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I’ve never shared this story publicly, but I think it’s relevant today. It's gonna be a long thread, but I think it's important.
While discussing the smirking Catholic high school kids who harassed the Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial, my wife made the case that even kids like them can change and grow. And she reminded me of a call I received a few years ago, shortly before the start of Yom Kippur.
I was making up a pre-fast meal when the phone rang. A nervous man asked me my name. I told him, then he asked “the same one who went to East Brunswick High School, in the 1970’s?” I told him I was. He said "Oh, my God." Then, silence.
There was a very long pause. Then “I’m sorry, I’ve rehearsed this call so many times, for so many years, and now that I’m actually talking to you I can’t find the words.”

I was honestly bewildered at this.

“Um… who is this?” I asked.
He said “You might not remember me; my name is Xx Xxxxxxxxx.” I felt a chill. I remembered his name very well. He was one of a trio of bullies who had harassed me throughout high school, with anti-Semitic taunts and violent threats. Pennies often bounced off my head in the halls.
“I… I remember you.” I said. I didn’t really know what to expect.

And then he started to apologize.
He said he drank a lot back then, was deeply unhappy and took it out on others, that he’s been filled with guilt over his treatment of me in particular. That for years he’s stayed up nights going over what he’d done, and had long thought about searching me out and apologizing.
He'd never had the courage to call until now. He said he knew I could never forgive him, that he didn't deserve forgiveness, but that he wanted me to know that he’s not that person anymore, that he’s filled with regret over his actions.
I told him that it was a brave and sincere apology, and of course I do forgive him, but he simply didn’t believe me.

He was about to hang up. I looked at the pre-fast meal I’d just prepared for Yom Kippur. I asked him if he knew that he’d called me on a special day.
“No, it’s just… I found your name a few years ago, and I just couldn’t put it off any longer. I don’t expect forgiveness, I know it’s too much to ask.”
(I think the call was inspired by the 9/11 attacks, which had happened recently & had left us all feeling that life was short.)
But he didn’t believe he was forgiven. So I explained about how on Rosh Hashanah we believe that God judges our actions & decides our future, and 10 days later he “seals our fate”.
And that during those days we apologize to those we’ve harmed, and it’s a religious obligation to forgive, if the apology is sincere, if forgiveness is possible, if restitution has been made.
“I would forgive you regardless, because it’s clear you’ve punished yourself for your actions many times over. That's the honest truth. But even if I didn’t want to forgive you, you’ve called me on the one day of the year when it’s my strongest religious obligation to do so."
"And you called just before I left to pray about forgiveness. You meant to call me for years, but something guided you to make the call at this moment, on this day, when I couldn't turn you down if I wanted to."

"So of course you’re forgiven, and I’m very glad you called.”
When he hung up, he wasn’t completely convinced, but he was beginning to feel it, and I hope he found peace. And his name, which for decades had always filled me with anger and resentment, now resonates with compassion and hope.
So, as we attack the kids on those videos and (more importantly) the parents and teachers who taught them that smug and vicious hatred, we should remember that they're only starting out in life. They may learn to become better people someday.

It's not easy, but it's possible.
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