Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Elul, Teshuva, & Teddy Kennedy

In Elul, Redemption, Teddy Kennedy, Teshuva on August 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm

If you look at my mother’s library, you can’t help but notice the many shelves of Kennedy memorablilia. JFK’s assassination kept my mother in bed for days. Teddy’s death marked an end of an era not only for them, but for her.

I haven’t had much interest in the Kennedys over the years, but the stories I’ve been reading over the past few days belie the feigned disinterest I have managed to cultivate. I, too, more than I care to admit, am a loyal subject of Camelot.
He was the most layered of individuals. His appetites and his flaws were fodder for the mainstream media and the tabloids, but few would define him only by his sins. Moreover, his last seventeen years of devoted public service illustrated that people can change, grow, and bring honor and respect after a tawdry, and somewhat dengenerate past. His, was an almost wasted life, but ultimately redeemed by the best parts of him.
Over and over again, the papers recount stories of his concern for individuals, their families, and the loyalty that inspired. One such instance was recalled on NPR by Boris Katz, an MIT professor. Boris was a refusenik in Soviet Russia over thirty years ago. His daughter, Jessica, was a toddler with a serious disease that was beyond the expertise of the Soviet medical system. Dr. Katz demonstrated in front of Red Square to bring international attention to his plight.
One night at 1 o’clock in the morning, he was alerted to expect a visitor. Teddy Kennedy was at his door accompanied by KGB agents and Soviet officials. Once inside, Kennedy told his “escorts” that they could leave now, which–, to the astonishment of Boris–they did! Days after that Kennedy visit, Boris was granted permission to emigrate to the United States, and the first person to greet him on the tarmac, was Teddy Kennedy.
Daughter Jessica was recently married and works for the city of New York, helping find housing for the disabled. Boris attributes her interest in public service to the events that brought her to the United States. The interviewer wondered whether he had the opportunity to ask the Senator why he had taken such a personal interest in his plight. He said he never did, but he knew the answer.
“He was one of those rare individuals who truly cared about others.”
He understood deeply that during times of trial is when people feel, not only to be vulnerable, but invisible. Not to personally acknowledge their suffering and offer comfort exacerbates the loneliness of afflictions. His acute awareness of this made him seize every opportunity to bring comfort to others. The caring for individuals suffering, whatever their ailments, were as important to him as any major policy issue in congress, and the personal testimony of scores of people attest to that.
It is these stories that illustrate where I often fall short, and has led me to resolve to do better. This was Teddy’s Elul legacy to me for which I am chastened and grateful.
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