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Last year Regnery published A Cracking of the Heart, a book I wrote about my late daughter Sarah, which I hoped would draw attention to her remarkable life and compassionate soul. Since its publication, I have edited her Collected Writings and printed it as a hardcover book so that those who were inspired by her story can have the opportunity to gain insight and pleasure from her work.
When A Cracking of the Heart was published one of my concerns was that even though my daughter was actively engaged in progressive causes and was an early supporter of Barack Obama, my political enemies, who dominate the literary culture, would punish her, and her book would not receive the attention she deserved. That turned out to be the case as the so-called liberal media ignored A Cracking of the Heart despite the fact that one of its themes was reconciliation, and one of its subjects the ongoing dialogue I had with my liberal daughter over the issues that divide our political culture. One conservative talk show host who interviewed me actually broke down on air recounting how his daughter had become estranged because of their political disagreements and how he hoped after reading the account of our relationship that he would be able to reach her.
It was my hope that perhaps my daughter’s legacy would be to stimulate a dialogue beyond the political wars. Sarah was not a political activist but a literary and spiritual person. The stories and poems she had written were not political tracts but wonderful explorations of the human condition, expressions of her generous spirit. Politics is a two-dimensional zone of our existence. My daughter’s writing and approach to life – and to the lives she encountered — added a much-needed third dimension to any political subject she discussed.
I was particularly disappointed in the liberal blackout because one of the things I had hoped to do for my daughter was to bring the generous and heroic life she had lived to the attention of the public who shared many of her views. I was even more disappointed at the silence of the Jewish press because an important focus of Sarah’s life was Judaism. It was over the Jewish concept of tikkun olam that our disagreements had revolved. I felt we had succeeded in resolving these differences and wrote about this resolution in the book. I thought this experience would prove helpful to progressives and to conservatives, and that in its small way this book about my daughter could create bridges within families and across the political culture.
Tikkun olam means “repair of the world,” and in the arguments of Jewish progressives it is generally associated with a global transformation and “social justice.” My quarrel with progressives is that they believe human beings can be fundamentally changed by revolutionary upheavals, and a more perfect world can be created by political actors. From this view, terrible consequences have followed — mass genocides and human catastrophes on an unprecedented scale. But this was not the way my daughter approached tikkun olam and the task of achieving social justice (a term I still find problematic). Sarah was not a sentimentalist and she cast a properly skeptical eye on human actors, their motives and behaviors. Her view was that if the world is to be redeemed it would have to be one individual at a time, and should not be based on the expectation of miraculous changes in human character. This was a view I could live with.
I also admired the example she set in showing that compassion was not incompatible with a firm view of justice, and that embracing both was a better way of being: “If you see someone in the fullness of their humanity, you see how they are acting out their own confusion and suffering,” she wrote me. “This does not justify hurtful or evil acts. It doesn’t even always inspire forgiveness. But if you see someone this way, you respond more in sadness than in anger. And that is simply a more excellent state of being.”
Just before Sarah’s death, she was interviewed by the Jewish online magazine NextBook. The title of the interview was “Vision of Unity: An Activist Poet Explores the Religious Side of Social Justice.” Because of the magazine’s interest in my daughter’s work, I appealed to its editors to consider the book I had written and share its account of her life with their readers. I was encouraged to think that NextBook would be open to such an appeal because of a blurb that had been provided for A Cracking of the Heart by Ruth Messinger, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and a former Democratic president of the Borough of Manhattan.
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