On November, 29, 1981, my husband and I were sleeping on our sailboat, anchored in Avalon Bay on Catalina Island. On that night, as we slumbered, we were just a few hundred yards from where Natalie Wood drowned under suspicious circumstances. The next morning, when we emerged on deck with our coffee, the tranquility of the bay was disturbed by a small fleet of police vessels.
About a year earlier on December 8, 1980, we were dining with friends at a restaurant in Manhattan when word arrived that only a few blocks away, John Lennon had been murdered. In other words, I was close to the scenes of at least one and possibly two crimes at opposite ends of the country, in surroundings starkly different from each other. If that isn’t suspicious, what is?
The above facts are bad enough, but I am sorry to tell you that as a third-grader, I participated in teasing an unpopular schoolmate. A few years later, I cheated on a test when a teacher let me take it home, trusting me to take it honorably. While I am ashamed of both those things, there are other actions I have done or not done that to an even greater extent I wouldn’t want to see on the nightly news.
I’m telling you these things so that you will understand why I will have to turn down any Supreme Court nominations that come my way as well as refrain from running for public office. When it comes to anyone with conservative principles, no ludicrous associations or past sins are ever too small to mention, too unsubstantiated to rely upon, or happened too long ago to be irrelevant. Too many on the Left have long stopped debating ideas, preferring instead to destroy people.
We Jews have just finished a period of the year known as the Ten Days of Repentance. They begin with Rosh Hashanah and conclude with Yom Kippur. During that time, Jews (at least those of us who try live according to Jewish ways) examine our deeds from the past year, ask forgiveness from people we have hurt and pray that God pardons us for our transgressions against Him.
That part about asking forgiveness from people we have harmed is a tough one. Sometimes the person is no longer around; sometimes it would hurt them to share what we did. In the latter case, the more proper thing to do is to live with our guilt. Other times, we ourselves are blithely unaware of or have forgotten an action or statement that wounded another person. Too often, we can think of a dozen reasons that asking forgiveness is unnecessary or impossible. And sometimes, people who claim we harmed them are unstable, lying, malicious, missing the whole picture or motivated by things that reflect on them, not on us.
We are given a lifeline. You see, in our complex lives, all of us have many chances to be the offender and the injured party. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that God will treat us as we treat others. If we graciously forgive, magnanimously gloss over hurts rather than stewing in them, and assume misunderstanding rather than malice when we think someone wronged us (which may or may not be based in reality), God will look at our transgressions with a similarly benevolent eye. We need to believe in our own dignity and the dignity of others, doing our best
Like anything meant for mature adults, the ideas of forgiveness are tangled, detailed and complex. There are times when restitution must precede asking forgiveness and times when taking the seemingly hard line is the more compassionate and correct way to go. We don’t have to, and sometimes are forbidden to, automatically accept responsibility for things that never happened or were horribly misconstrued, though sometimes we do just that in the name of peace. For serious Jews, this period of the year is a marathon, not a stroll.
Only God can dispense perfect justice. Down here in the world of mortals, we can aim for lofty goals and strive to make a society that comes close to achieving them. At the same time we must recognize that encouraging a society where we endlessly attack, accuse and believe the worst about each other ends in a dangerous and doomed path.
I don’t personally know either Paul Manafort or Brett Kavanaugh. I I don’t know Brendan Eich who was forced out of Mozilla in 2014 or Lawrence H. Summers who was forced out of the presidency of Harvard University in 2006. (The last two names now seem like canaries in the coal mine.) I don’t know dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands of other prominent and not-well-known people who have lost their jobs, missed out on promotions, been ostracized or worse for being conservative, saying something that might be construed as conservative or, the worst sin of all, having anything to do with Donald Trump.
Some of these people are far from role models, others are highly admirable. That is irrelevant to the message that is being sent. It is a mistake to judge these cases on individual merit or deal with them one at a time. We need to recognize that, while some accusations may be valid and others may actually be powered by sincerity, right now there is an overarching attack on democracy, free speech, freedom of thought and religion and other mainstays of the American system. By not responding to these cases with determination, firmness and strength we are acquiescing in the message that anyone who doesn’t support, or at least kowtow to, the increasingly fascistic, socialist and hate-filled liberal Left will be destroyed.