September 16 is the start of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s the start of the Jewish New Year. Part of the preparation is to ask for forgiveness from anyone you may have wronged during the previous year. To whatever extent possible, we want to begin the year with a clean slate – and without anyone harboring a grudge against us. One should also be quick to forgive those who have wronged them. Judaism has common sense principals. Why not forgive those who have wronged us? Why not begin every year with a clean slate? However, I have been recalling something that was a long time ago (very long) to someone who I mistreated. Her name was Margaret.
I was in the fourth grade. (I said it was very long!) Margaret lived on the other street around the corner from my house and went to the Catholic School. I didn’t know her personally—only through my other friends. She was overweight, and kinda nerdy, not as “hip” as we were, and definitely not as cool. They called her Maggie Moo Head. So we cruelly taunted and teased her as kids can do. I chimed along. “Maggie Moo Head” we would shout when she appeared outside. And we would laugh—at her expense. She stuck out her tongue at us, and that was even funnier. But her feelings had to be hurt. Today it would be classified as bullying. And I knew what it felt like to be the other end of teasing youngsters. Berger was my maiden name which was continually transformed into “cheeseburger” and even worse. It didn’t feel good. But that didn’t stop me as a tormentor. Part of the growing up process, I suppose. To be part of a gang and especially as an only child, friends and acceptance were important to me. Even at the expense of Margaret.
So, here we are now adults. I moved away from Peoria and that neighborhood long ago. I don’t know what happened to those kids way back then. I don’t know what happened to Margaret. I hope she was able to get past the teasing and move on, too. I hope she found love and acceptance. I wish I could apologize for those days of yelling Maggie Moo Head. This happened many years ago yet I am still regretful. I can’t take it back, but I can reflect and learn. I grew up and got to know what it really means to be hurt by others—even those who you love the most—it’s not fun.
Judaism teaches “Be loving to your neighbor as you would yourself.” “Do unto others…” is the Golden Rule. One doesn’t need to practice a religion or even believe in anything to practice being kind. Why wait until the end of a year to ask forgiveness or to forgive? Why wait until we have a slate that needs to be cleaned? If we live by the Golden Rule daily, then it’s just common sense.