For 100 days, from Inauguration Day on January 20, 2017 until April 29 the “American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days. 100 Letters.” campaign sent a letter a day to the President, Vice President, members of the 115th Congress, and certain members of the Trump Administration. The letters, written by 100 scholars of religion, examine core American values connected to our diverse religious traditions, values like pluralism, freedom of religion, justice, truth, hospitality, compassion–just to name a few.
Andrea L. Weiss, Associate Professor of Bible at HUC-JIR in New York, came up with the idea for the campaign and then made it happen, thanks to the support of HUC-JIR President Aaron Panken and a partnership with Lisa Weinberger, Creative Director and Founder of Masters Group Design in Philadelphia.
From the start, alumni, students, and faculty of the College-Institute voiced their encouragement and gratitude for the campaign. Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of the Jerusalem campus, wrote: “We stand taller and determined with your glorious initiative...Whether or not we are heard we will not be silenced.” Merri Lovinger Arian, Faculty of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, described the letters as “an anchor…a reminder of the quote that Dr. Martin Luther King shared so often, ‘that the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice.’" Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch was “inspired by the diverse perspectives presented by the wide range of contributors”; she characterized the campaign as “a beacon of level-headedness and morality, reminding us that our ancient traditions can speak to any and all moments in time.” For Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, the letters “are not only inspirational,” but “a historical record of our time.”
Rabbi Danny Zemel expressed appreciation for “wisdom and hope in my e-mail every day…living waters of sustenance and courage from deep ancient wells.” His congregation read a selection from one of the week’s letters at the beginning of each kabbalat Shabbat service. Rabbi Larry Karol studied the letters with a weekly interfaith discussion group in Los Cruces, New Mexico and wrote about the project for his local newspaper. Rabbi Ron Symons regularly tweeted about the letters and used them in his work at The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Jessie Losch, a seventh grade religious school teacher at East End Temple in New York, crafted a lesson plan for her social justice curriculum in which students read selected letters and then wrote postcards to their elected officials in Washington.
These are just a few examples to show how the American Values Religious Voices letters have been used over the past few months and how they might continue to serve as a valuable resource now that the campaign has concluded. A Prayer for Our Country compiled from eight letters was recited at HUC-JIR ordination in New York, and a Seder Supplement was read at Passover gatherings across the country.
In the final letter of the campaign, Letter 100, Elsie Stern, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Bible at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, compared the counting of a president’s first 100 days in office to the counting of the omer. She wrote: “While the letters and the counting conclude, the call to account will continue.” Thanks to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the American Values Religious Voices website offers what letter writer Danielle Widmann Abraham described as “an archive of compassion and democracy,” a resource for all Americans as we hold our elected officials accountable for preserving and promoting our core American values.