breakable. They have taken your bits and pieces. You feel fragile.

You feel broken by life, by failure, by disappointment.

But I have some good news. You are unbreakable.

Believing in G-d means liberating the indestructible element in oneself.

Human beings cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in ourselves. This trust can express itself through faith in God.

If you’re Jewish, nothing can destroy you. This has been proven. They’ve tried everything and we’re still here.

So that’s how I know that we’re indestructible.

But if you’re not with us, then you’re on your own, baby.

If you’re with us, you are part of something that cannot be destroyed, not by the haters and the murderers and not by all the bombs and gas chambers. And when your time in this life is over, you will still be part of something that will go on.

So it’s up to you: Do you want to live your life as Mr. Glass or do you want to be unbreakable?  If you choose unbreakable, I warn you, others will hit you with everything they have and you’ll find yourself in a dark gym by yourself. But you have the rest of us, and we’ll come and get you.