Friday, May 13, 2011

Men of Honor

Tonight, our sanctuary is fuller than usual for the occasion of the Oneg being sponsored by our Temple Brotherhood. It warms my own heart to see the current resurrection of Brotherhood, which has limped along for a few years, even going completely inactive for awhile. Religion in general, and Judaism in particular, struggles to provide a unique place for men. It is difficult to give today’s man a significance and appreciation of his role – in religious life, but more importantly in today’s family. Many of the social ills that beset our society today can be understood to have their roots in the absence of men from so many families, from the lives of so many children. This does not at all belittle the important role of women. It does, however refute the notion, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” The slogan, and the mindset behind it, is patently wrong. Men and women need one another: as partners in life and in particular for raising children and creating strong and enduring families. That we have a re-emerging Brotherhood only bodes well; it says that the men of Temple Beit Torah are now reaching for the significance that they know is their destiny, that the congregation needs for them to have. They are working to be, to become, Men of Honor.

Men of Honor. There was a movie by that name; perhaps you remember it? It was about the career of a remarkable man, a man named Carl Brashear, played in the film by Cuba Gooding. Mr. Brashear was a career Navy man, a Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, a Master Diver. That in and of itself is a significant accomplishment, but Brashear’s accomplishment is more notable for two other facts.

First, he was the first black man to enter the Navy diving community, in 1954. He faced significant opposition from the entrenched majority which he overcame through pure grit and hard work.

Second, Brashear lost a leg to amputation after a diving accident in 1966, an accident that would have left most men happy to escape with their lives and accept a disability retirement. But not Brashear; he insisted on not only remaining on active duty but on returning to diving. He fought a long and hard battle to do so: first with the Navy to be re-instated in his field, then with himself to build his strength and stamina so that he could again wear the heavy dive gear.

Brashear succeeded, and in 1970 as an amputee he actually achieved the coveted designation of Master Diver. He retired from the Navy as a Master Chief Petty Officer after 31 years’ service in 1979. Then he served a second career for the Navy as a civilian, from which he retired as a GS-11 in 1993.

Carl Brashear was what some would call a completely ordinary guy, but at his heart he was anything but ordinary. His achievements he won against what some would call insurmountable odds, displaying throughout his life an incredible degree of pluck and resilience. He was born in 1931, a son of Kentucky sharecroppers. He never attended high school. He first enlisted in the Navy in 1948. He entered a military that President Truman had just de-segregated by executive order although it was still very much segregated. Brashear had two maxims in his life. The first was: “It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down. The second was: “I ain’t gonna let nobody steal my dream.” We can overlook the grammatical incorrectness of a man who only completed grade school, and celebrate the motivating philosophies of this great man.

Carl Brashear exemplifies the results of following the advice that I’ve given from this very pulpit. You know which advice: Get Over It. When I think of Brashear’s life, I feel entirely unworthy by comparison to give such advice. But since Brashear has left this world and is unlikely to ascend this pulpit, it’s left for me to give it.

It was unfortunate that Brotherhood died. Some of our men have been grousing about it. But a small group of our men, led by Mark Van Bueren and Dane Spirio, adopted an attitude of Get Over It and brought Brotherhood back to life. We celebrate this achievement tonight. But more than that. Let’s use the resurrection of Brotherhood as an occasion to adopt, a spirit of Get Over It in responding to life’s hard knocks. This should be operative in our personal lives, but we should also put it into practice as we function as members of various groups. The congregation is going to hard times? Stop grousing; in a spirit of Get Over It, join in the effort to vault it over and past its financial woes. Our nation is going through hard times? You get the picture.

“It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down.” Let’s adopt this maxim, this mindset of the late Carl Brashear. It will only be to our benefit. It will goad us on to great achievements.