Rabbi's Yom Kippur video tells story of woman who forgave brother's killer

Rabbi Yoni Golker interviewed Dr Denise Taylor and Ronnie Fields on their messages of forgiveness and atonement


A St John’s Wood rabbi has detailed the unlikely friendship between a Californian woman and her brother’s murderer in a video exploring forgiveness and atonement ahead of Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Yoni Golker released the 40-minute virtual discussion on YouTube in the lead-up to the day of atonement as some extra food for thought for congregants.

Since lockdown began, the associate rabbi for St John’s Wood United Synagogue has produced a series of Zoom interviews with the likes of Apprentice star Linda Plant and Love Islander Eyal Booker, before publishing a series of virtual visits to Jews around the world.

His latest video details the story of Dr Denise Taylor and Ronnie Fields – neither of whom are Jewish but who both believe in the power of forgiveness.

In 1984, Dr Taylor, now 58, had just graduated from university when her 19-year-old brother Bo was shot by Mr Fields during a bungled drug deal. Mr Fields was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in prison.

At the time, Dr Taylor and her father had called for Mr Fields to be given a life sentence without parole. In 2016, both were urging a judge to release him.

What had changed, Rabbi Golker discovers, was that Dr Taylor had become a prison doctor, and had met life-sentence prisoners.

“I knew what it would mean to them to be able to meet with their victims’ families,” she said.

In 2005, Dr Taylor wrote to Mr Fields, who replied that “no matter what you or your family think of me, I live every day of my life with the fact that I took a life. I regret that it happened and I am deeply sorry for bringing so much pain and discomfort into your lives.”

Dr Taylor visited Mr Fields regularly over the course of the following decade and, in 2017, Mr Fields was freed after 32 years in prison, supported by Dr Taylor, who was listed on his prison documents as next of kin.

Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Fields said he had wanted to put the story behind him. “But when the rabbi contacted me, I told him: ‘God keeps opening doors for me and I keep closing them’.”

According to Mr Fields, the prison commissioner said that only around one per cent of people actually forgive the perpetrator for their actions. “Most people never want you to get out of prison.”

Dr Taylor said: “I forgive him for myself and I hope it helps him but, ultimately, he has to forgive himself.”

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