In the months leading up to November 8, I suffered from acute election anxiety. Instead of incessantly checking my phone for the latest headlines or polls, I turned my anxiety into action. Leaving my suburban Philadelphia home with a clipboard and handmade “Voter Registration Volunteer” badge, I headed downtown to the Philadelphia Probation and Parole office, where I spent several mornings informing men and women who did not think they were eligible to vote that, in fact, they could vote, as long as they registered first. I spent afternoons knocking on doors and talking to people at bus depots and run down strip malls, trying to convince them that every vote mattered.
A few days after the election, that same impulse to turn anxiety into action kicked in. Reflecting on a tumultuous campaign and reacting with disbelief to the unprecedented, ugly acts of racism in schools and city streets in the wake of the election, an idea started to percolate. What if we could get 100 scholars of sacred scripture to write letters articulating core American values rooted in our various religious traditions? What if we could send a letter a day to our new President, Vice President, and other leaders in Washington that would remind them—and us—of who we really are as a nation and how we should act moving forward?
Knowing that it would “take a village” to make this idea a reality, I reached out to my friend Lisa Weinberger, Creative Director and Founder of Masters Group Design in Philadelphia. In the fifty-five days from our first meeting after Thanksgiving to the Inauguration on January 20, 2017, we worked tirelessly, with the funding of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the help of an interfaith Advisory Committee and a committed design team: we sent out invitations, established a social media presence, and created a website. What happens when two hard-working Jewish women have a compelling vision and a determination to “get shit done”? Check out the results on the website of American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days. 100 Letters.
In the four weeks since the start of the campaign, some 2,000 subscribers have signed up to receive an email each morning with a link to the day’s letter. Even more people are reading the letters and following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@ValuesandVoices).
Given the actions of our new President and the legislative agenda of the 115th Congress, this campaign has become even more relevant than we original imagined. The letters have become even more urgent. The feedback we have received from readers across the country shows that the letters are touching people in a reassuring and reaffirming way.
Readers describe the letters as “sustaining, timely and eloquent,” finding that “they run the gamut of being helpful, motivating, inspirational and calming” and provide “daily inspirational letters from voices I am not accustomed to hearing.” Many people have written to tell us that they read the letters first thing in the morning, as a way to center themselves as they start the day. One subscriber reads them “like a prayer.” For another, the letters serve as “an anchor” and a reminder of Dr. Martin Luther King’s teaching that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice.”
Today is Day 26, with Letter 26 written by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, my mentor and colleague at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Together, we had the immense privilege of editing The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, one of WRJ’s important contributions to the Jewish world. Go to our website to read her letter, with a fitting message for today about what love means in the Bible: “To love others is to take responsibility for their well-being.” Please subscribe, follow us on social media, tell others about the campaign, and see how these 100 letters might speak to you.
Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D. is Campaign Coordinator for American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days. 100 Letters., Associate Professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, and Associate Editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary.