My Day of Atonement
If I could borrow any single element from Judaism in order to apply it to my own faith, there'd be no competition: the Day of Atonement during Yom Kippur is a uniquely wonderful tradition. But since I'm not Jewish, and in any event this holiday doesn't come around again for several months, let me now publicly atone for some needlessly hurtful words I wrote some months ago in the comments section of a blog.
Way back in September of last year, during the thick of the Cleveland mayoral campaign, I visited George Nemeth's popular Brewedfreshdaily.com, where I noticed that a longtime figure in local politics and p.r., Andy Juniewicz, had posted a comment on behalf of the candidate for whom he was then working. That name rang many layers of bells for me. Andy had been a Plain Dealer reporter many years ago, and had since gone on to work for many political campaigns, including Dennis Kucinich's presidential run. But for me, he was best-known for his long association with the brass-knuckled p.r. firm headed up by William Silverman, a man who was once his father-in-law. That was all the red meat I needed: I posted some comments that noted his long record in politics and the fact that he had worked for several losing campaigns. In short, I carved him up a bit, mostly a result of guilt by association (Silverman was known for his heavy-handed tactics with the media).
Anyway, some days passed, and then I received an email from Andy. I couldn't help but notice the unusual way in which he went about seeking redress. Rather than simply abuse me and call me names, as most targets of such comments would understandably have done, he was trying to convince me that I had him all wrong, and that if only we could meet, he would convince me of that. How could I refuse? We met for breakfast (at the erstwhile Ruthie & Mo's, no less), where I finally got to meet a man I'd long heard about and whom I had thus convinced myself I almost knew. I found him a decent, thoughtful guy who cared deeply about his reputation. But unlike most people who thought they had been wronged, he didn't lash out in anger. Instead, he tried to reason with me. Yes, he's a smooth, veteran p.r. person, and I understood that he was using every method he had ever learned about persuasion to convince me I was wrong. But he convinced me nonetheless.
Anyway, the upshot is this: I apologized to Andy privately at the time, as I'm now apologizing publicly. Guilt by association is no more appropriate a tactic now among honorable people than it was during the McCarthy era. We must all stand alone on the reputations we've carved for ourselves and the actions we've taken over time. Andy is a good and decent guy, and he deserved better than my words that day. Here's hoping we'll find a new and even better place for that occasional breakfast.