Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy was not a perfect man.

When he was a kid, he never quite met his parents’ standards and his accomplishments– on the surface– paled in comparison to those of his brothers. He was expelled from Harvard during his freshman year for cheating on a Spanish exam. His womanizing was a contributing factor to the collapse of his first marriage (to Joan Bennet). For years, his name was synonymous with the Chappaquiddick incident, and he had a very strained relationship with his father.

But as flawed and scandal-ridden as his early life was, Ted Kennedy could teach us all a lesson or two about repentance.

Throughout the world, Jews of all denominations and backgrounds are beginning to celebrate a new year– observing a season of spiritual rejuvenation and repentance. How appropriate it is that the first anniversary of Ted Kennedy’s death falls during this period.

In 1953, Ted came back to Harvard– after doing some soul searching and serving in various divisions of the army– and earned his bachelor’s degree. In the years following the assassinations of his two brothers and the death of his own father, Ted became the patriarch of the Kennedy family, taking each child and spouse of his brothers’ under his wing. He acted as a mentor and a family man and enjoyed a long, successful marriage to his second wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy. After Chappaquiddick, Ted addressed the nation and the people of Massachusetts, apologizing for his negligence, and asking if they believed that he should run for another  Senate term. They did.

Ted called the fight for universal health insurance “the cause of my life” and spent decades working as an ally and partner to those who needed him most and couldn’t fend for themselves. He was a staunch advocate for people with disabilities, as well as those who could not secure a substantial education for themselves or their children. He fought for funding for the underprivileged as though he was fighting for his own life.

So, in this season of repentance and forgiveness, whether you’re Jewish, or Christian, Muslim or agnostic, Ted Kennedy’s life serves as an inspiration. Some of our greatest heroes, the people who have done the most good, are also the people who have made the biggest mistakes. And that’s okay.

Ted and his memory are a blessing.