For the last few months I have been thinking about some of the things you have said that I find extremely problematic, and I feel the need to write to you. I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I hope that it will somehow reach you and that you will find it helpful in your attempt to “make America great again” and your pledge that you will be a president for all the American people.
I write to you as a Holocaust survivor who was victimized by Nazi hatred and arrived in this beautiful country in 1949. I am a proud American veteran who served in the Army in the 1960s.
What troubled me most during your campaign was your failure to treat people with respect and dignity. As a professor of religious studies for many decades, I am especially disturbed by your comments about people of other faiths. I am certain that you as a Christian know that a central concept of Christianity is that we are all created in the image of God which gives every human being infinite value. When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22: 35-39)
I realize how difficult it is to love your neighbor as yourself, and I’m not sure that any president has lived up to it. As president, I certainly expect that you will do everything in your power to be a model for our children and refrain from insulting people and belittling them as you did during the campaign.
Please remember that words are very powerful. My beloved teacher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the peace heroes of the twentieth century, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery to make America just and defend human rights, constantly reminded us of the power of words. He told us that the Nazis did not come to power with guns and tanks but that it all began with words. This great American theologian and social activist is also known for his statement that, “God is everywhere except in arrogance.” So in our conflict-torn world, we must make every effort to listen to the voices of people whose beliefs are different than ours. We need not come to agreement or to reconcile the different visions of reality, but if we truly listen we may come to respect the people, if not their view of reality.
So one of the things I hope you will do is to bring together the religious leaders and spiritual teachers of America to talk to each other, to listen to each other, and to pray for our beautiful country. In this urgent moment of crisis for the world’s religions – when religion has become a powerful force and violence in the name of God is an every day event – religious leaders in America must engage in serious dialogue with one another. Dialogue can be a blessing for everyone. I am convinced that most American religious leaders agree with Heschel, when he said “The choice is to love together or to perish together.”
My own belief is that the most important issue confronting America and the world is climate change. So I hope that you will surround yourself with advisors who recognize the peril of inaction and understand what we must do to take better care of our planet. If we don’t have a planet, no other issues will be of any significance for our children and our grandchildren.
As president of the United States you will be in a unique position to bring healing to America and the world. I sincerely hope that you will work every day to do so.